Sunday, 16 December 2012

Prog Critics' Choice

With the end of the year approaching, it's a traditional time for retrospectives and awards. Prog begins with their Critics' Choice, a top 20 chosen by 22 writers and editors at the magazine. Anathema's Weather Systems comes top, followed by Rush's Clockwork Angels and Marillion's Sounds That Can't be Made. No Yesmen are in the top 20, but Adam Wakeman's band Headspace make #19 with their debut album, I am Anonymous.

Prog also gives the 22 individual responses. Producers' Made in Basing Street (with Horn and Downes) makes four lists, including topping one. Squakett's A Life Within a Day is on six lists; Asia's XXX is on three lists. Trevor Rabin's Jacaranda, Glass Hammer's Perilous and Nektar's A Spoonful of Time appear once each.

In the reissue category, Larks' Tongues in Aspic comes second, with King Crimson's Live in Argentina 1994 comes fifth in the multimedia category.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Poll: Best Yes-related album of first half of 2012

Our latest 6-monthly poll of the best Yes-related album releases attracted 126 votes.

1. Squackett: A Life Within a Day (w/ Squire): 46 (37%)
2. Trevor Rabin: Jacaranda: 39 (31%)
3. Asia: XXX (w/ Howe, Downes): 24 (19%)
4. Producers: Made in Basing Street (w/ Horn, Downes): 11 (9%)
5= Tales from the Edge: A Tribute to the Music of Yes (w/ Davison): 2 (2%)
5= King Crimson: Live in Toronto, June 24, 1974 (w/ Bruford): 2 (2%)
7= Sonic Elements: XYZ—A Tribute to Rush (w/ Sherwood): 1 (1%)
7= King Friday: Let the Song Begin (w/ O Wakeman): 1 (1%)

It was a bumper period for major Yes-related releases. The clear winner was the much-anticipated and long-awaited Squackett collaboration. Major Chris Squire projects outside Yes are a rare thing and the team-up with former Genesis/GTR guitarist Steve Hackett proved irresistible. It's unfortunate that plans for a Squackett tour this year have evaporated.

Until a late surge for Squackett, Jacaranda was very close. While Rabin's film music output has been prodigious, his non-score work has been limited to just a handful of guest appearances over the 18 years since Talk, so Jacaranda was perhaps even more anticipated and awaited than Squackett. I've reviewed the album previously and interviewed Rabin about it recently.

Completing a triumvirate of projects that took their time about being released was Producers' Made in Basing Street. The band has been going since 2006 and much of the album was written and recorded in December 2006 and January 2007. For Yes fans, the album is most notable for seeing Horn taking on the lead vocal role for parts of the album, with a series of poignant songs about his wife's accident.

But Made in Basing Street only made 4th, beaten by Asia's XXX. In comparison to Made in Basing Street, Jacaranda and A Life Within a Day, XXX was a rapid project and the third album from the reunion band in fairly quick succession.

There were no votes for Marco Sabiu's Audio Ergo Sum (with Anderson guesting on one song), Icon's Heat of the Rising Sun, Estelle's All of Me (minor Horn production input), Jay Tausig's Pisces (Sherwood guests on one track) or the two Patrick Moraz releases, Pianissimoraz and Live at Abbey Road.

Anderson's PR machine made much fuss about the Sabiu album and Anderson's talked about making a full album with him, although it's unclear whether that will actually happen.

Moraz' Pianissimoraz attracted much anger from fans: although billed as a new album, it actually only contains one new piece, otherwise being a compilation from Windows of Time and ESP, plus one track from Resonance.

The second half of the year sees no less than six guest star-laden releases from Cleopatra Records (five with Billy Sherwood) going up against major releases from the most recent two Yes vocalists (Davison and David) and possibly one from the guy before.

[Edit: corrected vote totals.]

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Interview with Trevor Rabin

This interview was conducted by e-mail in July 2012 and my thanks to Trevor. We focus on Trevor's recent solo release, Jacaranda, later in the interview, but we start with some broader questions, looking across Trevor's long career, from commercial success with Rabbitt in South Africa, to his time in Yes, and writing film scores.

If the questions seem a bit odd(!), I was asked specifically for questions away from the usual, so I took this opportunity to quiz Trevor about a variety of topics from some unusual angles. To improve readability, I have re-arranged the order of questions and done a bit of editing.

Henry: You went from being this huge success with Rabbitt in South Africa to coming to the UK and a less commercially successful solo career, and then back to huge audiences with Yes. What was that journey like for your self-esteem? Do the periods of big success carry you through the other times, or do they just make you more frustrated when every album doesn’t sell as well? Do you think of the fans of different parts of your musical life – Rabbitt, Yes, film scores – as being separate groups, or are you keen to pull them along with you as your work evolves?

Trevor: Without sounding too philosophical, I feel like each different endeavor is like stopping in at an address and then moving on to the next one. Some addresses are nicer than others. But I feel that one cannot plan too much… you have to go with it, and as long as the music is really the focus, I don't think there's much more you can plan.

South Africa has obviously been through substantial change since you left. It has a whole new spirit and approach. Some South Africans who left during apartheid have since moved back to the country. Is that something you considered? Does that new spirit in the country reach to you as an expat?

Yeah, I have family there and it still has a big place in my heart, but I'm an American now and am proud of it.

Rabbitt’s breakthrough was a Jethro Tull cover. Were you aware of the British prog scene at the time? Did you ever listen to Yes, oblivious to the fact you would one day join the band?

"Locomotive Breath" was recommended by the record company. My awareness of YES when I was in RABBITT, was hearing Six Wives of Henry the Eighth which I loved a lot.

You did your national service in South Africa in the army’s entertainment division: what was that like, being so young, being politically opposed to apartheid?

It was leave the country (which I was not ready for), go to jail (ugh) or go to the army. I spent a year in the entertainment unit. I played in the big band, had a rock band, and spent the rest of my time practicing the guitar and piano. It was invaluable. So in retrospect, I never shot anybody and improved myself.

You’ve now lived many years in the US, but you also had that period in your life when you lived in the UK. Is there anything you miss about the UK?

I really do miss London, it was a great time for me.

In the late 1970s, you did a tour opening for Steve Hillage, I believe. I wondered what you recalled of that period? Had Hillage chosen you as his opener, or was that something the record company put together?

Not sure who suggested me for the tour. But Steve Hillage was a pure gentleman.

The late 1970s also brought us Disco Rock Machine, your brief foray into disco. [Disco Rock Machine was the band name used for releases in 1978-9, produced, co-written and co-performed by Rabin. Several songs are on YouTube: I like this cover of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me".]

I had started a record company when I moved to London called Blue Chip Music, and Disco Rock Machine was done to sell. Creatively my solo albums was really my focus. Ironically Disco Rock Machine sold more.

Rick Wakeman tells the story about a planned supergroup Geffen was trying to put together in 1980 with him, John Wetton, Carl Palmer and you. Do you have any memories of this?

I remember this well. Carl Palmer, John Wetton and I had a dinner at Brian Lane’s house with David Geffen, and Rick unfortunately missed his plane. It was an interesting dinner.

It seems to have been a long journey from your original solo demos to the eventual release of 90125 as a Yes album. Several songs got abandoned along the way (e.g., "Make It Easy", "It’s Over", "Time"), there were several line-up changes. Was that a difficult journey or did it feel right? Did you weep over each song that didn’t make it to the final cut, or was that a sensible pruning process? When Jon Anderson joined the band, it became a Yes reunion. You’ve often said you never wanted the Yes name, but do you think you ended up making a better album with Anderson than without? It’s the 30th anniversary of 90125 next year. Any plans for some special re-release with alternate and demo versions, along the lines of the Pink Floyd Experience editions? Between your earliest demos and the Cinema versions, there must be enough for a triple CD at least!

I mentioned on my website that I'm not a fan of compilations. I never liked the idea of 90125 with extra tracks. By all means release the early tracks. I did with 90124 [a collection of demos, mostly related to 90125, put out in 2003: see the Yescography entry], which I thought might be interesting. Actually it was Rob [Ayling] from Voiceprint who came up with the idea. But I feel 90125 should remain as it began. As far as tracks not making the album, one must keep in mind that I was involved in this process, so I agreed on the choices, and all demos that lead to being on albums would change whether it was YES or anyone. Having said this, it was a very creative place. And Chris and I had a great time, followed by Jon’s amazing contribution. Love to see something done for the (wow) 30th anniversary.

Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, you are rumoured to have recorded a whole album with Roger Hodgson, with the other Yesmen too. What happened? Will this ever surface?

Roger and I wrote a lot together and we recorded a lot of it, but it never surfaced. We have taken such different roads now, I doubt whether it will see the light of day.

In the late 1980s, you, Chris Squire and the others tried continuing Yes without Jon Anderson, but ultimately there was the Union. Having faced that challenge yourself, what do you think of your old band mates now continuing Yes without Jon?

I love Chris like a brother and wish only the best for him. But I think Jon is such an important part of YES, and it's not just the sound. It's the input and perspective that Jon brings. It sometimes is tough, but it's so worth it.

And, giving you’re working with Jon and Rick, but you’ve also guested with the current Yes, do you find it difficult being caught in the middle of this schism?

I do believe that Jon and Chris are mature about the split, and neither one ever talks ill of the other to me.

Many rock stars lived on the edge: drugs, broken marriages and financial disasters are familiar elements of many rock biographies, and affected even Yes. You seem to have escaped comparatively unscathed: what’s your secret?

