When is a musical work true invention? When is it referential? When is it derivative? Can a work influenced by previous work still be considered original or innovative? I suppose these are questions that could spark a (sometimes heated) discussion like: “What audio speakers sound the best? Is it the east coast or west coast sound?” Often, the proper answer is: “What ever speakers sound best to one’s own ears.”
Generally, I think that most art, design and music works are built on the foundations that came before them and there really is little actual invention, more on the side of innovation or variants of an original. Dig deeply enough and one even can see that Frank Lloyd Wright’s and other modern architectural works (many seemingly original) have been influenced by the works of others or by some reference to design in nature or distant history (like many of Wright’s LA houses of the 1920s being highly influenced by ancient Mayan temples).
I’m certainly not an expert on the extensive back catalogs of Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson (including Wilson’s various side projects), but I have enough of their music in my collection to know that I generally like their respective work (some albums, in my opinion, being better than others—that’s the subjective part, like the what speakers sound better question). Bryan Ferry and Steven Wilson are from two different musical generations and have been influenced by different works and people, but there is some overlap.
Ferry has noted that much of his seminal listening, writing and songs were influenced by early and mid-20th century instrumental jazz (including Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman): “I loved the way the great soloists would pick up a tune and shake it up – go somewhere completely different – and then return gracefully back to the melody, as if nothing had happened.” With these influences and those of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and others, Ferry’s band Roxy Music (with a number of different musicians, including Brian Eno and later Eddie Jobson) would go on to create quite innovative and often influential art-glam-pop-progressive rock works in the 1970s and early 80s in addition to Ferry’s distinctive solo works.
Steven Wilson works within a cauldron of many genres (progressive rock, metal, ambient and jazz fusion), and it’s clear from his remixing/remastering work (such as the King Crimson back-catalog, most recently Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) that he has both a deep affection for those influences as well as a respect for the history behind them. Wilson’s latest album The Raven That Refused To Sing is steeped in a mind-bending brew of musical influences, yet stays safely on the side of creatively paying homage while avoiding pastiche or cliché. Throughout the album he tips his hat with musical phrases and instrumental sounds that have kept me looking back into my music collection for their roots (a most welcome research project).
Steven Wilson – Luminol
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
Whether it’s a soaring guitar bend of Pink Floyd, a vocal introduction reminiscent of McDonald and Giles’ Tomorrow’s People, a Mellotron phrase from Genesis’ Watcher of the Skies, an electric guitar intro akin to the band Focus, acoustic guitar phrases of Ant Phillips’ The Geese and the Ghost or flute phrases of Jethro Tull, Wilson and his current band blend these deftly into the rather sullen tale of The Raven… I can also hear more recent parallels in the menacing track The Holy Drinker, to the works of (Miles Davis scholar) Bob Belden’s jazz-fusion Animation project (the recent post-9/11 track Provocatism from the album Transparent Heart). The musical and sonic success of this album is also thanks to the great live studio engineering care of Alan Parsons and gifted musicians Nick Beggs, Guthrie Govan, Adam Holzman, Marco Minnemann, Theo Travis and Jakko Jakszyk who have interpreted Wilson’s vision into a cohesive and often stunning recording. The dynamics and emotions are broad, from the aggressive percussion/bass opening to the somber balladic close of the title track. There are minimal overdubs on the album, except for using an original King Crimson MKII Mellotron (recorded at DGM).
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – Do The Strand
In contrast, Bryan Ferry is reinterpreting his own past work with vocals removed, leaving the melodies and harmonies of the original songs, and they’re are filtered through a time machine that brings the listener back to Ferry’s earliest musical influences—the sound, orchestration and recording techniques of the roaring and often buoyant 1920s. Some fans of Roxy Music or Ferry’s original work don’t seem to appreciate the effort (especially the sound treatment, and the monaural recording), but being that I enjoy original pre-and jazz-age acoustic recordings, I think it’s a favorable re-examination of Ferry’s work while avoiding the temptation reissue yet another compilation for the sake of churning a back-catalog. In fact, the recording sounds almost identical to the hi-fidelity of that period, a Victor Orthophonic reproducer and Victrola.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – The Reinterpreted Tracks
Bryan Ferry – The Jazz Age – The Original Tracks
I like both of these albums very much, for different reasons, and while they are clearly influenced by works before them, they stand very well on their own. Are either as groundbreaking as King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King? No (again, my subjective opinion). On the positive side, after a somewhat cool start, Steven Wilson’s album has been growing on me (my favorite track, by far, is Drive Home), whereas I liked Ferry’s album almost instantly—I was hooked by Do The Strand. Are either of these albums what I would consider the best of 2013? It’s a bit early for that–let’s wait and see.
