Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Close To The Edge – Unlocking its virtues

Prologue - September 1972 Skipton Yorkshire
A copy has arrived from Cob Records in Portmadoc. I have a free lesson this Friday morning so I take the package to my room. I open up the cardboard box to reveal a deceptively simple sleeve with a subtle ridged three dimensional finish in subdued green tones. Unlike Fragile the cover exudes understated confidence and composure.

What do I remember of that first run through of 40 years ago? The thundering Bass accents of Total Mass Retain, the adult beauty of I Get Up I Get Down, the gentle acoustic introduction of And You and I and the unleashed energy of the repeating figure that ushers in Siberian Khatru with Ricks playfull interjections on the Hammond.

Then it is off for a lesson on the British Constitution.

Act 1

The title track is a summation of everything the band had been working toward over 4 ½ years. Clean, pristine, immaculate playing welding musical fragments together to create a perfect piece of musical architecture. Bill had matured hugely by the spring of 72 and was confident to play with an unfussy focus always aware of the potential to reinforce the melody or the rhythm. Once we pass into the dream and the playing gets under way Bill pilots the piece deftly toward the main melodic theme prodding, pushing, controlling, holding the rhythmic reigns of the piece making it seem effortless in the process.

A little later he rides out Total Mass Retain with jazzy eloquence as Rick offers a beautifully appropriate baroque over lay. If this is Bill’s finest hour I think it is also Ricks. The stabs of orchestral insight throughout the first two sections and the remarkable eloquence of his back drops for the third movement are examples of Ricks best work . This pre-dates the master of mood and spiritually aware playing of Vangelis and yet is of the same vein. Ricks furious improvisation into the fourth movement represents his most committed fiery playing, bar none.
The ultimate trick of CTTE is you have a wonderful journey but you are left wanting more. One never tires or become puzzled or waits for the light to come back on, it’s a master piece of editing.

Act 2

What makes this 40 year old album really extra ordinary is having played there finest card, summarising all their musical ambition on side 1, they then leap off into the unknown with Side 2.

“And You and I” beats a path toward a new type of Yes more emotional more spiritually evocative and opens up the way for “The Remembering” to the twin summits of “To Be Over” and “Awaken”. We all know the music so no need to describe it but this piece like Act 3 has grown in the live telling. Both the original musicians and new ones have breathed new meaning and life into this piece., the powerful performance of the Union line up at Wembley in the summer of 1992 springs to mind...and yet down the years whenever I listen to the original recording in a new setting I hear Steve and Jon’s best interpretation, the latter’s vocal performance is one of his most sophisticated ever.

Act 3

If Act 2 is a new more ethereal cloudy Yes, Act 3 sets the scene and pace for their most unconventional work. It is remorselessly driven from the original rhythmic idea but still capable of building and interjecting strong harmonic shapes and vocal resolutions in an entirely coherent fashion. This is not symphonic Yes it has a kind of Jazz independence and only when Rick throws in the harpsichord solo are you reminded they are a precocious clever English Rose rock band rather than earnest Jazzers. As with Act 2 this piece is not only a staple of their live act forty years on but it has grown in all sorts of ways. One of the most pleasing is that Alan has made it his own piece and Steve has constantly redefined the solo outro from the nuclear version on the 28th October 1978 to the Wes Montgomery approach of more recent years.

Act 2 and Act 3 hint at future stories but it is arguable that these stories are as good if not better than any that followed. Siberian, of there more intense remorseless work, is for me the best.

Epilogue 4th August 2012 Mauritius
The sun is falling very fast now into the Indian Ocean and a thousand birds in the trees begin to chatter in an endless stream of repeating revolving noise. In the heart of the sunset is the beginning of the dream and here in yet another unique setting I take this cue to journey to the Edge again and it means as much and takes me as far as it always has and I suspect always will.