I'm not sure why I remained relatively sane... Maybe I'm the crazy one.

You’ve talked about an Anderson-Wakeman-Rabin project. Such a project is going to be seen in the context of Yes, it will be seen as an alternate Yes, any publicity will be all about Yes. Is that a fear? How do you position yourselves?

While Jon, Rick and I are excited about the prospect of doing something together nothing is organized yet and there’s no telling when or how something will be done. We really want to. Time is the enemy at the moment.

When you are working on a film score, you are often working to a tight deadline and various requirements from the filmmakers. Do those constraints fire up your creativity, or does it become a chore? And how does that compare to Jacaranda, where you had complete freedom to do anything you wanted?

I love film partly because of the pressure. You have no choice but to work. I think while Jacaranda was given a long time to evolve, it somehow was benefited by the years of scoring.

Your scoring covers many styles and genres. When you are scoring a film set in some different place (as with "5 Days of War") or time ("American Outlaws", "Flyboys"), do you actively go and research the music of that period or place? Did you investigate, say, Georgian music?

With the help of the producers, who were Georgian, I did explore the music of Georgia prior to getting too deeply involved, and it was inspiring. And yes, I love the fact that I get to go to so many places.

Your film work is heard by millions, but as a film score composer, you are comparatively anonymous compared to the screaming fans of Rabbitt or Yes, underwear being thrown, that sort of thing. How does that difference in the feedback you get from audiences affect you?

I guess to be honest, I would love more people to actively listen to the score work, although I have to say, Varese have done a great job doing the score albums. I also think Sony did a great job on the score album for Armageddon (where I worked with my old friend John Kalodner).

In a time of global austerity, with many politicians looking inward with a nationalist agenda, do you feel you have something to say musically in response? As a lyricist, you often wrote with a political message. As a film score composer, you can't do that, although you have scored several films with a political message, and I recall you being pleased when Obama used "Titans Spirit" after a key speech. Is there a way that you can, as an instrumentalist, respond to the political issues of the day?

I am very proud of some of my lyrics. Sorrow, Can't Look Away, State of Fear ([1973 single by South African band] Freedom's Children) speaking about apartheid, or Miracle of Life, about the human abuse of animals. However, I'm a musician first, and while I care deeply about the social political state of the world, and the needless conflicts, I tend to confine my commentary to lyrics. As far as the global picture, it seems to be cyclical. Deep financial downturns seem to be followed closely by nationalism, racism, and ultimately revolution. I love doing films which I feel have a strong message, although doing fun action films are as valid in an entirely different way.

You have been through many technological changes in how music is made during your career. How often have you adapted your working practices to suit the technology, and how much has the technology adapted to suit your working practices?

I feel technology is something that's always excited me ... I'm always looking to see what's on the horizon. The Talk album was quite tough however. I think I embraced a nonlinear digital format slightly before it was ready. But I think on balance, it was a net benefit.

There have been persistent rumours that not all of the bass and drums on Talk was by Chris Squire and Alan White. Any comment?

It was a totally new experience from a recording point... Alan and Chris had strong input, but I believe it was the most fun Jon and I had together.

I can turn on my computer, start up Spotify and legally listen to most of your Yes albums, numerous score albums etc., and you get paid very little. All of Jacaranda appeared illicitly on YouTube soon after its release. What is it like for a musician working in this modern digital world?

Yeah, I'm disappointed with the current level of "the business of selling music". Outside of a reasonable live environment, which is there for a small percentage of acts ... recorded material is in a disgraceful mess... and I really say this not for myself, I've done OK. But for new, inspired talent, it really, really worries me. I hope it doesn't lead to young talent choosing to do something else because of the near collapse of the record business. I just hope people continue to follow their musical dreams. It's important.

You are supporting Ryan as he launches his career, and you were supported by your father when you started yours. But isn’t rock’n’roll about sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ youthful rebellion? Does that fit with dad coming along on tour?

I always was a bit irritated with the shallow chant... “sex, drugs & rock’n’roll”. While that's what does happen on the road, it was never ever why I'm a musician.

In the words of Steve Howe’s drumming son, Dylan, do people come up to Ryan and ask, “How’s your dad?” How does Ryan define himself as being more than “Trevor Rabin’s son”?

I don't think Ryan needs my help. His band, Grouplove, just hit number one on the billboard alternative chart, the band are doing great, and having a wonderful experience. Ryan is definitely not in my shadow, and has never used that.

The titles of the pieces on Jacaranda hark back to growing up in South Africa. Are you nostalgic for that time?

No, not nostalgic, but it does bring inspiration to the table.

I would describe Jacaranda as mostly jazz/fusion, but unlike much jazz, there doesn’t seem to be any improvisation on the album. It's composed through and through. Are you interested in more improvisational work?

Actually a lot of it was improvised and then assembled. I think I love both disciplines equally, improvising and composing. I treat them pretty much different parts of the same family.

I spent quite a while playing with Hennie Becker (one of the most ridiculous musicians I've ever come across) where I really learned to improvise with jazz that involved extremely complicated jazz chord progressions. It was certainly not one-four-five stuff.

Jacaranda made #6 in the US Jazz Chart – congratulations! I wonder how you relate to genre? So, when you were writing a piece like “Anerley Road” or “Zoo Lake”, do you think, “This is a jazz piece, so it will develop in a certain way,” or, “This is a jazz piece, so the listener will expect it to develop in a certain way and I’ll do something different,” or do you just not think about genre at all, that’s for the marketing department and the chart compilers to worry about?

I think the only vague rule was that it would probably be instrumental, that I wouldn't restrict myself by genre, and that I was to challenge myself as a player and writer more so than I had prior... I never expected the album to chart, but I'm delighted where it got to.

One of my favourite tracks on the album is “Killarney 1 & 2”. Did you sit down intending to do a piano piece, or did you have a melody, an idea, and it seemed to fit the piano best?

The piece was written for piano. My chops were a little rusty, so it took some practicing for me to play.

“Through the Tunnel” stands out as one of the rockier tracks on the album, reminiscent of past pieces like “Sludge”. That’s also one of the tracks where you worked with Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. How did that collaboration work? Did you have the piece worked out and were fairly clear how you wanted the drum part to go when Colaiuta came in? Or did you develop the piece around what Colaiuta played?

On this track, I talked to Vinnie about the groove and that it was in 20/8. I had written the broad stroke idea, but had not recorded anything. So Vinnie went in and gave me around 6 minutes with certain fills. I then played on top, and later edited his performance. Vinnie did one take. He's ridiculous ... and the nicest guy.

In one interview you did about Jacaranda, you talked about a jazz club back in South Africa you attended when you were young. I wondered how much the particular style of ‘60s and ‘70s jazz in South Africa was still an influence on you today and on Jacaranda. I also came across this long out-of-print album by Mike Makhalemele & Winston Mankunku Ngozi called The Lion and the Bull and featuring Trevor and Rabbitt bandmates in 1976 [see here] – good stuff!

The club was the Branch Office. Hennie Becker was a giant in South Africa regarding jazz, and I often played with him at the club. I learned a lot from him, and guitarist John Fourie who died recently. I worked a lot with Mike Makhalemele. He was a gentle soul and a wonderful player.

Listening to Jacaranda, you have these intricate, fast-moving pieces and then, bam!, “The Rescue”, this complete change of pace. Was that contrast something you deliberately wanted on the album?

Yes, The Rescue was the last addition to the album, and I thought it helped shade the sequencing quite well.

I am curious about the process of composition for Jacaranda. Where did you begin? Did you tend to start just fiddling around on an instrument? Did you write yourself scores while composing Jacaranda or when working out some of the more complex arrangements (like “AnerleyRoad”)? Or do you use technology a lot, recording multiple ideas and manipulating them on the computer to see how different arrangements or passages work?

There wasn't a lot of searching blindly, which can be a useful tool, but while the arrangements sound quite worked out, there was a lot of improvisation. Not a lot of takes on the floor, and a very intentional goal was that everything would be 'humanly' played, warts and all. ...and yes, the album evolved during breaks on film work, and then last year I focused on finishing the album.

I know some musicians go into recording with a clear idea of what they want to do, and then they fill in the pieces. But others work more iteratively, trying something, then changing it, then something else. Which are you? If we took a look at your hard drive, would there be a hundred different versions of each piece on the album, all subtly different?

While there is some modular repetition used, I had a good idea of where I was going, but I always trusted myself to change at any time. There are different versions on the hard drive, but mostly you would find that each version would be a development and a move forward.

On some film scores, you’re the composer and the music is performed by an orchestra. On Jacaranda, of course, you’re largely doing all the performing yourself. When composing a score for an orchestra, you sometimes have to bear in mind what it’s practical to play and adapt to the limitations of the performance, but what do you do when you’re also the performer? Does the composition process drive you to perform better? Or is the composition of an album like Jacaranda so rooted in performance that the distinction is moot?

The distinction is somewhat moot, however, I feel strongly that arranging for orchestra is part of writing, and that to write confidently for orchestra, one should be aware of what the different instruments are capable of. One must also have knowledge or at least a good instinct as to how the various instruments work together as well.

Obviously, in the past, you’ve made albums with a record company breathing down your neck, wanting results. With Jacaranda, you made it in your own time, on your own terms. How do you decide when to stop? How do you get over that inner perfectionist saying, “Let’s just try something else?” I know some artists who like having deadlines because otherwise nothing ever gets finished!

