Monday, 26 March 2018

"COME FLY WITH ME"

The "me" of course is Trevor Horn who is along with Geoff Downes the source of two pieces on Yes's 2011 C.D. Well two pieces is a little of an understatement one of them is the side long suite of songs which gives the C.D. its title. 

Whereas the other music has been given a remix and the vocal tracks are offered in three part unison, so Trevor's input has little impact, Trevor moving up from guide vocalist behind Benoit David to sing the two songs himself offers a quite different emotional resonance to the David sung tracks. 

Trevor's vocal performance is much more instinctive than the original, he really owns the emotional narrative of the two pieces indeed some lyrics have been changed. Put simply you can feel his passion, Trevor owns the journey. 

"Life On A Film Set" is now less self consciously metaphorical and more humanist and direct which really suits the material as it is sung in 2011 and not with the self consciousness artiness of 1981. The change of lyrics for the third verse move from allegory to emotionally descriptive. 

Note 

The new lyrics are not reflected in the recital in the booklet.

There are other changes the remix gives the music more presence and life but also some of the arrangements have been tidied up particularly the transitions on the suite. Probably most changed is "Sad Night on the Airfield" in some ways it is more emotionally sophisticated with additional instrumental insights and a more complex vocal arrangement but it lacks some of the direct majesty of the original and Steve's slide playing. Like the first song movement it is shorter than the original. However at an organisational level the small changes to the sections of the remaining large scale piece gives it more momentum as it moves through the final four sections. One definite and obvious improvement is to the reprise, Steve's Guitar work is more out there and wired, so that the final section crescendos with more impact rather than simply offering a levelling off and end, it really does summit before concluding.    

"Hour of Need" is the Japanese version and we have an additional track which reminds me of the dilemma of working for two bands. The new piece penned by Steve could easily fit onto Phoenix or Omega (Asia) and as it distracts from the clarity of the original vision of the CD (H/D plus a Steve Solo, a Chris Song, a Steve song and one group effort). I think Trevor was wise to leave it off. Returning to "Hour of Need" I prefer the song version I do not feel giving it a three movement feel makes it more than the sum of its two parts (the intro and outro are connected) or puts it up their with "Children of Light" which with its restored intro is a genuine 3 part Yes "piece' where the sum is greater than the parts.

I think Trevor performance on the two H/D pieces is sufficient cause to have and enjoy the alternative and I would have preferred another re recording of a 1981 H/D piece rather than the other extras. 

To return to the remaining non H/D pieces they benefit from a warmer more engaging mix with subtle changes, a more attacking guitar in "T.M.Y.A.W.M.T.B.", an extra acoustic counterpoint in "Hour of Need" a closer more direct vocal by Chris on "Into the Storm" In the latter piece a definite improvement is Trevor's "Armies of Angels" sung in Trevor's English voice rather than Benoit's Mystery Voice which is at odds with everything else where he sings in a received English pronunciation.  

The remix then is intellectually fascinating, the extra music not a real benefit but Trevor's performances on his two self penned pieces make it indispensable for this listener. 


Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Revealing Science of Teamwork

Out there in fandom two matters appear to drive how you judge a Yes concert. 

1) Whose in the band.

2) The setlist with includes material which at its youngest is 40 years old.

As  I spend most of my time listening to music which was composed anywhere between 100 to 400 years ago the latter is not important, and as to the former it is how it is played and most importantly what is the overall impact of the orchestra or ensemble playing the music.Without consciously approaching tonight in the same way that is indeed why it was a raging success because the age of the material wasn't of itself important and what was most important was how the ensemble came together to play it as a unit, not whom precisely was in the ensemble but how the ensemble worked as a unit. 

The first half from "Disgrace" to "And You and I" was in the main material played in recent years but this particular group of players presented it in a fresh and invigorating way. The music had a darker more communicative raw feel to it. In a nutshell it had more personality. 