Steven Wilson – Drive Home
InsideOut Music 0506240 (Ltd 2 CD & Book, also 2 CD & 4 LP)
Time: CD 1: 73:18 CD 2: 71:27 minutes
Record Label Website:
Photos of Musicians on the Album:
Tracks CD 1: 1) The Chamber of 32 Doors; 2) Horizons; 3) Supper’s Ready; 4) The Lamia; 5) Dancing With the Moonlit Knight; 6) Fly on a Windshield; 7) Broadway Melody of 1974; 8) The Musical Box; 9) Can-utility and the Coastliners; 10) Please Don’t Touch
Tracks CD 2: 1) Blood on the Rooftops; 2) The Return of the Giant Hogweed; 3) Entangled; 4) Eleventh Earl of Mar; 5) Ripples; 6) Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…; 7) …In That Quiet Earth; 8) Afterglow; 9) A Tower Struck Down; 10) Camino Royale; 11) Shadow of the Hierophant
It has been 16 years and many life changes since the last Genesis Revisited album by Steve Hackett (subtitled Watcher of the Skies) in 1996. Although the span of time recounted musically is similar, 1971 through 1976; the breadth of the work on GRII is far more comprehensive. It’s also worth noting that in 1987 Steve was a special guest on an orchestral reinterpretation album of Genesis work, We Know What We Like: The Music of Genesis (led by arranger David Palmer conducting The London Symphony Orchestra), although in that case it includes works after Steve had left the band (from albums And Then There Were Three and Duke). On that album is perhaps the best example of how well the work of Genesis transfers to an orchestral format: Can-utility and the Coastliners. As much as I love the instrumental section with waves of Mellotron on the original recording, the full orchestra adds great depth and power to that track.
I’ve read (and I’m paraphrasing) that Steve didn’t want to literally re-record these works (as some Genesis tribute bands so painstakingly perform), rather enhance them with the lens of time, since many were recorded somewhat hastily between concert tours in the 1970s. Another added benefit is that some recording technologies have improved, and this is quite clear in the warmth and clarity of GRII. Frankly, I rather liked many of the reinterpretations on the last GR album, and there was the added track Déjà vu originally penned by Peter Gabriel and SH, then set-aside, to be revived and beautifully completed with Paul Carrack’s vocals.
As much as I wanted the limited 4 LP vinyl set, I opted for the 2 CD version along with the extensively illustrated and annotated small format hardbound book—a quite worthy trade-off (designed by Harry Pearce of Pentagram Design). It’s clear that this album was an enormous undertaking (with a special mention for the co-production, recording and mixing by collaborator and keyboardist, Roger King), with some 30 guest musicians and vocalists (including brother John Hackett, SH Band alum Nick Magnus, and the members of the most recent touring and recording SH Band: Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann and Rob Townsend). I have provided a link above to a page on the SH Website showing a complete list (with photos) of all who participated on GRII. A matrix of the album track performers in included in the credits.
Throughout the album there are a number of acoustic guitar introductions (like the opening to the potent The Chamber of 32 Doors), variations and electric guitar solo fills by Steve that are not on the original recordings; they reflect journeys and musical influences from his many years as an artist. Horizons and Supper’s Ready are preserved in their pairing from the original Side B of Foxtrot. The solo acoustic guitar of Horizons has long been a mainstay of Steve’s live shows since the early days of his solo career, and here it’s just as pure, unrushed and striking as a morning sunrise or evening sunset at one’s favorite place to be. The vocals and instruments on Supper’s Ready are powerful, clear and Steve’s guitar is “up” in the mix (as it is on much of the album). The treatment greatly invigorates the original, and made me want to take the time to listen to the entirety of the track repeatedly. The Apocalypse in 9/8 and the closing section of As sure as eggs is eggs (aching men’s feet) just sends chills up the spine as from those concert days long ago.
