Wednesday, 28 June 2017

REV: Half the Sky


Half the Sky, 22 June 2017, Cafe OTO


The band:
Yumi Hara: arrangements, piano, keyboards, lever harp, voice
Miwazow [Miwazo Kogure]: koto, ching-dong [chindon’ya] percussion, voice
Chlöe Herington: bassoon, soprano sax, melodica
Dagmar Krause: voice
Wataru Okhuma: alto sax, clarinet, assorted percussion and squeaky things
Nasuno Mitsuru: bass
Chris Cutler: drums

Set:
“Auschwitz/Babel”
“Dry Leaf”
“Black Gold”
“Arcades (of Glass)”
“Banknote”
“The Empire Song”
“Heart of Stone”
“Waited/Justice”
“Anno Mirabilis”
intermission
“Half the Sky”
“Gretel's Tale”
“Falling Away”
“Slice”

On a hot summer’s evening, we entered Cafe OTO to be confronted by an explosion of instruments: a bassoon stands upright, a microphone taped to its end; a koto juts out into the audience; a miniature Japanese drum peaks over a chair; a small saxophone lies on another. Yumi Hara is on one side, checking her scores and her harp. Cutler is checking a cymbal before going backstage. Well, backstage means a room behind the audience. Cafe OTO is a cafe, an assortment of chairs clustered around the sprawl of instruments. The audience is mostly ageing and substantially bearded, although there's a higher proportion of women than most prog gigs. The venue is nearly full: I guess around 75 in the audience.

This is the Anglo-Japanese band's first UK show after dates in Japan (mainly) and France. They were recording the evening, with three small video cameras set up, and Hara invited the audience to take photos or video too, as long they then sent them to the band for use and they don't disturb others. I don't know whether there will be a formal release as a result, or just YouTube videos etc.

I presume Cutler and Krause need no introduction. Yumi Hara is in Henry Cow spin-off The Artaud Beats and other projects with Chris Cutler; she has also worked with Daevid Allen and Hugh Hopper, as well as doing photography for Steve Howe and Bill Bruford. Miwazow and Okhuma are in Japanese street music-meets-RIO band CICALA-MVTA (“mute cicada”). Mitsuru is in Korekyojinn, with Tatsuya Yoshida, who also works with CICALA-MVTA. Herington is in Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and VÄLVĒ.

The band was put together by Hara with Cutler to play Lindsay Cooper’s music in Japan. You can read more at http://www.yumiharacawkwell.co.uk/HTML/HalftheSky.htm Hara also had to write scores for most of the original music and then arranged the material for this different line-up, including some Japanese instruments.

The first set was the music of News from Babel, focusing more on the first album, plus “The Empire Song” from “The Golddiggers”. Justice was done to the originals, Cutler’s lyrics through Krause’s vocals contrasting with the complex yet driving music. “Dry Leaf” and “Banknote” were particular highlights for me. Mirazow and Hara backed up Krause on vocals, which worked well: giving a richer sound, but not obscuring Krause's distinctive style. Miwazow took the lead very successfully on “Heart of Stone”, while Krause dropped out of singing parts of “Anno Mirabilis”, yet the Mirazow/Hara combination still sounded spookily like her.

Mirazow brought J-pop style to RIO, with giant hair, spangly clothes and some great dancing to "Black Gold" and "Arcades". Her CICALA-MVTA bandmate Ohkuma was more Marx brother in style, the two injecting a sense of fun and absurdity in places (as with their assorted percussion and other instruments on “Banknote”), without compromising on the technical complexities of the music. Mirazow focused on vocals and percussion, but played koto as well, with sections of “Arcades” working nicely re-arranged for the instrument.

The set built to a climax, with a wild vocal from Krause on “Waited/Justice”: she wailed so hard she even sent her sheet music flying. Then finishing with an extended “Anno Mirabilis”, although the audience did not take up Hara’s invitation to sing along. Cutler played fantastically throughout, usually looking completely serene, but I would upgrade that to ecstatic as he powered through “Anno Mirabilis”.

All the band were excellent. It was Ohkuma and, perhaps in particular, Herington who had the hardest jobs on wind instruments, not helped by the heat. Hara switched between piano and harp for most of the first set. Mitsuru was a reassuring presence at the back.

