Saturday, 18 June 2016

Poll: Best Yes-related album of the second half of 2015

Our latest poll covered the Yes-related albums of the second half of 2015, which included one day in November with three such releases (Suburban Ghosts, 7 and Citizen). The results are:

1. Anderson Ponty Band: Better Late Than Never, 29 (51%)
2. Billy Sherwood: Citizen (w/ Squire, Downes, Moraz, Kaye, Davison, Wakeman), 13 (23%)
3. Downes Braide Association: Suburban Ghosts, 8 (14%)
4. King Crimson: THRAK BOX (w/ Bruford), 2 (4%)
5= Greg Lake & Geoff Downes: Ride the Tiger, 1 (2%)
5= King Crimson: The Elements of King Crimson (w/ Bruford), 1 (2%)
5= Seal: 7 (w/ Horn), 1 (2%)
5= Deckchair Poets: Searchin' for a Lemon Squeezer (w/ Downes), 1 (2%)
5=  Trevor Rabin & Paul Linford: 12 Monkeys – Original Television Soundtrack, 1 (2%)
10= Billy Sherwood: Archived, 0
10= Billy Sherwood: Collection, 0
10= XNA: Westernology: The Outlaw and the Sioux (w/ Sherwood), 0

A clear 1, 2, 3, with Jon Anderson's most significant release for some years winning, a good sign for the Anderson/Stolt album due shortly and an Anderson Rabin Wakeman album probably now due in 2017.

Personally, I voted for 7, a wonderful album from Horn and Seal, and Suburban Ghosts would have been my second choice.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The central ontological question: Are ARW Yes?

With an aggressive promotional campaign laying claim to the Yes legacy, and implicitly dismissing the current owners of that name, Anderson, Rabin & Wakeman have poured gasoline on the long-rumbling question of legitimacy and who counts as Yes. Three famous past members of the band, including a founding member, looks impressive when the continuity-Yes boast only two famous members and no co-founders.

Not that I believe the question can be answered with simple maths. I'm up for anything and look forward to music by both bands. Indeed, I think the entire question is ultimately fruitless. But that isn't going to stop it dominating fan discourse!

So, if you will indulge me, I thought it would be interesting to look at this argument in some different ways. This is not to try to answer the question, but to discuss what it means. I'd like to start with asking which band, ARW or official Yes, have most claim over the back catalogue.

Yes, Time and a Word: while Yes are playing "Time and a Word" live and Howe has a connection to the album he toured behind when he first joined the band, given ARW have Anderson on these albums and Yes have no-one, two wins to ARW.

The Yes Album: But with Howe joining, it's now one all when it comes to the line-up. Still, The Yes Album is more Anderson's album than Howe's, so I'm going to call this for ARW as well.

Fragile, Close to the Edge: With Wakeman joining, it's now 2-1 to ARW, although the tour for Close to the Edge brings us back to two all.

Tales from Topographic Oceans: Two people from ARW to two people from Yes, Anderson and Howe the two chief architects of the project. A draw.

Relayer: With Wakeman gone, this is the current Yes's first win, although there's an argument that side A should go to ARW and side B to Yes.

Going for the One, Tormato: But with Wakeman back, I'll call these two draws.

Drama: From 2-2 to 3-0. Current Yes is Drama Yes.

90125, Big Generator and (to take it out of order) Talk: But the Yes line-up merry-go-round keeps turning and YesWest saw Anderson and Rabin versus White. Another three albums for ARW.

ABWH: The last contender for the Yes name, a 2-1 advantage wins it for ARW.

Union: Here is an album with three members of ARW and three members of Yes on it, although Sherwood's only on one track, White and Rabin only a handful but White with no writing credits, Howe and Wakeman about tied for their contributions, and Anderson the dominant personality, so I'll give this to ARW.

Keys to Ascension, Keys to Ascension 2: In terms of performers, it's 2-2 again, but with Sherwood producing, that tips the balance in Yes's favour on Keys to Ascension 2. I'll call Keys to Ascension a draw: Sherwood was just mixing and Anderson is more dominant in the writing of the music.

Open Your Eyes, The Ladder: With Wakeman gone and Sherwood joining fully, it's Howe/Sherwood/White versus Anderson. Yes win.