The purity of Nik Kershaw’s vocals on The Lamia is different from Peter Gabriel’s more raspy treatment of the song, and to my ear it’s a stunning performance (brighter than the original). Again, the instrumentals have a clarity superior to the original (although, I’ll never turn my back on the Charisma/ATCO recording of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway—too many aural historic memories there). SH’s closing solo echoes the original while adding a smooth lyricism. I’d be interested in knowing how and why Kershaw was chosen for the track. After a brief acoustic guitar link of Greensleeves, Francis Dunnery’s (It Bites et al) vocals on Dancing With the Moonlit Knight are probably the closest to channeling Peter Gabriel and the Selling England by the Pound performance as on any of the album’s tracks. As has been the case during recent concerts, drummer Gary O’Toole performs the vocals on the Lamb’s two tracks Fly on a Windshield and Broadway Melody of 1974. Both are broad and authoritative performances. O’Toole’s voice is his own.
I have always wondered why Anthony Phillips isn’t credited as a songwriter on The Musical Box, since he and Mike Rutherford wrote and recorded the early demos in 1968, when the track was known as F Sharp, but anyway… TMB opens with an almost Raymond Scott-like musical box fantasy, before entering into the realm of the long ago Nursery Cryme album. Sung by Nad Sylvan (who also provides vocals on Chamber and Eleventh Earl), this interpretation has an intimate sound, chamber-music-like, with clustered and freer vocals, before breaking into the raucous guitar-centric bridge and to the familiar closing that was performed in concerts during the mid to late 1970s.
As noted above, I think one of the most powerful and diverse Genesis tracks from the early days, which is frequently overshadowed by Watcher of the Skies or Supper’s Ready, is Can-utility and the Coastliners. Steven Wilson (solo and Porcupine Tree) provides the vocals. This version has the “soft bits and loud bits” and combines the oceanic strings (violins/violas) and bass pedals with the rawness of Foxtrot. Please Don’t Touch (from the 1978 album) closes CD 1 and was a track originally to have been linked with the instrumental Wot Gorilla on the 1976 album Wind and Wuthering. One of the reasons SH left Genesis (well documented) was he felt at that time his contributions to the band were being overlooked, so when he appeared officially as a solo artist, this track was the perfect, aptly named, composition to strike out on his own. It has had many incarnations, including sections of a 1986 track Hackett to Bits from the eponymous GTR album with Steve Howe et al. I remember concerts from the late 1970s and early 80s that would end with this track at ear-splitting volumes. This version is dark and authoritative.
CD 2 contains many tracks co-written with single Genesis members rather than the full band (exception is Hogweed and In That Quiet Earth), and one of my personal favorites is the timeless (and still topical) track penned with Phil Collins, Blood on the Rooftops. For years, SH played small sections of this track as a teaser during his acoustic “breaks” at concerts, and then in the early 2000s, the full track appeared in concerts and live recordings. This piece has a great deal of meaning to me—like entering a time machine to another place. Steve opens with a small fantasy on his nylon string guitar before the track begins, and I consider it a great gift to his fans that it has been recorded again (vocals by Gary O’Toole and woodwinds by Rob Townsend).
The Return of the Giant Hogweed is a different type of track in the Genesis oeuvre that starts with an attack (or rather, an infestation!). It also displays SH’s early fret-tapping technique. Although this video is not the recording from the album, it has a similar spirit and same vocalist, Neal Morse (taken from the 2010 High Voltage Festival by Transatlantic with SH as the guest guitarist).