Firstly, thank you for astonishingly relevant and pertinent questions. Yes, I've made many albums with record companies nagging to "end it already". This time we're breathing down the record companies neck. I didn't even think of who or how it would be released until it was all done. I think, I hope I knew when to stop (maybe). I have been in a position where I allowed music to get stale due to not letting go, so it's important to let go at the right time. But on Jacaranda, I seemed to have a good idea when it was complete.

The deadlines on movies are so hurried in so many ways. I have no choice but to be extremely prolific. I did 3-4 albums during 15 years in YES, and an average of 60 minutes a movie on thirty nine films, which is highly technical as far as linking to specific film, constantly catching up to the latest edits, with film editors who don't care that the endless new cuts they make screws the composer up. So in contrast to the amount of inspiration that hit YES in 15 years, I have done 39 movies in 12 years on film, the equivalent of 39 albums. Of course it's a different kind of focus, but no less relevant.

You’ve tantalised us with hints of another solo album, this time with vocals, of a guitar concerto, of working with an orchestra… What is the next step for your non-score work? What does the future hold? Will it be difficult doing solo albums in parallel with film scores – the film scoring work seems very demanding of your time?

I am so motivated by Jacaranda it certainly won’t be 20 years between albums again.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Yesmen outside Yes: final poll

After three rounds, we moved to the final poll on the best non-Yes(/ABWH) albums featuring 3+ Yesmen. There were 119 votes:

1. Chris Squire: Fish Out of Water (w/ Bruford, Moraz): 66 (55%)
2. Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (w/ Squire, Bruford, Howe, White): 20 (17%)
3. Rick Wakeman: Criminal Record (w/ Squire, White): 12 (10%)
4= Chris Squire & Billy Sherwood: Conspiracy (w/ White): 6 (5%)
4= Symphonic Music of Yes (w/ Anderson, Bruford, Howe): 6 (5%)
6. The Buggles: Adventures in Modern Recording (w/ Horn, Downes, Squire): 5 (4%)
7. CIRCA: 2007 (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, White): 4 (3%)

A very clear result then for Fish Out of Water, perhaps the best-loved Yes-related album. Squire, I note, also plays on 4 of the top 5.

Wakeman's two solo albums with multiple Yes guests come a clear second and third. Nice to see some recognition for Criminal Record, an album which I feel gets overlooked compared to the 'official' 1975/6 solo releases. (Note all three of the tracks with Squire/White from Criminal Record and the only track on Six Wives with Squire and Howe are on the 2000 compilation, Recollections The Very Best of Rick Wakeman (1973-1979).)

We've got three more albums featuring 3+ Yesmen out in the next two months, all on Cleopatra Records: Billy Sherwood's The Prog Collective (with Squire, Wakeman, Kaye, Banks and Levin on different tracks); his Supertramp tribute Songs of the Century (with Squire and Kaye on an original track by Sherwood; Wakeman and Levin with Sherwood on "Crime of the Century"; and Downes, Kaye and Banks each on different tracks); and Nektar's Spoonful of Time, a covers album with Howe, Downes, Wakeman and Moraz on different tracks.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Jon Anderson & Miro Žbirka at Sadler's Wells (8 Aug 2012)

Jon Anderson's set (55 minutes):
orchestral intro
“Starship Trooper” (abbreviated, ~7 mins)
“I’ll Find My Way Home”
“Earth & Peace”
“Long Distance Runaround” (abbreviated)
“Nous Sommes du Soleil” (with orchestral intro)
“Race to the End”/“Match of the Day” theme excerpt (orchestra only)
“Music is God”
“Change We Must”
“And You and I” (abbreviated, ~6 mins)
“State of Independence”
joint encore with Žbirka: “All You Need is Love”

I arrived at Sadler’s Wells to find the foyer full of beautiful, young people – my first clue that this wasn’t a typical prog concert! You see, this event was a double bill: Slovak singer Miro Žbirka for an hour, then Jon Anderson for just under, and a joint encore. The venue (capacity 1560) was about 60% full. All the Yes fans had the same story: we logged on pretty much as soon as tickets went on sale to find most of the stalls already sold – some sort of mass booking by the Slovaks – and that’s pretty much how the ticket availability remained with further tickets going slowly. [10 Aug: Apparently, this was a block booking to supply free tickets to the Slovaks as part of the Olympics.]

While disappointing that the show had sold poorly – lack of promotion? high ticket prices? – this meant all of us in the second circle (good seat, £45) got upgraded. I ended up with a great seat, front row of the first circle.

First on, then, was Miroslav Žbirka, who first came to fame in successful Czechoslovak band Modus in the 1970s. But I only know that because I just looked it up; he was an unknown quantity to me. Sixties-tinged pop, he sang well, a nice stage presence. And, excepting a cover of “Hey Jude”, he sang in Slovak and most of his song introductions was in Slovak too. I’m sure he’s a lovely man – and the Slovak fans, as I indicated, are a more attractive lot than us ageing Yes fans! Judging by who laughed when Žbirka said something funny, maybe 2/3 of the audience were there for him. But the concert made no sense with little stylistic similarity between the two singers. The other 1/3 of us, here for Anderson, sat bored and restless for an hour. And the Žbirka fans were, it seems, as uninterested by Anderson as we were by Žbirka. I saw a fair few trickle out early in Anderson’s set.

Žbirka was backed by Cappella Istropolitana (the Bratislava Chamber Orchestra), conducted by Adrian Kokoš: 11 violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos, 1 double bass, 6 brass, 4 woodwind and 1 keyboard player. For some numbers, he had additional support from a rock band (two guitarists, bassist, drummer). Finally, his set (60 minutes) ends and he introduces Anderson, talking about getting The Yes Album as a young man. Cappella Istropolitana also backed Anderson, but he had a different supporting band led by Peter Machajdík (keys, backing vocals). A few years back, Anderson guested on a great piece entitled "Sadness of Flowing" on Machajdík's album, Namah. (You can read my interview with Machajdík about the collaboration with Anderson here.) And Machajdík previously headed a band who played with Anderson in Slovakia in 2009. Joining Machajdík were a guitarist (plus backing vocals; possibly Juraj Burian?), a backing vocalist (plus additional percussion) and a drummer.

The last time I saw Anderson live was at the end of the last UK Anderson Wakeman tour, about two years ago, and his voice was a disaster. Thankfully, his voice tonight was fantastic (and I’m told he sounded even better in the soundcheck). This was the best I’ve heard him since 2008, very nearly back to his pre-morbid state. He perhaps opted out of holding some of the higher notes as long as he once did, but that was barely noticeable. This was the voice we love: precise, powerful, warm. A joy to hear.

On the other hand, the musical context around that glorious voice was hit and miss. I felt the orchestra could have been tighter. The guitarist was weak in places. “Starship Trooper” made for a poor opener: it didn’t seem to translate well to the orchestral context and lacked energy. “I'll Find My Way Home” was better, but the orchestra seemed superfluous. However, the show improved: newer piece “Earth & Peace” was reminiscent of The Living Tree, but had a role for the orchestra too. "Long Distance Runaround" and particularly "Nous Sommes du Soleil" really lifted the set, although both were rather short.

Anderson talked about the beauty of Bratislava, the Slovak capital. He had had four days rehearsing with the orchestra. He was often flustered between songs, but in a good-natured way. He forgot the song order, had lyrics on a music stand for a couple of pieces, had to be reminded of the names of his backing band and the conductor. But he had a good rapport with the audience – least, those of us who knew who he was! Anderson's personal guests in the front row – I think Damion was there, and Jade was also around – led the applause. But having a big chunk of the audience there for Žbirka rather sucked the energy out of the crowd response for Anderson.

Žbirka had played his classic hits. OK, I have no idea if Žbirka had or had not played his greatest hits, but the audience reaction suggested he did. The Žbirka fans had sung along in places, and we’d all sung along to “Hey Jude”. Anderson tried to get us to sing along to “Music is God”. No. Everyone knows “Hey Jude”. Only hardcore Anderson fans have heard “Music is God”. That didn’t work. And Anderson introduced “Music is God” saying he wanted to get an orchestra to play a reggae song, pointing out the absurdity, but his point was rather proven by how poorly the orchestra fit the song!

But mostly the set list worked. The strongest pieces were the later Vangelis-composed numbers, where the orchestra had a clear role behind Anderson's soaring vocals: “Change We Must” a particular highlight. “And You and I” was orchestrated well, ending nicely with Anderson accompanied by a single violin, if again rather on the short side.

The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” was a joint encore, with Žbirka and his supporting band joining Anderson, his supporting band and the orchestra. A good choice of song, everyone fitting together, making a lovely finale.

For a concert just over two hours long, we had maybe 30 or 40 minutes of great music with Anderson, although it was a delight whenever Anderson was singing. In all, this concert feels like a metaphor for Anderson’s career. That voice is back. He’s got new material – both “Earth & Peace” and “Music is God” are growing on me – but he needs to find the right context to work in. The match-up with Žbirka made no sense and the set list choices didn't always fit with an orchestra, but when it worked – with songs like “Nous Sommes du Soleil”, “Change We Must”, “And You and I”, “State of Independence” and “All You Need is Love” – this was well worth it.

[13 Aug edit] Anderson's supporting band were: Juraj Burian (guitars, backing vocals), Peter Machajdík (keys, backing vocals), Igor "Ajdži" Sabo (drums, percussion), Andrea Zimanyiová (vocals, hand percussion)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Review: ABWH, Live at the NEC

The Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe tour has always been blighted by its one official live recording missing Tony Levin, who was taken ill and temporarily replaced by Jeff Berlin. While not included in the band name, Levin was then, as now, more than a faceless sessioner and had an established rhythm section partnership with Bill Bruford. So a show with Levin is the key selling point of Live at the NEC, the latest Gonzo release from this period following their ABWH re-release and Union Live.