There was more invention in the playing particularly from Steve on "Disgrace" and "Southside". "And You and I" benefited from a really focused reading from Jon whose diction meant the vocal narrative was weighted with more gravitas rather than sounding like a sound a like. I noted that Jay played this piece somewhere midway between Bruford and White and the fills in the crescendos gave the music more personality. 

A special mention for the vocal choir section in "Southside" I listened to this very critically and it sounded fine to me, no pitching issues I noted in other words Steve was good to go!!  

I preferred "Wondrous Stories" without Geoff's rather sugary intro and again with the cut and thrust of the rhythm section the piece rather than floating cut through more. 

The first half then was entertaining and benefited from a team that brought out the best in themselves collectively and individually. This is in part because the players are gracious and generous in their attitude to the music and each other, they are their to serve the music rather than the other way round. 

We dashed back for the second half and were seated for Jon's atmospheric and spirited reading of the opening piece which is crucial to get right. I always feel the record sounds a little like a run through in places and of course it lacks the architectural certainty of "Edge" but Billy and Jay make each section sound more certain and defined and Geoff makes everything count in away the originally keyboards, which often relied on rather anaemic mellotron washes did not. They did not play it to loud or aggressively so the meditative spiritual side of the music really emerged. The beauty of the guitar lines shone with a special luminescence as Steve played with an inventiveness and love of the original and that aided the sense of specialness of the piece. It is a profound piece asking questions of a spiritual nature and should evoke a sense of journey of spiritual musings on mankind's origins. Tonight they captured that sense perfectly and I found myself welling up with tears as the piece moved into its reprise. 

The only element which survives from the middle movements is the acoustic coda and song from "The Ancient". Once again Steve appears to play this in a manner which gives the cadenza more shape but the revelation is Jon's voice. He has really learned to expand the depth of his voice giving it a more rounded more musical feel and his reading of "Leaves Of Green" was exquisite tonight. He isn't just hitting the notes and avoiding going flat he is offering a rounded expressive three dimensional communicative performance. I also felt overall his unfussy understated but sharp image reflected in his singing more directly impassioned and less studied theatrical. 

And so to Ritual, Billy had been playing with attack all night with that dirty grinding sound which is part of the DNA of Yes, as well as providing a great vocal foil to Jon, a big improvement on his vocal performance in 2016. With "Ritual" and indeed like "Revealing" he grabbed the bass Lines by the scruff of the neck and owned them. Indeed Ritual is very much about the rhythm section making sense of the rather off the wall heavier sections and Jay and Billy did just that. Jay played with precision and attack and once again a piece that wanders on the original went from one certainty to another tonight. That meant the step offs for the song sections were utterly ravishing probably the first entrance of Nous Sommes Du Soleil was even more moving than the second, a real first and for me another moment of tears. 

As with the Revealing Geoff made everything count, he is a card carrying member on these pieces, to borrow from a 1976 review of Patrick Moraz by Dan Hedges. But the really transcendent moments come from Steve's utterly beautiful statements of the themes which lead into the song sections. They are both reprises and restatements giving the piece thematic cohesion and all one can say is he aimed a lot of love at his guitar in these sections.  

Jay takes the piece to the top of the manic rhythmic crescendo before the percussion movement which the magic hat comes on to perform. For Alan to hit the ground running with a percussion solo is the bravest of musical daring. He is starting cold and has to carry the other two percussionist and he does it bravo sir !!

And so a thundering ovation brings the formal concert to a close. Its London so Trevor comes on to sing Tempus Fugit, a song I personally do not like but he is much stronger than Oxford in 2016 and of course the final ubiquitous encores of .... well you know. 

However what this concert will be remembered for, indeed this tour, are the stellar performances of a fine Yes Group (of musicians) and their reading of Topographic Oceans. Bringing these pieces back, the most controversial of their long career, was a risk and making them the high point of their 50th anniversary is an achievement that this particular team can be very proud of.