There was then an interval, much of the audience going outside to the street for some cooler air. A DJ played… I think it was Thinking Plague.

Without Krause and with Hara’s harp pushed to the side, the band returned for the instrumental second set of Cooper’s music for Henry Cow. This was both problematic, yet still great. They had to re-start both "Half the Sky" and "Falling Away" from partway through and re-started "Slice" from the beginning. They also appear to have forgotten to do an improvisation at the end of "Gretel's Tale". As the band said and we know, Cooper wrote difficult music. But the audience were forgiving and the playing sublime in between the breakdowns, particularly the spirited performances of "Falling Away" and "Slice", the end of "Falling Away" perhaps getting the biggest applause. There is a directness and energy to Cooper’s compositions that comes through in live performance, alongside the complexities.

Poll: what "side" projects are you looking forward to?

The latest poll asked what side projects you all are looking forward to. You could, and did, vote for multiple answers, so after 245 votes, the results are:

1. Anderson/Stolt 2: 69 votes, 28%
2. Billy Sherwood's tribute album to Chris Squire (w/ Moraz): 52 votes, 21%
3. New Buggles album: 42 votes, 17%
4. New Steve Howe Trio album: 30 votes, 12%
5. World Trade's Unify (w/ Sherwood): 26 votes, 11%
6. Downes Braide Association 3 (w/ Pomeroy): 16 votes, 7%
7. Rodney Matthews' Trinity (w/ Wakemans R & O): 5 votes, 2%
8. Chrysta Bell's We Dissolve (w/ Downes): 1 vote, under 1%

There were 4 votes for 'other': 2 for ARW (who I weren't counting as a side project andI presumed you were all looking forward to), 1 for CIRCA: (fair enough, but no known plans for future activity yet—fingers crossed that we hear something) and 1 for Renaissance's A Symphonic Journey (w/ Brislin). I didn't know about the last, so thanks for the heads up!

The win for Anderson/Stolt represents the very positive reaction to the first album. Lots of interest in Sherwood's Squire tribute: it will be interesting to find out which other artists are involved. The Buggles come in third, although exactly when an album will emerge is far from clear. Fewer votes for the less well-known projects, like We Dissolve from David Lynch's friend, Chrysta Bell.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of 1984?

What was the best Yes-related album of 1984? You answered...

1. King Crimson: Three of a Perfect Pair (w/ Bruford): 66 votes (59%)
2. Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Welcome to the Pleasuredome (w/ Horn, Howe, Rabin): 21 votes (19%)
3. Metropolis Official Motion Picture Soundtrack (w/ Anderson): 8 votes (7%)
4. The Art of Noise: (Who's Afraid of) The Art of Noise (w/ Horn) 6 votes (5%)
5. Rick Wakeman: Black Knights in the Court of Ferdinand IV: 4 votes (4%)
6. Patrick Moraz: Future Memories Live on TV: 3 votes (3%)
7= Patrick Moraz: Human Interface: 1 vote (1%)
7= Patrick Moraz: Time Code (w/ Bruford): 1 vote (1%)
7= Jaamaladeen Tacuma: Renaissance Man (w/ Bruford): 1 vote (1%)
7= Claire Hamill: Touchpaper (w/ White): 1 vote (1%)

And no votes for Moraz' Future Memories II. So that was pretty decisive. More polls soon...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of 1982?

Lots of good music in 1982, the first complete year officially without a Yes being active since the band formed:

1. Asia: Asia (w/ Downes, Howe) 50 votes (53%)
2. Jon Anderson: Animation 18 votes (19%)
3. King Crimson: Beat (w/ Bruford) 9 votes (10%)
4. Genesis: Three Sides Live (w/ Bruford) 7 votes (7%)
5. Kate Bush: The Dreaming (w/ Downes) 5 votes (5%)
6= ABC: The Lexicon of Love (w/ Horn) 2 votes (2%)
6= The Dregs: Industry Standard (w/ Howe) 2 votes (2%)
8. Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Somewhere in Afrika (w/ Rabin) 1 vote (1%)

There were no votes for Demis Roussos' Demis (w/ Anderson), The Roches' Keep on Doing (w/ Bruford, Kiki Dee's Perfect Timing (w/ Moraz), Rick Wakeman's Rock 'n' Roll Prophet or Dollar's The Dollar Album (w/ Horn).

