Monday, 25 July 2011

Fly From Here Reprise -Yes

After a lifetime of listening assimilating new music is a quicker process, ironically the challenges of 72/73 from Yes were part of that learning curve.

Fly From Here is now very familiar to me and its twists and turns, its subtexts and its subtleties. Several things become clearer. Geoff Downes contribution is much larger than I had first thought he is very much the co architect of the suite and his keyboard style helps shape the sound of the piece as much and possibly more than Steve's Guitar and Chris's Bass. This helps to give the project a sense of uniqueness which was so important given the point in their career and the absence of the co founder of the band. In addition Trevor has encouraged Benoit to really stamp his own style on the Horn/Downes material which comes off brilliantly and of course helps give the music its fresh and distinct style.

Many months ago I said Trevor put his thinking cap on between the break in sessions ands decided to make changes. This has turned out to be more true than I thought. With Man, Hour and Storm in the bag I am certain he saw this CD heading in the direction of being a sub Yes album a kind of "book of the film". Well played but lacking something new, vital and different. He could sense a kind "oh this sounds like this" and of course "but if only Jon was singing" type reviews. The introduction of Geoff Downes and 28 minutes of new music from Horn/Downes and the instrumental "Bumpy Ride" stopped that notion in its tracks and what we have now is something new, unique which sits on its own within Yes's career and is unconnected with Jon Anderson.    

Yes and its reputation was made out of bending the rules. In the seventies they bent the rules by taking unto themselves a myriad of influences and creating something utterly unique. That was over by the end of the seventies. In the last 30 years they have from time to time bent their own rules guitar orientated pop music- 90125, power pop -Open Your Eyes, connecting with world rhythms -Teakbois, Africa suite and the Messenger. These have not always been popular with the hard core fans but the one serious attempt to recapture their progressive rock roots the Keys To Ascension project did not give them the commercial lift they were looking for. 

By the turn of the century they had moved on, fulfilling long held dreams "unfinished business". Magnification was the first step to work properly with an orchestra without keyboards (bending the Yes rules) this CD is more unfinished business and they have bent the rules. I am glad and it really works for me.     

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Fly From Here - Yes

"A Night At The Symphony"

The 13 note intro is full of mystery and expectation repeats twice and we are off. This is no cod prog rock multi keyboard intro it is neat, cinematic and more akin to the intro to the Who’s Baba O'Riley or the repeating harpsichord intro to Smile’s Heros and Villians. This is artful sophisticated pop music and immediately sets the tone of the CD.

Part 1
It dissolves and the paean to a forgotten age of turbo prop airliners is with us itself recalling a 25 year olds experience at the Oxford Apollo. But for me a child of the 1950’s I am taken right back to days of living on Royal Air Force airfields and looking up at the aircraft coming in to land when air travel was a mystery, one of these turbo prop liners flew my mother and I to Cyprus to join my father who was ahead of us and opened up my life to all sorts of new experiences. For me this lyric resonates. Geoff states the theme Chris slides round the bass and Benoit beautifully captured by the original vocalist gives a touching reading. This is no hairy rock tenor performance it’s a clean crisp pop vocal performance. Steve plays a highly sympathetic arpeggio, never less or more than he should be and then a nice up tempo rhythmic pattern. Geoff stops the music it rocks back and forth, the harmonies develop recap and again Steve’s guitar is crisp and clean and full of the right kind of attack, Geoff takes the main theme. As the music progress on I am reminded of the great virtue of much of Drama the music has space and a chance to breathe and all the instruments can be heard clearly. But with repeated listens the detail the subtext emerges.

Part 2
A beautiful harmonic statement left to breathe on a sympathetically recorded acoustic (no wonder Steve trusts Trevor) and instead of the voice taking the first verse a neat surprise Steve takes the melody for the first verse before Benoit croons. Trevor has captured his voice perfectly it has a fuller deeper tone than his work with Mystery. At 1.20 a keyboard surge this is deeply romantic and evocative and again very cinematic. The wonderful music from the 70’s was music for the soul and the spirit, this is music for the heart. “I want to be the one who’s always there beside you but we must both face the dawn alone”- indeed. A delightful interlude Chris takes the melody I love this piece, separate but connected to the first section. “Turn yourself around turn your life around” – you can do it. A perfectly judged section gorgeous harmonies smoking steamy guitar, delicate percussion, agile bass and then utterly seductive steel from Steve.