Gonzo, successor to Voiceprint, have been much criticised in the past, but Union Live was generally well received. The ABWH re-release was notable for its bonus tracks, although it was an embarrassment to discover neither Steve Howe nor Levin were even told of the release. (Howe was saddened as he's sitting on a pile of unreleased recordings that would have made for better bonus content.) Sadly, Gonzo's poor reputation strikes again here with the wrong track order for disc 2, but more on that later.
In short, this is a good recording of a great show and a welcome addition to An Evening of Yes Music Plus. There are seven musicians on stage (ABWH + Levin, with Julian Colbeck on keys and Milton McDonald on guitar), only one of whom is in the current Yes (Howe), yet this feels, legal quibbles over the name notwithstanding, like Yes and serves as a reminder of another path the band once took.

Let's begin with the beginning and the much-discussed, inventive but low-key start to the show, where Anderson, Howe and Wakeman all took solo spots. Sadly the audio on Live at the NEC misses the full Benjamin Britten lead-in and there a few annoying audio glitches early on, particularly in Anderson's solo. Anderson's medley is inventive (compared to predictable solos from Howe and Wakeman), although the cheesy keyboard sounds from second keyboardist Colbeck are unfortunate.
If Howe's choice of pieces is safe, I'll praise the strong performance of "Mood for a Day". Wakeman's solo is one of his better and there's a nice lead-in to the first full band piece, "Long Distance Runaround". And this is the first time that you really notice the difference to the Squire/White rhythm section with a heavy bass from Levin and Bruford's much-criticised electronic drums. More than most, I like Bruford's electronic kit and what he did with it in early Earthworks, but here, the result is more questionable. His solo after "Long Distance Runaround" feels more like a tech demo than good music. It feels as if the electronic kit is more often limiting Bruford's playing rather than than allowing him to explore new territory.

Apart from "Teakbois" appearing in Anderson's medley, the first (then) new piece is "Birthright". It is sadly marred by a poor mix, with the keys too low and the drums too loud. We're then into "And You and I" and, as we're early in the tour, this is still one of the first few times Bruford has ever played this song as he left before the tour supporting Close to the Edge. This is a good version; Bruford's drums work for me here and Levin is distinctive. McDonald and Colbeck bring some great backing vocals to the mix.
It is interesting to compare how ABWH put together the set and how they approach different songs with what Yes today do, or Yes in the early 2000s did. Geoff Downes was criticised by many online when he explained Yes sometimes opt for slower tempos to give some songs more power, but here ABWH seem to take the same approach. Anyone who complains about the modern band's tempos should try this version of "And You and I": ABWH chose what feels like a fairly slow tempo, but it complements the piece. They speed up for a rocking edition of "I've Seen All Good People", with Howe notably strong and a great solo from Wakeman. And then straight into an aggressive "Close to the Edge". An almost industrial rhythm section play against Howe's fiery playing in the opening section. The clang and clatter of Bruford's electronic drums might not be to everyone's tastes, but I think they (mostly) work here, bringing a different edge to the piece. Anderson is in great voice, as he is throughout the show. A grandiose and triumphant climax is met with lengthy applause.

"Themes" is a reminder of the strengths of the ABWH album. The set could have been included more material from the album, but it's clear this was all about Yes music and re-uniting (4/5 of) the Fragile/Close to the Edge band.
Levin's playing is less to the fore than Squire would be, but he is spotlighted in a duet with Bruford, obviously missing from An Evening of Yes Music Plus. Their duet varied from night to night, and unfortunately this night's wasn't their best. There are some nice ideas initiated by Levin, but it feels as if they never quite find their feet and the piece doesn't develop. Bruford's machine gun rattle from his electronic kit is over-used.

"Brother of Mine" is another testament to the album, with good back-up guitar from McDonald. "The Meeting" has a nicer introduction than on the album and a strong performance, unfortunately with a little bit of audio hiss.

Anderson then announces to the audience that, "It's request time" and then waits for someone to shout out "Heart of the Sunrise". Was it as obvious a ruse at the time as it is in retrospect? Anyway,  Levin's funkier take on the bass line is odd, and there's that machine gun clatter from Bruford again! But, overall, it's another great performance: a more pacific reading of the piece than some performances by other Yes incarnations.

"Roundabout" is another strong performance, notably from Anderson. "Starship Trooper" is taken at a measured pace. Anderson interpolates a bit of "Soon" at the end of "Disillusion", then chats with the crowd, does thank yous. It makes for a laidback version of the song, but by beginning "Wurm" at a slow tempo, it allows them to steadily speed up to a high-energy climax to the evening.

But, hold on, you may be thinking, wasn't "Order of the Universe" played in between "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Roundabout"? Yes, yes, it was and that's what the track listing on the back of the box says. But for no clear reason at all, what we get on disc 2, after "Starship Trooper", is a short silent gap and then "Order of the Universe". Across the whole show, the audio has one or two problems, which presumably reflect the BBC's source recording and are forgivable, but this bizarre move of "Order of the Universe" smacks of straight incompetence.

So, anyway, better late than never: here's "Order of the Universe". It's actually one of my favourites on the album, but I think here it is weaker than the other tracks. While Anderson sings well for most of the show, he lacks fluidity here. We also get more overly clattering drums from Bruford, and another poor drum solo.

Currently available is this deluxe, 3-disc edition of the release. The packaging comes with a replica of the tour programme. And there's a DVD with a 26 minute, black and white film by Colbeck, consisting of fairly raw footage shot on 25 Oct 1989 backstage, of the soundcheck and short portions of the show (shot from the side of the stage). The film is interesting to see once, but I can't imagine watching it a second time! I presume a standard release with just the 2 audio CDs will follow at some point.

One can criticise how the set was ordered or Bruford's foray into electronic drums, but the release reflects those choices that ABWH made at the time. Live at the NEC is an honest document of ABWH live. Bottom line, while there are some glitches, some better and worse performances, this is a great set and worth getting.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Yesmen outside Yes: poll part 3

Part 3 of our survey covering albums featuring 3+ Yesmen together outside Yes covers 2000 through to the present day. There were 52 votes in all:

1. Chris Squire & Billy Sherwood: Conspiracy (w/ White) - 28 (54%)
2. CIRCA: 2007 (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, White) - 13 (25%)
3. Return to the Dark Side of the Moon: A Tribute to Pink Floyd (w/ Sherwood, Bruford, Kaye, Banks, Howe, Wakeman, White, Downes) - 3 (6%)
4= Pigs & Pyramids—An All Star Lineup Performing the Songs of Pink Floyd (w/ Sherwood, Squire, Kaye, White) - 2 (4%)
4= CIRCA: Live (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, White) - 2 (4%)
4= John Wetton: Raised in Captivity (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, Downes) - 2 (4%)
7. Abbey Road: A Tribute to The Beatles (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, White, Downes) - 1 (2%)
8= Back Against the Wall (w/ Sherwood, Howe, Wakeman, White, Downes, Squire, Kaye) - 0
8= From Here to Infinity (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, Howe, Wakeman, White) - 0
8= Led Box: The Ultimate Tribute to Led Zeppelin (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, Wakeman, White, Downes) - 0

 ... and there was one 'other' vote for an ineligible album. So, a clear win for Conspiracy, with the debut CIRCA: album second. (The second Conspiracy album and multiple further CIRCA: releases only featured 2 Yesmen each and so didn't make this poll.)

The final will feature the first and second placed albums from the three semi-finals. That means:

Chris Squire's Fish Out of Water (w/ Bruford, Moraz): 1st in the 1970s poll
Rick Wakeman's The Six Wives of Henry VIII (w/ Squire, Bruford, Howe, White): 2nd equal in the 1970s poll
Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record (w/ Squire, White): 2nd equal in the 1970s poll
Symphonic Music of Yes (w/ Anderson, Bruford, Howe): 1st in the 1980/90s poll
The Buggles' Adventures in Modern Recording (w/ Horn, Downes, Squire): 2nd in the 1980/90s poll
Chris Squire & Billy Sherwood's Conspiracy (w/ White): 1st in the 2000s+ poll
CIRCA: 2007 (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, White): 2nd in the 2000s+ poll

Seven albums: Squire is on five, White is on four, Bruford is on three, Howe, Wakeman and Sherwood are on two apiece. I don't know whether that says something about the popularity of those Yesmen (presumably so in Squire's case) or just about how often they collaborate!

We'll have the final poll shortly, which will then lead us up to the release in August of two more multi-Yesmen albums, The Prog Collective and Songs of the Century: An All-Star Tribute to Supertramp, both led by Sherwood and with guests including Squire, Wakeman, Downes, Banks and Kaye.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

From ARZ to XYZ

ARZ are a progressive rock duo from Portland, Oregon, consisting of Merrill Hale on drums and Steve Adams on everything else (vocals, guitars, bass, keys), and they kindly sent me a copy of their new album, Turn of the Tide, released last November on Unicorn Digital (home to Mystery and other bands).

While Steve and Merrill met in a Yes tribute band, for me the first half of the album evokes Signals-era Rush more, both in its music and in its intelligent lyrics. Other influences are apparent as the album progresses. The bombast of "Hope and Glory", for example, is more in the vein of ELP, and a work-out for Hale on drums.