Entangled was written by Hackett and Tony Banks—the dreams and nightmares of an altered mind. The vocals (fuller than on A Trick of the Tail) are by Jakko Jakszyk with backing vocals by Amanda Lehmann (guitarist and vocalist in the SH Band, and Jo Hackett’s sister). Eleventh Earl of Mar (Banks, Hackett, Rutherford) has a much deeper and clearer sound that I always found lacking in the original recording (and all of the reissues…for some reason the David Hentschel engineering that sounded so great in the Seconds Out live album, just sounded so flat and compressed). Nad Sylvan also adds layers to the spirit of the original Phil Collins vocal harmonies and channels the voice of Noel McCalla at times. Nick Beggs’ bass energetically drives the piece. Amanda Lehmann skillfully adapts the Collins’ vocals on Ripples, adding lyrical depth to the chorus (also a tribute to the engineering, recording and mixing of co-producer Roger King). The instrumental sections are faithful to the original. Lehmann returns again on the closing track Shadow of the Hierophant, which was co-written by SH and Mike Rutherford on Hackett’s first solo album from 1975, Voyage of the Acolyte.
Grouped together are (Hackett and Rutherford’s) Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…, followed by the group-written …In That Quiet Earth, and Tony Banks’s deeply melancholic Afterglow, the closing tracks of the last official album that Hackett recorded with Genesis (excluding the 1977, 12 inch EP Spot The Pigeon). SH improvises more freely on his guitar in …Quiet Earth and the solos that close (including Rob Townsend’s soprano sax) are more rugged than the original. The strong and familiar voice of John Wetton anchors the close of the trio from W&W.
It’s exciting to hear a reinvented A Tower Struck Down (from 1975’s VotA) with a true orchestral opening (Dick Driver on double bass, Rachel Ford on cello, Christine Townsend on violin and viola and John Hackett on flute). The solid bones of the Tower from Acolyte are present, but in a completely different, even darker skin. Steve Hackett notes that he had dreams of Genesis playing the chorus of Camino Royale (written by SH & Nick Magnus). This track dates from the 1982 solo album Highly Strung, and was always a great concert piece, from when Nick collaborated with Steve in the late 1970s and 1980s—full of spirit and rhythmic precision, a great addition to this collection. This track also includes jazz influences from the Hungarian band Djabe (Steve has collaborated with Djabe on some of their recent albums and concerts). As does Voyage of the Acolyte, Genesis Revisited II closes with Shadow of the Hierophant. This version is more up-tempo and potent, and Rob Townsend’s flute peregrinates throughout the shadows. It closes as it has since it was first recorded with the hierophant traveling on the long journey of seeking and interpreting the sacred and the arcane.
The one thing some (purist) listeners might find missing in GRII is the grittiness of the original recordings, but the defects of these compositions from long ago have been deftly exorcized, and the sonic foundations treated with such care that Hackett not only preserves the legacy of his former band, but enhances it for future listeners. These recordings are not meant to replace the originals; they are akin to variations by composers of the past. In a way, Steve Hackett is the archivist of the musical spirit of Genesis from that time. Sit back and enjoy this brilliantly crafted set of recordings with all the 21st century enhancements. You will not be disappointed.
The Hackett Band will be on tour with many of these recordings in Europe, the UK and America in 2013. I can’t wait!
InsideOut – 0505630 – http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Extended Version 2 CD with hardbound booklet with lyrics, credits and photos
(Also available on vinyl): http://www.hackettsongs.com/
CD 1: 1) Loch Lomond; 2) The Phoenix Flown; 3) Wanderlust; 4) Til These Eyes; 5) Prairie Angel; 6) A Place Called Freedom; 7) Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms; 8) Waking To Life; 9) Two Faces Of Cairo; 10) Looking For Fantasy; 11) Summer’s Breath; 12) Catwalk; 13) Turn This Island Earth
CD 2 (Limited Edition Bonus): 1) Four Winds: North; 2) Four Winds: South; 3) Four Winds: East; 4) Four Winds: West; 5) Pieds En L’Air; 6) She Said Maybe; 7) Enter The Night; 8) Eruption: Tommy; 9) Reconditioned Nightmare
Released in the Fall of 2011, “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” is an album that has been in steady rotation in my music room and on my iPod since that time, but I wanted to have some time to better absorb the album before writing about it.