Magnification: Even with Sherwood gone, Yes retain a 2-1 advantage. Although we could call The Ultimate Yes bonus disc a draw.

Fly from Here, Heaven & Earth: Obvious.

So, tallying that up:

ARW: Yes, Time and a Word, The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, 90125, Big Generator, ABWH, Union, Talk (9 albums + ABWH)

Yes: Relayer, Drama, Keys to Ascension 2, Open Your Eyes, The Ladder, Magnification, Fly from Here, Heaven & Earth (8 albums)

draw: Tales from Topographic Oceans, Going for the One, Tormato, Keys to Ascension, The Ultimate Yes bonus disc (3 full albums and 2 part-albums)

ARW are ahead on number of albums, and Yes's album wins tend to be later and less popular releases. You can see why ARW and many fans feel they have a strong claim on the identity.

Then again, the thing about ARW is that the three never recorded together in Yes. There isn't a single Yes recording with all three of ARW and, thus, where they were the majority of the band at the time. Then again, that's true for current-Yes when it comes to any of the 1970s recordings. Neither band does better than 40% of any 1970s Yes line-up. Although Yes can say that their current members were a majority of the band that did Drama, Open Your Eyes, Fly from Here and Heaven & Earth.

Of course, these are only some ways of looking at it. Official Yes do better if you consider Yessongs and Yesshows. The band with the name have the direct line of descent, and Chris Squire's blessing. They also have longevity in the band on their side. The four people who have been in Yes for the longest time have been Squire, White, Anderson and Howe, in that order I think... it's close and I haven't checked the maths there. Downes' second period in the band is now longer than any stint Wakeman did in the band, and that may be true for Davison's tenure too.

What of these things matter? Or do none of them matter? If ARW blow us away with their album and tour, or conversely if they flop, that renders other distinctions moot.

What do you think? Comments below if anyone wants to wade in...

Monday, 2 May 2016

Anderson interweaving for ARW

Do you remember this from Jon Anderson, talking about the Anderson Ponty Band in a 2014 interview before their first show:
You don’t want all the songs sounding the same. I put them together in sections so that they’re 15-minute works: a well-known Jean-Luc piece, a new piece, and then a well-known Yes piece. And then the other way around [...] that’s what’s very good for a musician: the journey of performance. Sometimes the audience really enjoys the journey rather than every four or five minutes us stopping [...] I want to go on a little journey [...] After “Listening,” it goes into Amharic music, which is from Ethiopia
What we finally got did not really match that vision, being a more conventional series of songs.

And do you remember Anderson's "Open", released online 2011? That quoted a number of older compositions, notably using a theme from "New Language".

OK, now listen to this fascinating new radio interview with Jon from KVOI's Daily Double: you want the 26 April show. One of the interviewers says that, prior to the broadcast, Anderson had said that a particular Yes piece might be played in the Anderson Rabin Wakeman set. I'll not mention which, because spoilers, but it doesn't matter which for what follows. You see, Anderson interjects:
No, no, no, parts of it will work with this new piece that Rick sent over that I've been working on. I'm thinking, how to work on vignettes, so, er, this track will be going along […] jump into [the afore-not-mentioned Yes piece] […] then back into the next part of this new movement. […] We have the right to go in and out of our older music, into the newer music and interweave them, and, er, just see how it works.
And then they ask him what Yes pieces he wants to play with ARW:
Definitely [another piece, name removed coz spoilers] […] and we'll do the same thing. We're going to use a vignette of the main section towards the end and then go into the original song and then that will lead us into a new song. I think that's what we're going to try and do. We're going to try and balance out, so that we're not only presenting the music in a fresh way, but also in a very creative way.
The idea for a journey using sections of music for the Anderson Ponty Band, the re-appearance of themes in "Open", and now this quote. One could also consider the way "Mind Drive" was played live by Yes in 2004. It seems to me that Anderson is circling around an idea for how to present, interweaved, old and new music together... perhaps inspired by his interest in long-form pieces (compare Invention of Knowledge) and his recent listening experiences with Sibelius and Mahler?