But, like Mars Hollow, another band I've championed, what makes ARZ worth trying is that they are more than the sum of their influences. They have their own style and Turn of the Tide successfully combines toe-tapping, hummable melodies with interesting arrangements and strong playing, making the longer pieces on the album still fly by. If I have a complaint, it is that the band could do with a more distinctive sound palette.

Speaking of Rush, just out is XYZ—A Tribute to Rush, a 5-song EP of Rush covers from Dave Kerzner's Sonic Elements project. As a keyboardist, Kerzner has worked with the likes of Kevin Gilbert, Steven Wilson and Simon Collins, but he is also the founder of music software company Sonic Reality. The gimmick behind XYZ is that it uses a set of drum tracks recorded by Neil Peart and available through Sonic Reality (Vol. 2 The Grooves sample library). Kerzner has then assembled various guest stars to record these covers of "Tom Sawyer", "Red Barchetta", "YYZ" and "Limelight" around Peart's playing.

For Yes fans, the interest is in Billy Sherwood, who appears on every track: bass on "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight", additional bass on "Red Barchetta", bass and guitar on "YYZ" and bonus track "Trifecta" (more on that below). Other guests include Porcupine Tree's John Wesley on "Tom Sawyer" (vocals, guitar) and "Limelight" (guitar), and Rik Emmett (vocals, guitar) on "Red Barchetta" (vocals, guitar).

These are great songs, well played, making for a fun EP. The interest in a covers project is often in how it relates to the original recordings. Here, Kerzner, Sherwood et al. stick very closely to the source material. Kerzner's keyboard work at the beginning and end of some of the tracks is where he deviates most from the original versions. I, as I'm sure many of you reading this, are very familiar with the originals, so even small differences stand out and provide interest, but I would have liked more variation.

Perhaps that conservatism in the arrangements is a necessary result of using Peart's drum tracks. Perhaps as a counterpoint to that, there is an extra song on the EP, "Trifecta". This takes the drum track for "YYZ", but Kerzner and Sherwood have recorded a new composition around it. (A second original piece, "Times Gone", built around the "Tom Sawyer" drum track, was also available for those who pre-ordered, but I missed that opportunity.)

As an experiment, "Trifecta" is interesting, but I didn't find it wholly successful. The piece has some OK riffs, but I don't feel it hangs together in its own right. The ghost of "YYZ" hangs over the piece, dictating the overall flow.

Sonic Elements have plenty more in the pipeline, much with Sherwood, including both covers and more original material. The covers include Yes songs, but the next planned release is another EP, It—A Tribute to Genesis & Peter Gabriel.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Two poll results

Part II of the poll of albums with 3+ Yesmen covered the 1980s and '90s, not perhaps the most impressive period for the multi-Yesman album compared to the likes of Fish Out of Water and The Six Wives of Henry VIII in the 1970s, but there were 102 votes and these are the result:

1. Symphonic Music of Yes (w/ Anderson, Bruford, Howe): 31 votes
2. The Buggles: Adventures in Modern Recording (w/ Horn, Downes, Squire): 18 votes
3. Steve Howe: Portraits of Bob Dylan (w/ Anderson, Downes): 14 votes
4. Tales from Yesterday (w/ Banks, Howe, Moraz, Sherwood): 10 votes
5. Esquire: Esquire (w/ Squire, White, Horn): 8 votes
6. Rick Wakeman: The Classical Connection II (w/ Squire, Bruford, Howe): 7 votes
7. Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Welcome to the Pleasuredome (w/ Horn, Howe, Rabin): 6 votes
8. Peter Banks: Can I Play You Something? (w/ Squire, Bruford): 3 votes
9= Encores, Legends and Paradox, A Tribute to the Music of ELP (w/ Banks, Downes, Khoroshev): 2 votes
9= Clive Nolan & Oliver Wakeman: Jabberwocky (w/ R Wakeman, Banks): 2 votes
11. Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Liverpool (w/ Horn, Howe, Rabin): 1 vote

The winner, Symphonic Music of Yes, is a bit of an oddity, often overlooked. The core band performing with orchestra and choir were Howe, Bruford and bassist Tim Harries (from Bruford's Earthworks), with Anderson guesting on two tracks, and ABWH additional keyboardist Julian Colbeck guesting on another, but the key figure behind the project was arranger/keyboardist Dee (then David) Palmer. Palmer is best known as a former member of Jethro Tull and did an orchestral album of Tull music in 1986 with various Tull members. She followed this with an orchestral Genesis album in 1987 and one for Pink Floyd, before Symphonic Music of Yes in 1993. Further albums for Queen and The Beatles followed.

I was surprised by its win given it doesn't seem like a particularly well regarded project. Symphonic Music of Yes is sometimes best remembered for a promotional appearance on US TV by Howe and Bruford in which they performed "Roundabout" with Howe, ill advisedly, singing lead vocals.

Second placed Adventures in Modern Recording has received new found attention as the bonus tracks on the latest re-release include a two-part "We Can Fly from Here" and a piece that became "Life on a Film Set" on Fly from Here, as well as a regular album track "I am a Camera", The Buggles' version of "Into the Lens".

The final poll, for the period from 2000 onwards, is now on the main page.  Every one of the eligible albums involves Billy Sherwood, nearly all in the leading role. Sherwood has become the nexus for projects with multiple Yesmen, and Cleopatra Records is often the label involved. As well, Kaye is on all but one of these (Conspiracy) and White is on all but one (Raised in Captivity), illustrating how both work regularly with Sherwood. In contrast, none of these projects involves Anderson, Moraz, Khoroshev or any of the more recent Yesmen.

Once part III has run its course, there will be a final poll with the first and second place from each part, plus any new releases. (There are several multi-Yesmen albums in the pipeline: Nektar's Spoonful of Time is expected to feature Howe, Wakeman and Downes, while Sherwood's Prog Collective and his Supertramp tribute both include Kaye, Squire, Wakeman and Banks, and at least one also has Downes.)

We then had another poll about the possibility of Yes - The Musical! This was after Squire mentioned the possibility of Yes doing a project on Broadway, although a second interview has since made clear that he means some sort of residency rather than a musical production. Still, here are the poll answers (120 votes):

No, oh my god, no, no...: 51 votes (43%)
Yes: it should be a science fiction story based on Roger Dean's artwork: 41 votes (34%)
Yes: it should be about the history of the band: 22 votes (18%)
Other: 4 votes (3%)
Yes: it should be a fictional story about regular people in the 1970s/80s: 2 votes (2%)

The 4 'other' votes included 2 suggesting the residency idea that we now know Squire means, 1 opposing the whole idea, and another suggesting the creators of South Park produce it - clearly a great idea. So, that comes out as a narrow majority in favour of the idea, most of whom then favour something sci-fi-y connected to Roger Dean's artwork.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Broadway beckons

Yes on Broadway? With Jon Anderson back? A recent interview with Chris Squire mentions the idea in passing. It's an interesting interview, mainly about Squackett, but this remark, made in response to the familiar question of whether Anderson will ever return, is just the sort of whacky idea with minimal details that gets us fans speculating. So let's take a look at it. Here's what Squire says:
"There’s been talk of YES possibly doing something on Broadway in New York. People have approached me with that idea and there are discussions about that. A possible project like that and you might see Jon [Anderson] re-involved as you would other ex members of YES. Once again there’s nothing concrete about that yet and now that we have Jon Davidson [sic] on board, our next project will probably be making a studio album with him. But we won’t close the door on other possibilities in the future …we’ll see what happens."
In interpreting this, I would start with two big caveats: it's not at all clear what this is about, so let us recognise that we are speculating here; and, whatever this is, it's an early stage of discussion and so there's a high chance it won't happen.

Also, Squire says their "next project will probably be" a studio album with the current line-up. So, work on a studio album is unlikely to seriously start before the beginning of 2013, so if this Broadway thing is to happen, it would seem unlikely to be before the second half of 2013 and could well be much later.

So, what is it? My first thought was a musical based on Yes songs, with the band being involved putting it together and promoting it, but not performing, as Queen did with "We Will Rock You", as other acts have done. However, Frumious B on suggests some sort of run of special live shows, going back to a classic line-up of the band, connected to the band's 45th anniversary (although the timing, it seems to me, would put this activity possibly beyond 2013 and that anniversary). Those seem like the two most obvious possibilities, but could it be anything else?

There's been talk in recent years of a film using Yes songs. This would either involve Roger Dean and some fantasy story, the "Floating Islands" project (see this 2008 interview); or something biographical about the band's history, which Squire mentioned in a 2007 newspaper interview. The 2007 article made the comparison with "Yellow Submarine", so possibly there's a middle ground between these two approaches: about the band and a fantasy story. Could one of these ideas have mutated into a theatrical production? This would seem to get us back to some sort of 'Yes - The Musical'.

So two options: (1) Yes - The Musical (maybe somehow related to prior film ideas); (2) special live shows. Anyone else want to throw out other ideas?

Let's look at what Squire says more carefully. He speaks of "YES possibly doing something", so active involvement from the band. I'm not certain that really tells us much. They could be actively involved in a musical without performing, or that would readily fit a live show option.

He goes on: "and you might see Jon [Anderson] re-involved as you would other ex members of YES". Note he says "might" and note he talks about "other ex members", not just Anderson. If the plan was a special run of live performances re-uniting the classic band, you would think they would have to have Anderson or some other key ex-members (Wakeman R? Rabin?) on board. What would be the point of the current line-up doing it; how would it differ from any other live dates? It seems to me that this sort of optional involvement of various past band members might imply a musical, something where past band members can have input or help promote the endeavour (and they'd want to as it's a money-spinner for songwriters), but the process is driven by the Howe/Squire/White core regardless.

