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.