Will it work, and will it be what fans want? The re-use of themes in "Open" attracted some criticism and the idea did not seem to come together for the Anderson Ponty Band, but live, with Anderson Rabin Wakeman, maybe this will go down better. Some liked the 2004 split "Mind Drive", although others didn't, and CIRCA: "Chronological Journey" was very popular.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments. And, as always, all the latest ARW news on the website.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

What are you most looking forward to this year?

What are you most looking forward to this year, asked our latest poll. With Anderson Rabin Wakeman becoming a reality, the winner seemed obvious beforehand. Indeed, I was curious if anything else got any votes! So, with 95 votes:

1. Anderson Rabin Wakeman: 48 votes, 51%
2. Anderson/Stolt: 14 votes, 15%
3. Yes touring: 11 votes, 12%
4= More archival or remixed Yes: 5 votes, 5%
4= Asia return: 5 votes, 5%
6. King Crimson touring: 3 votes, 3%
7= Steve Howe Trio releases: 2 votes, 2%
7= Buggles reunion: 2 votes, 2%
7= World Trade reunion: 2 votes, 2%
7= Re-recording of The Myths and Legends of King Arthur: 2 votes, 2%
11. More Anderson Ponty Band: 1 votes, 1%
12. New CIRCA: album: 0 votes, 0%

In the end, I was kind of surprised that ARW "only" just got over 50%, and that Anderson/Stolt did so well, coming 2nd. Big votes of confidence for Anderson's new found focus, pushing the line-up with the band name into 3rd... although the poll was before news of the other reunion with ex-members, i.e. Trevor Horn guesting at two UK shows shortly.

The possibility of archival Yes was 4th equal: I thought it might do better, but I suppose we're in limbo, with rumours of possibilities in the pipeline, like a Panegyric expanded Tales, but nothing actually on the schedules. Asia completed the top 5, with Wetton thankfully doing well in his cancer treatment.

I voted for The Buggles reunion, of course! How can you not be excited about The Buggles reunion?!

Let me know what you voted for, or whether your views have now changed, in the comments below.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

King Crimson, Live in Toronto, an alternative review

Quick thoughts on the new King Crimson live album, Live in Toronto, a 2015 recording by the new septet, playing a set ranging from “The Court of the Crimson King” to some new material. This isn't a bad album, but it is a long way from being a great album. The five albums I got before this one happened to be:

Delta Saxophone Quartet with Gwilym Simcock: Crimson! (a mostly covers album of Crimson pieces)
The Morgaua Quartet: Atom Heart Mother is on the Edge (a Japanese string quartet doing prog pieces, including “Red” and “Peace-Fallen Angel including Epitaph”)
Eddie Jobson: Four Decades
UK: Curtain Call
Zakir Hussain: Making Music

... and they're all better.

The latest incarnation of King Crimson has abandoned the band's usual approach and gone for the nostalgia market that dominates the prog rock scene, a market the band have already targeted with umpteen mega-deluxe collectors' edition re-releases. In that context, after several bank-account-busting box sets, this release is value for money, a 2CD release for just £10.

Some Crim fans have argued that it's not nostalgia because of magic reasons to do with Crimson being different. I understand why bands focus on nostalgia. There's nothing wrong with nostalgia. The set/track list offers your 'greatest hits', so to speak, of King Crimson, save for skipping over the 1980s. These are good picks.

There is a little bit of new material. Ignoring the filler, like the intro soundscape, the new pieces amount to just “Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind”/“Meltdown”. Classic bands are in a bind: dismissed as nostalgia if they don't play new pieces, but criticised when the new pieces aren't up to scratch. Well, yes, the same applies here: “Radical Action...” is generic, Crimson-by-numbers. “Meltdown” is the better piece and a chance for Jakszyk to bring something of himself to the role. It mixes a bit of Jakszyk's style with a Crimson sound. But it also feels a bit unfinished. “Meltdown” could be compared to UKZ's “Radiation”, but the latter is the better piece of music and a better piece of Crimson music.

We do get two new drum trio pieces as well, but neither does all that much with the format. “Banshee Legs Bell Hassle” is over before its begun. “Hell Hounds of Krim” bores. Compare One, the album by Pete Lockett's Network of Sparks feat. Bill Bruford, for what a multi-percussion piece can do.