As I said, whatever it is, it probably won't happen! But if it did, what would you want to see? I've started a poll on the Where Are They Now? front page where you can vote for an option or make suggestions, or leave comments on this blog post the usual way.

[EDIT 25 May 2012] Squire has now expanded on the Broadway concept in a new interview. Frumious B was right. I quote:

Squire is open to the idea of a Yes reunion as part of a residency at a Broadway theater in New York. "The idea of 'Yes on Broadway' has come up," he says. "It would reflect the history of Yes. It requires the collaboration not only with Jon Anderson, but also other ex-members, including keyboard players like Patrick Moraz and obviously Rick [Wakeman] would be looked at as well. Of course, it would have to depend on if there's any interest from that side as well. It's something that's brewing, but it's very much on the backburner."

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Yesmen outside Yes: poll part 2

The previous poll on the Where Are They Now? front page covered non-Yes albums featuring 3+ Yesmen from the 1970s. Part II of the poll is now up covering the 1980s and 1990s.

The Part I results are in and the winner, as could be expected, is Fish Out of Water, Chris Squire's first solo album, with Bill Bruford on drums and Patrick Moraz on some of the keyboards. A perennial favourite; a classic album. The full results are...

1. Chris Squire: Fish Out of Water - 71 (47%)
2= Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives of Henry VIII - 26 (17%)
2= Rick Wakeman: Criminal Record - 26 (17%)
4. Steve Howe: The Steve Howe Album - 16 (11%)
5. Steve Howe: Beginnings - 5 (3%)
6= Johnny Harris: All to Bring You Morning - 1 (1%)
6= Eddie Harris: E.H. in the U.K. - 1 (1%)
8. Alan White: Ramshackled - 0

There were 4 other votes: 2 for albums with 3+ Yesmen not from the 1970s, and 2 for '70s albums with only 1 Yesman each.

So, a dead heat for second place between the two Wakeman albums. "Catherine of Aragon", the opening track of 6 Wives, was originally recorded with most of the Fragile band (everyone except Anderson) because it was originally to have been Wakeman's solo spot on Fragile, before contractual problems meant it couldn't be used. Bruford and Alan White then appear on further tracks. One side of Criminal Record features Squire and White: Wakeman gave them free rein to record rhythm tracks and then added to the results; shades of Levin Torn White! Nearly all the remaining votes then went to the two Steve Howe albums.

The other three contenders received two votes between them. While they may not be the best and are overshadowed by Fish and Wives, I hope there is still some love for all three.

On paper, Johnny Harris's All to Bring You Morning has everything going for it. I believe it was the first album to feature 3 Yesmen together outside Yes (just ahead of Wives). It was recorded around the same time as Close to the Edge with the involvement of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Alan White and Eddie Offord (although Offord is on the 2 tracks Howe and White aren't). Yet far from being some lost prog masterpiece, most of All to Bring You Morning is a throwback to the '60s: easy listening, orchestral covers of well known pieces. It's the 14 minute, original, title track -- with vocals and lyrics by Anderson, guitar by Howe, drums by White -- that stands out if you're a Yes fan.

All to Bring You Morning also features guitarist Pete Kirtley, bassist Colin Gibson and Steve Gregory on flute/sax. All three also appear on Ramshackled. Ramshackled is another of the 1975/6 albums along with Fish and Beginnings. However, to call it an Alan White solo album is perhaps misleading. White wrote none of the music. What he did was re-assemble a former band he'd be in. White, Kirtley and organist Kenny Craddock had worked together backing Alan Price in the 1960s, before becoming Happy Magazine. With the addition of Gibson, they formed Griffin, but the band only ever released one single in 1969 before disbanding. But the band members continued to work together in various arrangements before the opportunity arose to do Ramshackled.

Ramshackled reflects that late '60s/early '70s rock sound. It's not very prog, it's not very Yes-like, but, as with All to Bring You Morning, one track stands out for the Yes fan: "Spring—Song of Innocence", a setting of a William Blake song, with guitar by Howe and sung by Anderson.

Eddie Harris (no relation to Jonny) was an American jazz saxophonist. For E.H. in the U.K., he recorded in London with a selection of British musicians, including Albert Lee, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, Ian Paice and three Yesmen. Kaye, Squire and White are together on the final two tracks. (I believe this is the first time White and Kaye worked together.) Instrumental jazz, lots of improvising and jamming, this is a context in which you might expect to find Bill Bruford, but not Squire, White and Kaye. And at times they seem uncomfortable, but there's some interesting playing along the way in the 16-minute "Conversations of Everything and Nothing", including the closest I think Squire has ever come to a King Crimson vibe.

Part II of the poll covers the 1980s/90s: you can vote now. There will be a part III subsequently and then the top albums in each poll will go forward to a final! Many of the qualifying albums in the 1980s/90s feel like they're only in on technicalities: e.g. Squire's mysterious minor credit on Adventures in Modern Recording; Horn's only role on Esquire is co-mixing one track; Rick Wakeman is on Jabberwocky but as a narrator, not on keyboards. We also see the first tribute albums, what would become a very fertile territory for multi-Yesmen projects. I'm also surprised that 4 out of the 11 albums involve Peter Banks, not someone we always think of as having as large a discography as other Yes alumni.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Trevor Rabin's Jacaranda

This is not the album I expected, but it is a testament to Trevor Rabin that he has delivered something not merely good, but also surprising. Highlights on the album like "Anerley Road" and "Market Street" have Rabin departing from his past rock or film score work, turning instead to jazz influences. There is a restless energy to the music, with arrangements and instrumentation rarely staying still for more than a few bars. Pieces that are four or five minutes long feel epic in terms of the ground they've covered. The usual jazz approach would be a statement of the melody, various solos based on that melody, before a final re-statement. Being close to a one-man band (he plays nearly everything save drums -- full details are on Where Are They Now?), Rabin instead varies instrumentation and arrangements as he explores the core theme of each piece, producing some of the best work of his career.

There is also an eclecticism to the album. There are slower tempo numbers: for example, penultimate track "Zoo Lake" is like an old-time jazz ballad. The short "Spider Boogie" opener does bluegrass. Album finisher "Gazania" is typical of the album's variety: a classical guitar skeleton, with bluegrass interludes and strong piano sections.

Expectant fans have been looking back to Can't Look Away, Rabin's last solo album, or Talk, his last significant non-score project, as possible reference points. The closest we get to those is "Through the Tunnel" and "Me and My Boy", where a heavier rock sound echoes pieces like "Sludge" or "Cinema". Yet we're 18 years from Talk; 23 years from Can't Look Away. 18 years before Talk, Rabin was still in Rabbitt, and given the change from Rabbitt to Talk, we shouldn't be wary of as much change again. Ironically, tracks like "Storks Bill Geranium Waltz" or "Anerley Road" may appeal to fans of the Steve Howe Trio or Time more than fans of Talk or 90125.

What we have heard from Rabin in recent years is a vast amount of film score work, which you could be forgiven for forgetting about. Until, that is, the album completely changes direction with track 6 and the cinematic "Rescue", based on his work for the film "The Guardian". The next track, "Killarney 1 & 2", brings us back towards the style of the rest of the album in its arrangement, if not its instrumentation for this is mostly a solo piano piece on what is mostly a guitarist's album. It is worth noting that the keyboards throughout the album are strong.

Trevor Rabin's Jacaranda has been some time coming, with Rabin busy with film scoring and supporting his son Ryan as his career gets going. Ryan drums on two tracks here, including, as the name suggests, "Me and My Boy". The cover art is by Hannah Hooper, who plays keys in Ryan's band Grouplove. But with the album almost here, Rabin has made some positive comments about the possibility of touring. [9 May: correction of Rabin's comments] If this comes off, it will be a show worth catching.

While I'm here... "Sea of Smiles", the single from Squackett, out on limited edition on 21 April. It's a big, joyful, catchy piece of music: I love it. While there is nice instrumental work, this is melodic rock more than prog. And it feels more 'ackett' than 'Squ': this would not have sounded out of place on Hackett's Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, although Squire's bass and singing are more to the fore than there.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Yesmen outside Yes: poll part 1

With so many people having been through Yes over so many years, it is no surprise that some of them have worked together outside Yes. There are numerous albums with two Yesmen together, including long-running acts like Asia and CIRCA:.

On rarer occasions, we've had three or even more Yesmen on an album. So many Yesmen together obviously attracts the attention of the Yes fan. The results of such collaborations can be like finding a lost Yes song, as with "Spring - Song of Innocence" on Alan White's solo album, Ramshackled, with Anderson and Howe guesting. They can give us something akin to a Yes from an alternate history, like with Chris Squire's Fish Out of Water. Sometimes, the interest is precisely because we hear the Yesmen in a very different context, as with Steve Howe's Portraits of Bob Dylan (both Anderson and Downes guest). And sometimes such albums are just curios, good answers to trivia questions. There are three Yesmen on Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Liverpool (Horn, Howe and Rabin), but I can't detect two of them!

So, which of these albums - albums with three or more Yesmen together outside Yes - are worth getting and which aren't? What do you think? Thus the topic of our latest poll on the Where Are They Now? front page. The poll is split into three. First up are the 1970s albums, most of which came about when the band members guested on each other's albums. We'll move on to part 2, the 1980s and 1990s soon.

What prompted this topic is that there are three forthcoming albums featuring three or more Yesmen each, all on Cleopatra Records.