Since the release of his last introspective album, “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth”, there have been many changes in Steve Hackett’s life, he has married his collaborator/partner Jo [Lehmann] Hackett, gotten the rights back to his recording studio as well as his musical works. My impression is that “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth” is a deeply personal work and somewhat a reaction to his divorce during that period. “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” [BtSH] is a departure from those inward themes and seems to be more outward looking, explorations and is a journey of discovery and reinvention that Hackett has been known for over his career. Hackett doesn’t stay still, musically for too long, although his work is immediately identifiable—a blend of the familiar along with the new. I wouldn’t necessarily label “BtSH” a concept album, but the pieces are thematically linked.
Aside from his roots being dipped in the blues, Hackett has always been an experimenter with sounds, effect & guitar techniques (he is credited with the fretboard “tapping” style he first introduced on the Genesis album “Nursery Cryme”). It has also been written that prior to his audition for Genesis, SH was preparing, not by playing songs of the day, but exploring new sounds with his guitar, amp and equipment.
SH has released nearly 40 studio and live albums since his departure from the band Genesis in 1977. Sadly, many still associate his musical identity largely with his work with Genesis (though his work with them was an essential part of their output from 1971 through 1977). Hackett, however, has had a rich solo career delving into many genres of music: electric and acoustic, blues, progressive rock, classical and including eastern Europe to the Middle and Far Eastern musical influences. He was also one of the first rock artists to release an “unplugged” album, “Bay Of Kings”, in 1983 (leaving his then label, Charisma Records, to do it). The music press has labeled some of his work as more heavily produced or commercial progressive rock (and was quite successful on the Billboard Charts), like the 1986 eponymous album “GTR” with Steve Howe, Max Bacon, Phil Spalding and Jonathan Mover (produced by Geoff Downes). He has collaborated with a broad range of artists: his brother John Hackett, Nick Magnus, John Wetton, Ian McDonald, Djabe, Chris Squire, Julian Colbeck, Anthony Phillips (and I have left many names off this rather short “long” list), and his current live band including: Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann and Rob Townsend.
Since his first solo work from 1975 (while still with Genesis), “Voyage of the Acolyte”, each album has included an inventive range of sounds and emotions from the most tender to the ferocious and dark. More recently, keyboardist Roger King has been a close collaborator, co-songwriter, and technical advisor with Hackett. Jo [Lehmann] Hackett also co-wrote some songs on SH’s previous album “OOTTM”, but for “BtSH” most of the songs are written by the trio of SH, RK & JH with two song credits added for Steve Howe and Jonathan Mover.
In many respects this album and back to his albums including “Dark Town” from 1999, have a strong cinematic quality—very visual and punctuated with scene and mood changes and transitional links between pieces. Many of the breaks and tempo changes during a given song are similar to cuts in a film, shifting from broad to intimate scenes (from full orchestra to lone nylon guitar). The contrasts throughout the album (to heighten dramatic effect) are not unlike those techniques used by Robert Fripp et al in many earlier King Crimson’s albums, up to the album “Red”.
“Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” is a journey (but there is a sense of a shifting timeline and locations). The album opens with a broad electric anthem, “Loch Lomond” (the largest freshwater lake in Great Britain, north of Glasgow, Scotland). It appears to be a departure, leaving the old behind to seek the new. There are alternating sections of fierce electric guitar choruses and acoustic accompaniment during the verses that documents the journey outward. The next two pieces “The Phoenix Flown” and “Wanderlust” serve as first a majestic transport to the next destination with an acoustic six-string pause before the next piece.
“Til These Eyes”, I think, is one of the most beautiful ballads that Hackett & Co. has ever recorded. It has a sense of reflective melancholy. It is a song of a mature voice and clearly speaks from a life of experience. SH’s vocals are sung in a low (almost weary) register and are well suited with the symbolism of the lyrics and accompanying music. It has the feeling of a ship’s captain, reviewing his life in a logbook, mulling over the mistakes, the losses and what is sought upon arrival at the ultimate destination: “…til these eyes have seen love.”