Your winner was clear in Asia. A respectable second for Animation, a much-loved solo album from Jon that suffered an ignominious CD re-release saga.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Why I think a new Union is unlikely for now

It's looking likely that the current Yes, or at least Howe, White and Sherwood, will re-unite with Anderson Rabin Wakeman for one night only at the Hall of Fame induction. This will only fuel the expectation of many Yes fans that history will repeat itself, that Yes and ARW will come together for a new Union.

I am sceptical. It could happen, for sure. This is Yes and its Byzantine line-up history is surely far from over. But I'm guessing that an official Yes/ARW reunion, beyond the induction ceremony, is unlikely.

People see the parallels with ABWH v. YesWest, but I suggest that was a very different situation. Two bands, both struggling, found the union mutually beneficial, a solution to both sides' problems. But today's two acts are more comfortable, so the same incentives don't exist.

While we talk about ABWH v. YesWest, remember that YesWest were moribund. They played no shows and released no material in the entire period ABWH existed. Rabin was off doing other things for much of the time. Despite looking, they failed to find a replacement for Anderson: yes, Squire wanted Sherwood, who sang on some demos, but both Rabin and indeed Sherwood himself never supported the plan. They had recorded some demos, but Atlantic reputedly rejected them.

The owners of the Yes name today are in a very different position. They have done 8 years of international touring and released two albums, that sold reasonably well. They're a proven deal. It looks like their label would happily take a new album from this line-up. I'm sure the label would be happier with the higher sales that Anderson back in the band would bring, but official Yes today has shown it can cope without him.

In the run-up to Union, ABWH were imploding. Remember that all the shenanigans around Howe and Wakeman being replaced by session musicians, that was happening before the union was agreed. They could barely stand to be in a room together. The band was dysfunctional. It's no surprise Anderson was thinking about the other guys! He'd worked with them recently and to great commercial success.

In contrast, ARW now are getting on like a house on fire. They appear to being have more fun, to have tighter relationships, than most Yes line-ups ever have had. No-one appears to be looking for an exit.

ABWH were falling apart and YesWest were struggling: the union looked like a good idea to the alternative. Today, ARW and official Yes are probably smaller commercial concerns, but both seem more stable than their predecessors. A union may be just as attractive, but the status quo is better these days, on both sides.

There are plenty of other differences to stop history repeating. The relationships are different. There's no Squire, who had seemed the most likely figure to bring people together. People are on different sides. Three quarters of ABWH had all worked extensively with Squire and White, and half with Kaye too; in comparison, Downes and Davison have no connections with the other side. It's been longer apart. Anderson had barely left YesWest, compared to now, over 12 years since he was in Yes.

If a reunion now is less likely, could anything change that? What would tip the balance and push everyone together again?

Money is the obvious factor. If one or other band sees their ticket sales collapsing, that could see them hurrying to negotiate a deal, although equally they might just choose to pack it in, let the other side 'win'.

Line-up changes would also shift the dynamic. If Rabin returns to soundtracks, or Wakeman decides to milk the recent top ten success of Piano Portraits, then the remaining two are in a much weaker position. Health problems could hit almost anyone, in Yes or ARW.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Poll: Best Yes-related album of the second half of 2016

There were surprisingly few Yes-related releases in the second half of 2016, and half of them were limited releases through Wakeman's online shop. That might explain why voting was low, just 22 votes, which produced a clear winner:

1. CIRCA:, Valley of the Windmill (w/ Sherwood, Kaye): 18 votes (82%)
2= Rick Wakeman, The Rainbow Suite: 1 vote (5%)
2= Rick Wakeman, The Complete Gospels: 1 vote (5%)
2= Rick Wakeman, Gastank: 1 vote (5%)

There was one 'other' vote for Sherwood's Citizen, but that came out the previous year. There were no votes for Leon Alvarado's The Future Left Behind (w/ Sherwood, Wakeman) or for Action Moves People United (w/ White, Downes, Moraz).