Cleopatra Records have a business model for tribute albums: pick well-known songs by a well-known act, and record them using an array of guest stars. The result makes for good promo. Keep recording costs low and they sell enough copies to make a profit.

The problem is that the result is often less than the sum of the parts. There have been some good tracks on past Cleopatra tribute albums - I think of Keith Emerson doing Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog", in particular - but most of them have been a disappointment to my ears. For all the big guest star names, their input seems often to be through a quickly done session, with the heavy-lifting done by someone else.

That someone else is often Billy Sherwood, which is why many of these albums end up with multiple Yesmen guesting, including tributes to The Beatles (Abbey Road), Zeppelin (Led Box) and Pink Floyd (notably Back Against the Wall and Return to the Dark Side of the Moon).

But Brian Perrera, head honco at Cleopatra, has been experimenting with the formula. Instead of tribute albums by various guest stars, Cleopatra are now doing covers albums led by a particular artist or act, although still with multiple guest stars as well. Last year we had William Shatner (yes, as in Captain Kirk) doing a sci-fi covers album with Howe and Moraz guesting. Forthcoming is another covers album by Anglo-German prog band Nektar, with Howe, Wakeman and Downes guesting. (Moraz was also billed as to appear on the Nektar album, but isn't on the final track list.)

And now we've got The Prog Collective. Same array of guest stars on a base by Billy Sherwood, but instead of covers, we have original material by Sherwood. At the same time as Sherwood has been working on this, he's also been working on a Supertramp tribute album. Both albums have many of the same guests, with Squire, Wakeman, Kaye and Banks confirmed for both, and Downes on at least The Prog Collective.

We await release dates for all three, but Sherwood's two projects have been delivered to the label and the Nektar album also seems close. And beyond these, Dave Kerzner's Sonic Elements project is offering a very different approach to doing covers: first EP, XYZ—A Tribute to Rush, features Sherwood too, with further Yesmen lined up for later releases. Whether these will be successful experiments or not, time will tell, but it adds to an interesting year already including high-profile releases like Squackett's A Life Within a Day, Trevor Rabin's Jacaranda and Producers' Made in Basing Street.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Poll: Best Yes-related album of the second half of 2011

The second half of 2011 saw the release of several major Yes-related projects: albums with multiple Yesmen (up to three for Raised in Captivity), significant solo releases, new collaborations and a variety of guest appearances, including on an album by a former starship captain. This was also the period, of course, that saw the release of the first new studio album from Yes for over a decade: namely Fly from Here.

However, I decided to keep this poll for the Yes-related releases and leave Fly from Here out. Otherwise, I thought Fly from Here would just swamp everything else. I also decided to include two non-album releases: Jon Anderson's "Open" is a digital-only, one-track single, although at just under 21 minutes in length, it's more like an EP, so I felt it should be included. I was already including King Friday's (physical) EP. Tony Kaye's "End of Innocence" is over twice as long as "Open", nearly 46 minutes, but was put up for free on YouTube. While previous polls in this series have not included tracks made available on a streaming basis, the magnitude of Kaye's opus was such that I felt it warranted inclusion.

110 people voted, and the results were:

1. Jon Anderson: "Open" - 25 (23%)
2. Steve Hackett: Beyond the Shrouded Horizon (w/ Squire) - 21 (19%)
3. Steve Howe: Time - 12 (11%)
4. Anderson Wakeman: The Living Tree In Concert Part One - 10 (9%)
5. Levin - Torn - White (w/ White) - 9 (8%)
6. John Wetton: Raised in Captivity (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, Downes) - 8 (7%)
7= CIRCA:: And So On (w/ Sherwood, Kaye) - 6 (5%)
7= Glass Hammer: Cor Cordium (w/ Davison) - 6 (5%)
9. Billy Sherwood: What was the Question? - 4 (4%)
10. Tony Kaye: "End of Innocence" - 3 (3%)
11= William Shatner: Seeking Major Tom (w/ Howe, Moraz) - 2 (2%)
11= King Crimson: Collectors' Club/DGM Live releases (w/ Bruford) - 2 (2%)
13= Kurt Michaels: Soaring Back to Earth (w/ Sherwood) - 1 (1%)
13= Flaming Row: Elinoire (w/ Sherwood) - 1 (1%)
15. King Friday: "Let the Song Begin" (w/ O. Wakeman) - 0 (0%)

There were no votes for 'other'.

The voting was very close and watching the results come in as exciting as the Republican primary contests! Anderson's "Open" and Beyond the Shrouded Horizon (with Squire guesting on several tracks and a recycled GTR riff earning Howe co-writing credits) were neck-and-neck until a final voting spurt from "Open". Throughout, third place was hotly contested between Time and The Living Tree In Concert Part One, with several albums in contention for 5th.

I'm taking these close results as an indication of a very strong period of Yes-related releases. I think any of the top 5 here could have won the previous poll had it been released in the first half of the year. And these were all on top of Fly from Here!

6th place went to John Wetton's Raised in Captivity (which I gave a bad review earlier). Between that, the latest CIRCA: album and his latest solo album, Sherwood's releases clocked up 18 votes. Add in two guest appearances, and he gets 20 votes, only one less than Shrouded Horizon.

Just before I put this poll up came the news that Jon Davison was now singing with Yes. I, thus, included in the poll his last album with Glass Hammer, Cor Cordium. The album scored a respectable 6 votes.

There's already plenty of projects lined up for the first half of this year, including Trevor Rabin's new solo album, Jacaranda, and the debut from Producers, Made in Basing Street. Given the success in this poll of Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, we can expect Squackett to be welcomed enthusiastically.

Jon Anderson has now won the last three of these polls, with The Living Tree (with Wakeman, of course), Survival and Other Stories and now "Open". Could he make it four out of four? He's talked of working on a follow-up to "Open", another long-form piece, and he's also talked about an album release including "Open", and about a sequel to Survival and Other Stories, which conclusively won best Yes-related album of the first half of 2011. However, Anderson's plans often appear rather fluid and when a next release will appear is unknown. He's also now talking about an album and tour with Marco Sabiu in 2013, which would be a disappointing change of direction for me.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

DPRP Poll 2011

The popular Dutch Progressive Rock Page website hold an annual poll; 581 voted in the latest. After a strong performance in the Prog poll, Yes have done well again. Fly from Here is 4th in Best Album, behind Steven Wilson's Grace for Drowning, Dream Theater's A Dramatic Turn of Events and Opeth's Heritage. Steve Hackett's Beyond the Shrouded Horizon (on which Chris Squire guests) came 8th.

Blackfield's Welcome to My DNA, with a track produced by Trevor Horn, was 16th. Cor Cordium, the latest album from Glass Hammer, with Jon Davison on vocals, was 17th. The next appearance by a Yes man is Mars Hollow's The World in Front of Me, produced by Billy Sherwood, at 57th, with nothing else Yes-related in the top 100.

DPRP have a category for Best Individual Track. "Fly from Here" came 4th after Dream Theater's "Breaking All Illusions", Steven Wilson's "Raider II" and Pendragon's "This Green and Pleasant Land". "Fly from Here Pt. 2 - Sad Night at the Airfield" then, on its own, came 23rd. Steve Hackett's "Turn This Island Earth", co-credited to Steve Howe and with Squire on bass, was 38th equal. No other Yes connections in the top 50. Amalgamating over multiple tracks, Yes was the 5th best performing in this category; with Steve Wilson top.

Fly from Here also won Best Artwork, with Cor Cordium 6th and Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, 13th. "Union Live" was 7th Best DVD; Rush's "Time Machine - Live in Cleveland 2011" won. For these categories and everything below, I'm listing anything Yes-related in the top 20, and there was nothing Yes-related in the top 20 Best Concerts. Levin Torn White were 9th equal in the Best Newcomer category.

Mirroring what happened in the Prog poll, Yes and the release of Fly from Here won both Best Happening and Biggest Disappointment. Also in the Biggest Disappointment category were Welcome to My DNA at 4th, and, in 11th equal, Anderson and/or R. Wakeman not rejoining Yes, and poor live performances by Yes.

In terms of individual performances (which had to be based on material released in 2011), Dream Theater were the clear winners, with John Petrucci Favourite Guitarist, Jordan Rudess Favourite Keyboard Player and Mike Mangini Favourite Drummer. Howe was 5th Favourite Guitarist, with Hackett 2nd. Downes was 10th equal for Favourite Keyboard Player, but not a single vote for Rick Wakeman! Alan White was equal 14th for Favourite Drummer.

As in the Prog poll, Benoît David beat Jon Anderson in the Favourite Vocalist category: David was 5th, new Yes vocalist Jon Davison was 14th equal, while Anderson was just 41st equal. Steven Wilson won. Chris Squire was 2nd for Favourite Bass Player, behind Karmakanic's Jones Reingold. Tony Levin was 12th equal in the category for his work on Levin Torn White, and then 17th equal for his work on A Scarcity of Miracles (by Jakszyk, Fripp & Collins).

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Poll: What are we looking forward to in 2012?

Last year was a dramatic one for the band with a line-up change and their first new album in a decade. There were highs - Fly from Here sold well, shows at the beginning of the European tour leg saw the band energised and enjoying playing their new material - but there were lows - the joint tour with Styx was not the band at its best, and the European leg ended prematurely with David suffering health problems.

