Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The World Is A Game - Mystery

The Music

There are a number of forces influencing the outcome on this new offering from Michel St Pere’s Mystery with clear and overwhelming conclusions to be drawn.

I thoroughly enjoyed there last offering however there was a shadow of sub Genesis tribute band about some of the music. On this CD Michel has evolved into a fully-fledged rounded musical personality who is capable of writing and producing his own personal brand of intelligently crafted, high quality, high energy rock music.

The CD abounds with great musical ideas every track is infused with great melodies and unique musical moments. The post blues rock riffs of "Pride" and "Another Day" generate a magnificent big excitement and more so because of the mature use of loud/soft contrasts. When Michel plays piano or acoustic guitar it is not self-consciously classical or folky it is merely a natural extension of the compositional process. One organisational decision he has taken with this CD is to avoid over reliance on electric keyboards indeed they are almost absent. This has a great liberating effect on the sound, the prog- rock by numbers feel of some of  “One Amongst…” is entirely absent.

The lyrics

The lyrics and the guitar solo’s have a wonderful symbiotic relationship. There is pathos and a sense of loss and pain in both, it gives the whole project a “now” feeling, they capture the mood of the time. Particularly worthy of note are the pieces that Benoit David contributed lyrics to. From “The World Is A Game”  

“Standing in the line of fire
The hero’s flag flying high
Waving way above their pride
Can anyone win that game”.

And the previous verse  
“Working on the grand design
For some it almost feels divine
Sipping the last drop of their wine
For the World is just a game”.

And finally though from an earlier verse

“Do you feel all the fear that shadowed their eyes?
And all that remains of their lives”

Applicable to Benoit’s observation of Yes, possibly, applicable from a Yes listeners view definitely.

The players   

Michel does not put a foot wrong, his performance here is as complete as Trevor Rabin’s on “Jacaranda”, great guitar playing (acoustic and electric) and most importantly his work on the piano is full of authority and flair.

Nick D’Virgilio is the real surprise of this CD. From the next generation down he has dexterity pace and can swing and be powerful in a heavy rock sense, a rare combination. He drives the music with tons of energy, flair and √©lan and to borrow a Bruford “ism” he is capable of admiral restraint –silence.
Antoine is agile and of great support, his role is key in avoiding the “prog. by numbers” criticism. There is no sub squire grinding bass or high “melody taking” runs, it maybe more orthodox but that helps Mystery stand in its own musical territory.

Benoit - hmm – this is difficult. I love the unorthodoxy of Benoit’s position as a vocalist. He is essentially a wonderful “pop” singer, see his Horn/Downes work on FFH, who finds himself in a rock environment. For four years he sang high tenor over the thundering bass of Mr Squire. To begin with he simply showed a lack of experience in coping with long haul touring and his performances were uneven, though he did very well in the UK in the winter of 2009.
He performed very well on “One Among the Living” recorded during the early Yes period. However by the time he emerged on the road with Yes for yet another US winter tour in 2011 after recording FFH the effect on his voice was beginning to have a more broad based effect, rather than him merely suffering from minor ailments.
I understand this CD was recorded mid- 2011, what I hear is a voice which is losing its range – at the bottom end. If you compare Benoit’s performance on this to the previous recording you hear a thinner more stretched voice indeed tired, some of the timbre is missing.
Ironically it is a more typical rock tenor voice and for the most part has no impact on my enjoyment of this excellent Mystery CD, which I would recommend to anyone who likes well-crafted post progressive rock music. However those whom met Benoit took to him. I hope that when Mystery reconvene for more work he will have fully recovered the voice on display on “One Among the Living” which helps give Mystery its unique and compelling musical personality. In the meantime every Mystery fan should have a copy of this, their best effort yet, and it should also win new friends even in these difficult times.              

Friday, 23 November 2012

Pictures of You - Downes Braide Association

In the closing weeks of 1980 new music emerged from a respected successful keyboard player and a great vocalist where the sum was greater than the two parts and created an identifiable musical style of its own. Not only was the music of the highest quality it was also very accessible and gave them a 10 ten hit.

