Friday, 11 February 2011

What a difference a day makes

Hosni Mubarak has resigned, and such an event is clearly more important than anything that happens in the world of prog! But you will forgive if this blog focuses on today's other events...

UK have re-formed: John Wetton and Eddie Jobson are joined by Jobson's UKZ mates Alex Machacek on guitar and Marco Minnemann on drums. Two Japanese dates are being advertised, but presumably there will be a fuller tour. In one sense, this is hugely unexpected: we've been waiting thirty years (lol) for a UK reunion. Then again, given we had almost the same band when Wetton joined U-Z for three Polish shows in Poland in 2009 (now captured on Ultimate Zero Tour - Live), and given Jobson's recently guested on Wetton's new solo album, it's hardly surprising at all to hear this news. Still, I'm looking forward to it immensely and hope we get European dates.

Wetton's been recording his solo album with Billy Sherwood in LA. Anyone following Geoff Downes' tweets will have seen he's been in LA too, attending the NAMM show and also guesting on Wetton's album. Of course, Yes have also been recording in LA, produced by Trevor Horn. Surely Downes must have popped by to visit!

Well, yes, he did... and more. It's now emerged that Downes has been recording with Yes for their new album. (Downes is now back in the UK, and Yes are still working on the album.) So, what does this mean? A guest appearance? A reunion of the Drama band on "We Can Fly from Here", already thought to feature Horn on vocals? Or something more?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

pianocircus play Skin & Wire

Last night, we saw a one-off show by piano sextet pianocircus (David Appleton, Paul Cassidy, Kate Halsall, Dawn Hardwick, Semra KurutaƧ and James T Young) at King's Place, the relatively new arts venue behind King's Cross station. The first half of the show was pieces by Colin Riley, including two taken from Skin & Wire: pianocircus featuring Bill Bruford play the music of Colin Riley. Bruford was in attendance, three seats to my right in fact, but not performing. I'd estimate the total audience at a bit over 100.

The evening opened with "Squiggle Zipper", a jarring, discordant piece from Skin & Wire and, I felt, the weakest performance of the evening. The timbral variation provided by the drums and more on the album version work better for me than the piano/synth-only version here. Visuals throughout the first half were supplied by William Simpson and Simon McCorry, with "Squiggle Zipper" being accompanied by an effective abstract grid flashing blue and white with the music. "Ebb Cast", the second Skin & Wire piece, followed and was much more successful. An evocative mood piece, it went beautifully with Simpson/McCorry's soothing yet bizarre 'tentacled' cows video. This showed cows slowly grazing in the early morning, or perhaps late evening, yet the video was heavily processed. In particular, there were multiple echoes of every movement, so as a cow lifted its head, a succession of superimposed cow heads went through the same action. As the cows ambled past, this gave the impression of a mass of tentacles flowing below.

Ending the first half was the world premiere of Riley's "Double Trio". For this piece, two pianocircus members played grand pianos, each with another member standing and reaching into the piano's innards. The remaining two were mostly on synths. The first movement saw the standing performers drumming away on the piano's bass strings, this percussive element working well against the keyboard play for a dynamic opening. In the second movement, the standing performers instead banged on the struts of the piano soundboards, which gave a change in sound compared to the first movement, but they struggled to achieve sufficient volume. The last movement was slower, with a range of manipulations of the piano strings, holding them to shorten the vibrating length when played, or plucking them directly. The visuals were lightly processed views, generally looking straight down into the piano. An interesting piece overall, visually exciting, but I felt we'd had a weaker second movement.

Part two of the evening saw the ensemble in its more familiar arrangement, six synths-as-pianos in a circle, facing inwards. The programme was drawn from Graham Fitkin's post-minimalist works of 1989-90. These fast, dynamic, interlocking piano pieces are what pianocircus are perhaps best known for. Well-performed, exciting and sometimes almost trance-like; a much enjoyed second set.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

What will 2011 bring?