Part 3
The 13 note mystery is back and now we haves some music for the hips. If I am moved to tears by part 2 I am up dancing to this. This makes me smile a good solid back beat from Mr White great harmonies Chris and Benoit sound superb together. This swings it connects directly and Mr Downes burns on the Hammond, indeed Geoff makes a very substantial contribution to the entire CD. His blogging may be contraversial but he is a consumate musician and this suite fulfills the promise of his work on Drama, the lyrical narrative moves us on fragmented spinning images perhaps we are in the hands of someone we cannot rely on and we are dreaming we are,

Part 4
Its chaos and difficult and Steve gives us a clever curved ball, presenting turbulence instrumentally just as Brian Wilson presented Fire all those years ago. Steve eschews a high minded sub Mahavishnu approach and keeps it in the context of the whole suite clever arty pop music. The bookended sections and dreaming interlude have a greater sense of the sublime by creating this juxtaposition and it flows into a recapitulation of part 1.
Part 5
Chris lets rip as he did in concert in the UK in 1980 once again Steve keeps very focused and leaves the music to breath and we are finished gone in a flash 22 minutes of clever neat, well-crafted, beautiful pop music. Steve was right this is a surprise not a re-tread a development of the promise of matching the Horn/Downes ticket with the playing side of the band.   
In the past when Yes have given over a whole side to one piece they have maintained the same degree of intensity to side B. After the masterful performance on Side A on this occasion the offer a mixture of well-crafted restatements and two solo pieces from the principles.

The man you wanted me to be
First up is Chris’s solo, Floyd like, it reminds me of some of Tom Curiano’s demo’s for Jon Anderson at its core a strong rotating musical motive. A grove to get matters started.
Life on a film set.
The next restatement is another Horn/Downes piece echoing the first side beautifully recorded Benoit’s voice in full view. This could be A Bond Movie Theme tune, atmospheric,  sensuous, clever and some nice vibe playing. It’s a two parter with an organic transition to a faster section Geoff using bass pedals. Nice tear arse guitar playing from Steve and a wonderful percussion effect as it rushes to a close.
Hour of Need
Next a self-penned song by Steve but it’s a genuine group performance. Unlike some of their late 70’s semi acoustic pieces this of the highest quality. A slight homage to Revolver perhaps it benefits from wonderful busy revolving acoustic guitar work. On my first listen for the first time I was concerned that Benoit was aping Jon Anderson but after several listens his different tonal quality comes through and the combination of Steve and Benoit singing together is most attractive. The lyrics speak too many. The Japanese - on the northeast coast, the Australians of Queensland and more subtle, the many men and women in the Northern Hemisphere who for the first time in two generations are facing falling living standards.                 
Next up Steve restates his delicate artistry with a micro symphony of themes and moods. The intro outro from Hour of Need was sacrificed for this piece and I think this was wise decision given the former sounds like it is always about to break into the main theme from the second movement of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez.        
Into The Storm
The final piece is a group composition and presumably comes from the first set of sessions. The polyrthymic drive is most welcome. Unlike New Language or On the Silent Wings of Freedom it sounds neither forced nor uneven. The Association vocals are there even now and Steve’s acoustic gives it a warm glow as Alan and Chris do their thing. There is an interesting transition where Benoit takes the lead and sings the lyric Armies of Angels whilst it does not detract this echo’s my memory of listening to Rush's music and sounds a little derivative. However the real organisational joy of this piece is the outro Steve’s guitar is lifted in the mix whilst Benoit provides a lovely plaintive cry in the back ground it is refreshing to hear a piece of Yes music where the vocals are not dominant and gives a sense of breadth to Benoit’s performance. The rhythm section plays out beautifully whilst Steve’s guitar thoughtfully picks its way through the piece setting up a sense of mystery almost Santana like before fading away with an acoustic.             
The decision to place Solitaire before In to the Storm was a good one the latter piece is unlike any other and yet is at heart a genuine Yes piece.  
At some point during the break in sessions it was decided not to pursue the demo’s prepared with Oliver Wakeman and instead re explore the Horn/Downes ticket. If as I suspect “Hour of Need” and “In to the Storm” are from the 2010 sessions then this was a wise move. I enjoy both these pieces but they are not a new vision for Yes, which this CD needed to convey. In the end we have the other follow up from Drama. Keys to Ascension built on the trio’s way of working (high energy/rock riffing) and turned with hindsight into the classic line ups answer to Drama with Squire and White building on their performance on Drama hard hitting and locked together. This new CD takes the other side of the Drama equation the Horn/Downes writing and producing, manifest on Machine Messiah and most importantly for this CD, In to the Lens. That notion is given full reign and the original idea of matching the new writers with the old players has now been able to flourish and reach its potential.
I know beyond the community of yesfans it seems odd that a group of middle aged men and woman continue to pursue their musical idols from their teenage years. For some it would appear to be an indication of arrested development they may well be true!! But for me this CD proves Yes still has something valuable to say and I am delighted all seven musicians involved took such care to produce a well-crafted and entertaining CD. This is not the progressive rock of the Bruford band or the intense/visionary music of Topographic Oceans or Going for the One, it is peerlessly crafted artful pop music created by seasoned musicians playing to their strengths and I suspect it will come to be seen as a valuable and loved addition by many if not all the bands following.
Magnification was unfinished business (lets work with an orchestra and do it properly) Fly From Here is the same except the unfinished business was giving Trevor and Geoffrey a real chance to make their mark within the Yes legacy.