By the way, the ever more boastful and grandiose titles, like “Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind” and “Hell Hounds of Krim”, ring ever more hollow when paired with below-average offerings!

But the core problem with this recording is a certain stilted, lumpen quality to the performance. Just in places, but enough that I spent as much time remembering better versions of these songs than coming back to these versions. It's the Wetton-era material that seems to suffer most, like “Red” and “Easy Money”, both lacking bite (compare Wetton and Jobson on Curtain Call), although “Level Five” also drags. Some have suggested this is a result of the band using a click track and the challenges of keeping the three drummers in sync. If that is the case, it wasn't a price worth paying.

The inclusion of three percussionists and of Collins does add a distinct flavour to the affair and they are sometimes used well, like as on parts of “Larks 1” and “Red”. Collins is good on “Starless”. Yet despite the unusual line-up, the material is not radically re-worked: compare what the Delta Saxophone Quartet + Simcock do, or The Morgaua Quartet.

The band are best on the material from the first four albums, a reminder at this time of what Greg Lake could do, but why not just crack out your old 21st Century Schizoid Band albums if you want to hear Collins and Jaksyzk play those classics?

What the band does well is give a sense of unity to the diverse Crimson back catalogue. There is this almost steampunk sound the line-up brings across piece, uniting the likes of “Larks 1”, “Pictures of a City” and “VROOOM”. At best, we get some solid performances: “The ConstruKction of Light” and “The Letters/Sailor's Tale” stood out for me.

If the unity of the band, a certain crispness, is missing, the individuals play well when considered separately. Jakszyk sings well. I'd single out Levin for praise, and why he isn't allowed a greater role in coming up with new material, I don't know.

A great jazz musician once said that music is a reflection of who and where you are. If that is the case, then this King Crimson is about Fripp's comfort. Nothing here challenges our idea of what Crimson can be... which thus means it misses the whole point of being King Crimson.

I am reacting against some overly hagiographic reviews of the album and have written more of negatives than positives. This isn't a bad album. You get some classic Crimson played by some classic Crimson members (plus a fine substitute). If you want a more radical deconstruction of old Crimson numbers, I do recommend the Delta Saxophone Quartet's Crimson! If you want some '70s classics played with more fire, Four Decades and Curtain Call are now available at a reasonable price on iTunes after an earlier Japanese physical release.

Poll: Best Yes-related album of 1980

92 of you voted on the question of the best Yes-related album of 1980:

1. Jon Anderson: Song of Seven, 41 votes (45%)
2. Jon & Vangelis: Short Stories, 21 votes (23%)
3. Bruford: Gradually Going Tornado, 16 votes (18%)
4. Trevor Rabin: Face to Face, 7 votes (8%)
5. Patrick Moraz: Coexistence, 3 votes (3%)
6= Vangelis: See You Later (w/ Anderson), 1 vote (1%)
6= Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Chance (w/ Rabin), 1 vote (1%)
6= Wild Horses: Wild Horses (w/ Rabin), 1 votes (1%)

There was one other vote, for Drama, which personally I'd agree is better than all those, but I intended the poll to just be about Yes-related albums and not actual Yes albums, so I've excluded that in calculating percentages.

Overall, a resounding win for Jon Anderson's two albums of the year, an impressive burst of activity for someone who was still in Yes at the beginning of the year.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

What would you most like to see Anderson Rabin Wakeman play live?

Our latest poll asked what you would most like to see Anderson Rabin Wakeman play live. You (120 of you to be precise) answered:

New material: 69 votes (59%)
1980s/90s Yes music: 31 votes (26%)
1970s Yes music: 13 votes (11%)
Other: 7 votes (6%)

5 of the 'other' suggestions were for a mix of the other options, although with one person adding "NO 90s!!!"! One respondent suggested a mix of the three's solo material (Song of Seven, King Athur, and Can't Look Away, which would be interesting).

I should have emphasised the word "most" in the question: I presume we nearly all want some mix, but I was curious where people wanted the emphasis to be. And the answer is pretty clear that we want new material. Fingers crossed their new material lives up to expectations.

I was surprised that the YesWest period beat out the '70s. Do you all think Wakeman can do Kaye better than Rabin can do Howe? Or is it that the current Yes have the '70s covered fine? Let me know in the comments below...