Yes's calendar for the year is becoming clear. They're currently working on the new album, with a release in the second quarter expected (German magazine Eclipsed is saying April). After finishing the album, there's time off for other projects, including Asia touring in April/May, before Yes repeat their recent pattern of a summer North American tour with another act – Styx is reported to be the partner this year. [3 Feb: YesWorld have just announced some March dates for the US, so looks like Yes are squeezing an extra leg before Asia tour.]

Touring in South America may follow, before already confirmed Europe dates in the winter. Towards the end of the year, Asia may gather for studio sessions further to their next album being released in 2012, the 30th anniversary of the band's debut album.

But the current Yes line-up aren't the only game in town. Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin are working on a band project, which Wakeman says will happen this year, although Anderson recently said it would be this or next year. So, will 2011 be like 1989 all over, with two rival bands in competition? Unlike 1989, we may even have rival albums within months of each other, and rival tours at the same time. Fandom has already been polarised by the schism in Yes and Anderson's and R. Wakeman's continued absence. Will the online arguments heat up, or will the discussions calm down when there's actual output from both sides to compare? Some are already looking to the Anderson Wakeman Rabin project as the rightful Yes, and they stack up well against Squire, White and Howe:

Anderson v. Squire: Squire has been on every album released under the Yes name, but he wasn't on ABWH. Anderson has been on every album save Drama, but as the frontman and the main composer/lyricist, that could be round 1 to AWR.

Wakeman v. White: White has been on many more Yes albums than the in-again-out-again Wakeman, and he's contributed more to the songwriting, yet Wakeman is perhaps the best-known Yes member. Round 2 to AWR as well?

Rabin v. Howe: Rabin's three and a bit albums + "Owner of a Lonely Heart" against Howe's thirteen and a bit albums + "Roundabout"? Round 3 to HSW.

The current Yes do also have another former Yesman on board with Trevor Horn producing + Roger Dean doing the art + control of the name, but then Anderson Wakeman Rabin have yet to finalise the rest of their band. For me, the possible Achilles heel for Anderson Wakeman Rabin is that the three of them were never together in Yes (barring on the Union tour), which curtails the nostalgia factor. Anderson has hinted at a set list focusing on the YesWest period, but how does Wakeman being along fit in with that? (See previous blog post.)

To complicate matters further, Anderson and Wakeman as just a duo are also touring in 2011, while Anderson and Rabin (without Wakeman) appear to have done some film score work together.

And if the current Yes and Anderson/Wakeman/Rabin isn't enough for you, there's already a third 2011 project featuring three Yesmen. This is John Wetton's forthcoming new solo album, Raised in Captivity, produced, co-written and co-performed by Billy Sherwood, with guest appearances by Geoff Downes, Tony Kaye, very brief Yes member Eddie Jobson and others, including Steve Hackett. Expect release in the first half of the year.

Speaking of Hackett, another much anticipated release for 2011 is his album with Chris Squire. Now complete, we await release details, but again first half of the year seems likely. The album is already generating a buzz among those who have heard it.

Billy Sherwood, as ever, remains busy with plenty of other projects. A new CIRCA: album is expected, and he's been progressing with his own next solo album. A duo tour with Tony Kaye of Japan for April has been announced. New US prog band Mars Hollow made something of a splash with their debut album in 2010, produced by Ronan Chris Murphy, and they return in 2011 with a second album produced by Sherwood.

Other potential highlights of the year? We're still waiting for the Trevor Horn/The Producers concept album and for Trevor Rabin's new solo album. Jon Anderson's latest, Survival and Other Stories, is expected to get general release after having been available only on the Anderson Wakeman Project 360 tour in 2010. Rick Wakeman has floated possible projects with Keith Emerson and with Jon Lord, making his a busy year.

And there's still a few more Yesmen team-ups on the cards, with Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn back writing together and intriguing reports of a David Torn/Tony Levin/Alan White project (Alan there stepping into Bill Bruford's shoes).

What are you looking forward to most this year? Leave a comment below!