2012 looked as though it would be much calmer: roughly, work on the new Asia album in the first quarter of the year, some sort of touring by Yes (broadly playing the same set as in Europe) in Q2 and Q3, before Asia then tours and celebrates their 30th anniversary in Q4. That may still be the broad outline of the year, but the rollercoaster has started again with Jon Davison coming in as new vocalist, replacing Benoît David.

Mostly held before the Davison news, our latest poll asked what you were most looking forward to in 2012. We had 171 votes and the results are:

Squackett: 49 (27%)
Yes continuing to tour: 37 (21%)
New Anderson/Wakeman: 23 (13%)
Trevor Rabin's Jacaranda: 18 (10%)
New Mystery album: 11 (6%)
Next Jon Anderson solo project: 10 (6%)
Asia 30th anniversary: 8 (4%)
The Buggles return: 6 (3%)
Producers/The Path of Sydney Arthur: 4 (2%)
Journey to the Centre of the Earth live: 3 (2%)
New Billy Sherwood projects: 2 (1%)
Oliver Wakeman's Cultural Vandals: 0 ( 0%)
Other: 8 (4%)
   ... of which, Anderson/Wakeman/Rabin: 5 (3%)

So the voting was very spread, but a clear favourite in the long-awaited Chris Squire/Steve Hackett collaboration. Unlike some Yesmen, releases by Squire (outside Yes) are uncommon and perhaps that's why they attract more interest. Steve Hackett, of course, is well known in his own right, and now has an impressive tally of Yesmen collaborations: obviously with Bill Bruford in Genesis and Steve Howe in GTR, but also Geoff Downes, Trevor Horn, Rick Wakeman, Billy Sherwood and Tony Levin. Squire's guest appearances on Hackett's last two solo albums have whetted the appetite for Squackett.

Yes continuing to tour are second. Further Anderson/Wakeman work is your third choice. 5 people voted for the Anderson/Wakeman/Rabin project, and I presume many more would have had I explicitly included it as an option in the poll. However, the latest reports suggest the project is delayed again and we won't see any activity until 2013, and plenty are sceptical we'll ever see it.

However, Rabin's new album, Jacaranda, is finished and now expected May on Varèse Sarabande. Fifth choice, and above Anderson's next solo project, is the new Mystery album, largely finished, but awaiting a release date. So some Yes fans have clearly taken Benoît David to heart.

Anderson's next solo project gets 10 votes. The two Horn projects expected this year (although details remain unclear) get 10 together: 6 for The Buggles, 4 for Producers.

The Asia anniversary is only in seventh. I was also surprised to see Rick Wakeman's next live extravaganza, this time for Journey to the Centre of the Earth, so far down given the excitement there was around The Six Wives of Henry VIII a couple of years ago.

Since the poll, we've also had news of a possible Rick Wakeman/Tony Levin/Ian Paice project; more details of Billy Sherwood's plans, including guest appearances by Wakeman and Levin on a Supertramp tribute album; and there's the forthcoming Nektar covers album with Howe, Downes, Wakeman and Moraz all guesting.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Benoît beats Jon

Day 5 of the latest Yes line-up change, and the twists and turns have continued. Anderson has said he wasn't asked back and denies any regular communication with Squire: not good news for those hoping for a reunion.

But I want to break away from the David/Davison transition for a moment, because the latest issue of Classic Rock Presents... Prog is out, with the results of their readers' poll. And Yes have done very well: 3rd in Best Band (behind Opeth and Dream Theater, but above the likes of Rush); and 2nd in Best Album (behind Steven Wilson's Grace for Drowning, but above Opeth's Heritage, or albums from Dream Theater and Van der Graaf Generator). However, showing how Yes divides opinion, they also win the Non-Event category.

Perhaps the most notable result in the poll, and the one that will enrage many, is that Benoît David came higher than Jon Anderson in the Best Male Vocalist category. David was 8th, Anderson, 9th and ex-Rick Wakeman vocalist Damian Wilson, 10th. Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt won, followed by Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlöw, Steven Wilson and Peter Gabriel.

Anne-Marie Helder, who recently sang on Geoff Downes' Electronica, won Best Female Vocalist. Steve Howe was 3rd in Best Guitarist, after John Petrucci and Steve Hackett. No close Yes connections in the Best Drummer category, won by Gavin Harrison over Mike Portnoy. Squire was 2nd in Best Bassist after Geddy Lee, with Tony Levin coming 8th. Rick Wakeman was 2nd in Best Keyboard Player after Jordan Rudess; Downes came 8th.

The "Union Live" DVD was 9th in Best DVD; Rush's "The Time Machine" won. The King Crimson remasters were 4th in the Best Reissue category. Pink Floyd's Wish You were Here won.

Steven Wilson unsurprisingly won Prog Icon 2011, followed by Gabriel, Portnoy, Neal Morse and then Hackett. Jon Anderson was 10th.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Permanent change

Day 3 of the new line-up. Noise11, who are supporting Yes's Australian tour, carried an interview with Squire this morning. In it, Squire confirms that the change from David to Davison is permanent (or as permanent as anything in the world of Yes).

Davison was only confirmed shortly before the news was announced. That announcement came first via the Japanese promoter, but was on YesWorld's Facebook account in hours, and now this further clarification from Squire. This is all much, much faster than past line-up changes: think back to when Sherwood or Khoroshev left. Yes have entered the information age. And yet some fans are still complaining that we haven't been told enough, and we haven't been told quick enough!

Some further observations on the fan reaction online... Many have asked why the band didn't just cancel dates in April. I don't think most people appreciate the very considerable costs in cancelling a tour at this time. Journalist Jon Kirkman summed it up well on

"Take it from me having worked in the industry for more than 35 years you just cannot blow out a whole period of touring without massive problems. The tickets for this tour will have been on sale since the dates were announced and more importantly the deposits will have been paid to the band. Many bands need these deposits to set the tour up etc so short of death and even the Who toured following the death of John Entwistle then the tour will go ahead. Touring at this level just can't be postponed like a pub gig. There is a lot at stake"

What does all this tell us about Yes? The main conclusion that I draw from events is that Howe, Squire and White aren't going to stop. They are the core of the band and they will keep going, come what may. We've seen other bands, like Journey and Starship, which have gone through multiple vocalists. Yes may now find stability with Davison, but if something happens to Davison, they will find someone else.

So, farewell Benoît David. He was in the band for longer than Oliver Wakeman, Igor Khoroshev, Patrick Moraz, Peter Banks or, so far, Geoff Downes (adding his two periods together). (Tell me if I've got my maths wrong on any of those!) However, Moraz and O. Wakeman are the only ones who have appeared on as few or fewer studio albums (and even Moraz had his 1975/6 solo album appearances). I look forward to the new Mystery album, currently being mixed and expected this year, and hopefully many more after that.

Monday, 6 February 2012

A different Jon: Yes change lead singer again

Surprise news arrived this morning from the promoter for Yes's Japanese dates in April. The announcement is only available in Japanese, but says that, due to prolonged medical treatment, Jon Davison will be taking the lead vocal role in Yes for the band's April tour leg instead of Benoît David. An extension of that tour beyond Japan is also announced, with the band to play Jakarta, Indonesia, and then a final show in Hawaii at the end of the month. This will be the band's first visit to Indonesia and, indeed, I believe only the second time they've played an Asian show outside Japan (Singapore in 2003 being the other time).

I'm sure more details will emerge over time, but my tentative understanding at this time is that the band had been planning to tour with David, but a problem emerged very recently (late January, at a guess) and Davison was brought in quickly to allow the April tour dates to go ahead. This seems to have been a change forced upon Yes rather than one they wanted to take.

I have no further details on David's medical problems, but wish him a prompt recovery. The obvious question is what happens after April. I don't know. It seems quite possible that, right now, the band don't know either. The Japanese promoter's announcement isn't clear... at least not after it's been through Google Translate... although one might read into it an implication that Davison is merely filling in for this tour leg, implying David will be back later in the year. The band have been looking at summer dates in Europe and North America, although nothing has been announced yet. What happens with those plans is also unknown.

For those of you who don't know him, Jon Davison was born in California and was a childhood friend and bandmate of Taylor Hawkins, now drummer in the Foo Fighters. Davison moved to Seattle and played bass in psychedelic band Sky Cries Mary. He later joined Yes tribute band Roundabout on vocals. He more recently joined Glass Hammer around 2010, appearing on their two most recent albums, If and Cor Cordium.

14:43 edit: The official Yes Facebook account has now confirmed the news with similar text to the earlier Japanese announcement. It describes David as having still not recovered from his illness at the end of the 2011 European leg, which led to three shows being cancelled. The announcement talks of Davison "joining [...] for this leg of the tour", so the implication still seems to be that David should be back in due course.

The surrealism of someone whose name appears to be a cross between Jon Anderson and Benoît David joining the band has not been lost on fans. Jon Anderson has previously guested with Glass Hammer (just before Davison joined), a band many feel are quite Yes-ish, and Davison also performs along side CIRCA:'s Johnny Bruhns in Yes tribute band Roundabout.

22:29 edit: I am amazed at how quickly information emerges these days. It wasn't like this when Wakeman left in 1997, or Sherwood left in 2000. Anyway, I expect there's plenty more to emerge, but what do we currently know... It seems David walked in January, leaving the band uncertain whether they could make dates booked for April. An approach was made to Jon Anderson, who said no, although we don't know what terms he was offered, of course. Very recently, Davison was booked.

David's situation is unclear, but the evidence now appears to be pointing to his being gone permanently. It occurs to me that Yes may be in no rush to confirm whether Davison is staying for the long haul. After all, they may want to see how they get on with Davison before rushing to confirm any permanent status.