Here we are in 2012 and some morning warm ups from early 2011 have been turned into a project full of energy, life, sophistication, great singing and superbly orchestrated keyboard playing.

Jon and Vangelis  "Short Stories" was a breath of fresh air and gave us some great sophisticated pop music, so does "Pictures of You".

The CD opens with the pocket symphony of “Sunday News Suite” a great vocal narrative and wonderful shifts of tempo and pace, giving it a musical gravitas, and ends with the gorgeous reading by Chris of “Sky Sailor”. For those looking for renewal whether personally or collectively the lyric to the latter hits right between the eyes. There is magic out there just seize it and go the distance.

In between these two stand out pieces are a range of carefully crafted songs with great hooks and melodies which showcase Geoff’s ability to orchestrate and arrange great pop music. Incidentally listen out for the Fly From Here and Video Killed ...musical quotes. 

It is not Messiaen, Crimson, Bartok or John Coltrane but it is a great part of my musical day. This is music to warm you up, make your feet tap, bring a smile to your face and take you to place of light hearted joy. As well as the emotional returns from this music one can draw a good deal of pleasure just from listening to this as an example of  peerlessly crafted lyrics, given a beautiful vocal performance and supported by a well judged and appropriate application of keyboard technique and technology.  








Thursday, 15 November 2012

Prog Collective Billy Sherwood

When Billy released the third Circa CD I suggested Billy was operating within an artistic straight jacket. The music seemed to represent a narrowing down of his vision instrumentally and vocally. It was highly symbolic that he had played the drums on the CD. The sense of reduction was exacerbated by the guitar department being vacated by Jimmy Haun who had delivered a stellar performance on HQ.

I suggested he needed to break out and add new sounds and ideas.

Well coincidental or otherwise that is precisely what he has done with “Prog Collective”. Whilst keeping a strong reign on the overall design of the music he has brought in a cadre of musicians who have enriched the music and added sounds and qualities that lift much of this music to an entirely different level. This is an event, not just taking care of the business. There are also some refreshing lyrical ideas.

John Wetton, Jerry Goodman and Annie Haslam are wound into the thread of the pieces that they contribute to punching through Billy’s “formula” giving the  compositions a freshness and sense of adventure, whereas Messrs Downes and Wakeman keyboard forays on their contributions, whilst not exactly cutting edge, add nicely to Billy’s basic composition.

The “Laws of Nature” sees John back in Crimson territory reaching put and pushing his voice quite different from his smug and beguiling work with Asia.However Jerry Goodman's "fiddle" work is inspired and takes Billy in to entirely new ground - "Bravo!"

“Over Again” rhythm shapes can sound a little too formulaic Billy but Geoff’s Hammond sounding solo, which might be a Hammond solo, is a nice add on.

“Technical Divide” has a strong vocal groove and classic declaiming Sherwood vocal chorus. Chris plays some solid bass with some neat additional figures. Best of all is David Sancious’s keyboard work adding some real idiosyncratic magical forays full of imagination.

“Social Circles” is superb, Annie Haslam reinvents Billy’s vocal style in her own image. This is up there with the opening track.

“Buried Beneath” is another one of those declaiming vocal chorus’s with a neat oriental sounding keyboard figure.

“Following the Signs” has one of those classic American Rock sounding guitar lead openings and an attractive exposed chorus. These pieces remind me rock music has come of age it is its own genre with its own language and when the guitar solo emerges its powerful entertaining and beautifully judged but have we heard this type of thing before Yes! The success or failure of this music is about the strength of the musical ideas the tunes NOT how far out, cutting edge and experimental is it. However those who find Asia to “pop-prog” may well find this clever well played “rock-prog” more to their taste.

And finally “Checkpoint Karma” The pairing of Colin Moulding and Rick Wakeman sounds unlikely but it works. Ricks baroque inspired electric keyboard work is the best thing on electrics I have heard since Billy recorded his work on Keys and it represents a clever juxtaposition with Ricks keys punching through the slowed down chorus during this excellent eclectic piece.

Billy is a gentleman, hard working and sincere about his work, this thoughtful move away from his more inward looking work is most welcome and anyone who enjoyed Oneirology will enjoy this work.