The journey continues and is announced by the instrumental “Prairie Angel”. The piece begins with a first languid and then rhythmic electric guitar and then transitions to a raucous blues chorus (with SH playing harmonica) and this leads to a not entirely clear but distinct western destination, “A Place Called Freedom” and a love seen and sought. The original “Prairie Angel” electric guitar theme returns to close the song.
“Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms” is a lullaby of sorts, a dream while traveling into the night with an orchestral interlude reminiscent of the waves carrying the ship into the next port. “Waking To Life” is the arrival in a different land (and Amanda Lehmann sings vocals). The piece is a cross-fertilization of Middle and Far Eastern music influences (even a sense of a Bollywood production) with an expansive orchestra following an electric guitar solo. The closing instrumental passage and guitar solo appears to be homage to the 1978 piece “Please Don’t Touch”.
The ominous transitional flute introduction to the “Two Faces of Cairo” is reminiscent of John Hackett’s opening to “The Steppes” from the 1980 album “Defector” and then the scene is that of (and almost presages, given the time this album was recorded) the political upheaval of the recent Egyptian revolution. An ensemble of percussion beats out the protest and is accompanied by a searing guitar solo by SH with an intermingled orchestra. “Looking For Fantasy” seems to be another point of reflection from a different point of view and during another time, a Camelot of sorts.
“Summer’s Breath” is a nylon-stringed interlude with distant voices on the beach. Hackett has such a gift for expressing emotions through his guitar. This transitions into a moody and raucous blues piece, “Catwalk”, which recalls his album “Blues With A Feeling” from 1995. One section has a fret board tapping run and solo that just rips a hole in the shifting time window of the journey (louder is better here).
“Turn This Island Earth” is the result of the collaboration of the three main songwriters along with Howe and Mover. It is the portion of the album where the travel is science fiction. It is the broadest, most orchestral, and dramatic piece on the album. It is certainly taking cues from the days of GTR. There is a middle section following an orchestral catharsis that borrows the theme of “Leaving” from the album “Defector” before moving to a dreamy march section with vocals. The mood shifts in this piece are quite dramatic and the musical scenes are as broad as the distance traveled (even with a snippet of Greensleeves) as the journey closes.
Throughout the album, there is a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, extensive keyboards (with digital orchestral sampling), woodwinds and strong support from the rhythm section of the band. Unlike the last release (where the drums were digital samples) “BtSH” includes both digitally sampled and actual percussion by Gary O’Toole and Simon Phillips. The recording varies from broad to sharply compressed (heightening the scenes) and from densely layered to the intimacy of a single guitar (that sounds as if SH is playing in one’s room). It’s an exciting journey and I hope SH continues to record and tour, for many years to come.
The bonus CD includes an interesting collection tracks (and well worth the added expense, although the track “Eruption: Tommy” is dropped on the LP set). A four-part suite entitled “Four Winds” (North, East, South and West) co-written by Hackett and King (except part three by Hackett and Benedict Fenner). The fifth piece “Pieds En L’Air” is movement five of the Capriol Suite written by Peter Warlock in 1926 and beautifully played by the trio (as a quartet) of Dick Driver on double bass, Richard Stuart on cello and Christine Townsend on both violin and viola. From this piece, it is not difficult to hear where the flowing lyrical quality has influenced SH’s work, especially his acoustic guitar pieces. “She Said Maybe” by Hackett and King is a Jazz-like piece that (for me) recalls some of Allan Holdsworth’s or Jan Akkerman’s work, a steady rhythm section and musical improvisations by both Hackett on guitar and King on keyboards, both solo and together. “Enter The Night” is a vocal version of “Depth Charge” from the 1991 live album “Time Lapse”, but this appears to be a re-recording of the piece (credited to Hackett, King and Jo Hackett). It is difficult to pick a stand out in this second CD, but “Eruption: Tommy” (actually written by Tom Barlage of the band “Solution”, not Thijs Van Leer as credited) made famous by the Dutch band “Focus” on their 1971 “Focus II” album is an absolutely splendid cover of this work. The CD closes with a re-recording of “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare” from the 1981 album “Cured”, recast as “Reconditioned Nightmare”.
Note: This article will be published shortly at an online music and audio equipment-related e-zine.
From the recording of Loch Lomond: