EANTCD 1032 – Esoteric Antenna (Cherry Red Records) – Time: 46:54
Tracks: 1) Time, 2) Memory, 3) Kombat Kid, 4) Headcase, 5) Eminent Victorians, 6) Broken, 7) Shadowland, 8) Entropy
Other music genres aside, I posit that many fans of Progressive Rock (Progressive Metal and other sub-genres included) have fairly high expectations when anticipating the release of an album by a favorite artist or band. The hope is perhaps for certain sounds and instrumentation—in a way, holding onto the past, the memories. I’m certainly guilty of that (I want Mellotrons, Les Pauls, E-bows and bass pedals), but I also hope for variants and invention in addition to complicated rhythms and key signatures that I associate with Prog Rock.
Music can trigger memories; hear a song and it can take one back to a long distant place and time, instantly. My memory of Nick’s work goes back to the early days of the Steve Hackett Band, in the late 1970s through the 1980s, and I certainly remember standing up front at more than a few venues close to the stage, marveling at Nick using his two (four?!) hands, feet and even elbows at times to assist with bringing Steve Hackett’s early work to life (he was a large part of the sound and technology of that era…and the transition from the analog to digital era in instrumentation and recording technology). Then, of course, I have enjoyed his solo work beginning with Straight On Til Morning from 1993.
I’ve heard some recent Prog Rock albums (even albums that I like) where the artist felt it necessary to include frequent derivative historical references and instrumentation or phrasing to other artist’s albums, but Magnus resists this temptation and takes n’monix in unexpected directions and makes it his own. The album does include many new friends as well as old; a connection to the past while looking to the future: Steve Hackett, Tony Patterson, Tim Bowness, Pete Hicks, Rob Townsend, James Reeves, Kate Faber and Andy Neve. Once again, long time collaborator, Dick Foster delivers sharp, witty and poignant lyrics that combine so well with the music.
n’monix is social commentary, history, reality and an observation of the results of technological advancements and the effects they have on us all. The more information available, the more to process, the more to remember and as a result we need devices to cope, mnemonics of many types. And curiously, even with the most tragic and unjust, we humans have such short memories; history is bound to repeat itself, it sadly becomes inevitable. We are victims of our own creations. The album is also about loss on many levels.
Time is the allegro of the symphony or the overture to the opera and it’s aggressive with firm vocals by Tony Patterson (and it will give your audio equipment a workout). By contrast (but very much in keeping with the symphonic reference) Memory is an adagio (slower tempo) waltz of sorts, which shifts from a somewhat shrouded soprano solo to broad choral treatment. Kombat Kid is an allegory. It is part march, part recitative and a story of consumption, manipulation and obsession…a reminder to step away from the keyboard or game controller now and then. Headcase is the only track on the album that even vaguely includes an homage…in this case (it seems to me!) to Gentle Giant…with quirky rhythms and lyrics—and memory games in the lyrics. Eminent Victorians is the most fantastical of the pieces on the album (with a brilliant animated video to accompany and vocals by the carnival “barker” Pete Hicks), and traces the absurdity of the served and servants, the sacrifices of the young and poor for the glory of an Empire and upper class; a familiar theme even today as income gaps grow ever wider and those less fortunate suffer even more. EV also includes prominent and most welcomed solos by Steve Hackett.
Broken is a heartbreaking lament with remarkable and emotional soprano saxophone solos by Rob Townsend (I have to admit that I had quite an unexpected emotional reaction to the track). Reality hits in the mournful resignation and loss of Shadowland and includes choral treatments and a stark guitar solo again from Steve Hackett. Some of the original themes return in the opening of the final track Entropy, an acceptance of reality and the unknown possibilities. I am certain that I have missed some of the literary, mystical and historical references…for now.
Although the subject matter of this album can be rather daunting, I find it to be somewhat lighter in spirit at times and more musical compared to Nick’s brilliant previous album Children of Another God. n’monix is impeccably arranged and orchestrated, and dances on the edge of being symphonic and operatic while including original and accessible songwriting. This is certainly not an album that collapses under the weight of a Prog Rock cliché, in fact, just the opposite–it brings a fresh relevance and viewpoint to the genre.
A small collection of photos from the Steve Hackett Band show in Ridgefield, CT on September 29, 2013. I request that if you decide to copy or repost these photos they are credited to “wajobu.com” Thank you.
Due to my seating position, I didn’t have many opportunities to photograph Rob Townsend (woodwinds and keyboards) and Roger King (keyboards), but the entire band appears in the photo below. It was another great show on the US Genesis Revisited Tour.
A GREAT show by the Steve Hackett Band last night. Ian McDonald was in the audience and backstage along with Adam Holzman (keyboards on Steven Wilson’s recent album) and Francis Dunnery (who joined the band for a couple of the songs). Steve noted to the audience how much Ian McDonald’s early work with King Crimson influenced him during his early period with Genesis. The set list is here (top of page): http://www.hackettsongs.com/setlist/3tour.html And it was a real thrill to hear so many songs that I haven’t heard in some cases for more than 30 years like The Fountain of Salmacis. Onward (for me) to Saturday’s sold out show in CT, but the band is playing a show at the Theater at Westbury (Long Island, NY) on Friday night. I didn’t take many photos last night, because I didn’t have a high quality camera and I wanted to focus more on the show and the music.
Left to right (after the encore): Roger King, Rob Townsend, Nad Sylvan, Steve Hackett, Lee Pomeroy and Gary O’Toole.
I have to say that the award last night (and the entire band looked like they were having fun) goes to Lee (playing right-handed guitars and bass left-handed) who had huge smiles on his face each time he fired-off those thundering bass pedals. It was a real treat to see such a great band again, this time…on Broadway…at the Best Buy Theater.
More on the tour and Steve Hackett here: http://www.hackettsongs.com/index.html
CD1 & CD2 #VPD555CD: Total Times: 46:43 and 51:08 Released 2012
Artist Website: http://www.anthonyphillips.co.uk/
Artist Website: http://www.andrewskeet.com/
Record Label: http://www.voiceprint.co.uk/
Tracks CD1: 1) Credo In Cantus (vocal by Lucy Crowe); 2) A Richer Earth; 3) Under The Infinite Sky; 4) Grand Central; 5) Kissing Gate; 6) Pasquinade; 7) Rain on Sage Harbour; 8) Ice Maiden; 9) River of Life; 10) Desert Passage; 11) Seven Ancient Wonders (vocal by Belinda Sykes); 12) Desert Passage (reprise); 13) Circle of Light; 14) Forgotten Angels; 15) Courtesan; 16) Ghosts of New York; 17) Shipwreck of St Paul; 18) Cortege
Tracks CD2: 1) Credo In Cantus (instrumental); 2) Sojourn; 3) Speak of Remarkable Things; 4) Nocturne; 5) Long Road Home; 6) The Golden Leaves of Fall; 7) Credo; 8) Under The Infinite Sky (guitar ensemble version); 9) The Stuff of Dreams; 10) Old Sarum Suite (five parts); 11) For Eloise; 12) Winter Song; 13) Ghosts of New York (piano version); 14) Daniel’s Theme; 15) Study In Scarlet; 16) The Lives of Others; [sic] 18) Forever Always
When many think of the music of Anthony Phillips, often they first remember his association with the early days of the band Genesis, even though it has been more than forty years since he left that band. After formal music training in the early 1970s, Ant did continue to collaborate with Mike Rutherford on The Geese and the Ghost and Smallcreep’s Day, in addition to Ant’s other solo works such as Wise After The Event and Sides in the mid to late 1970s. Ant has released about thirty albums to the general public, in addition to the many compilations of his extensive catalog.
The younger Andrew Skeet has worked as an arranger and orchestrator for George Michael, Suede, Unkle, Sinead O’Connor and Hybrid. Since 2004 Skeet has worked with Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy on three albums as musical director, arranger, and playing piano as well as touring throughout Europe. Andrew Skeet also established the music production company Roxbury Music with Luke Gordon (former Howie B collaborator) and together their music has been featured in film, television and commercials: The Apprentice, Dispatches, and Banged Up Abroad. Skeet has also orchestrated and conducted scores for The Awakening and Upstairs Downstairs. The album The Greatest Video Game Music was produced in 2011 by Andrew Skeet along with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and has been one of the most successful classical releases in many years.
Ant and Andrew crossed paths when Universal Publishing Production Music commissioned Ant to write a collection of cinema-related music for UPPM’s Atmosphere label. Much of Ant’s music career for the last twenty or so years has been writing what is often referred to as “library music” or stock music composed for use in films, television or commercials in addition to other commisioned and self-produced works. Periodically Ant has collected these tracks, edited and in some cases re-recorded them for his Private Parts and Pieces, Missing Links or other album releases that are available to the general public (primarily through the Voiceprint and Blueprint labels).
It is always of particular interest to me to dig through Ant’s music to find the roots of some of his library work. I do miss the days of his more rock-oriented albums and singing, but recognize that getting that kind of work published these days is not easy or commercially viable. Ant goes through periods where his work is more keyboard oriented, but in 2005 he released a gorgeous double CD entitled Field Day filled with varying acoustic guitar work written and recorded from 2001 to 2005 (the exception being a re-recording of his 1975 piece Nocturne from PP&PP2 Back to the Pavilion…one of my favorite albums of his earlier solo works).
Field Day forms the basis for portions of Seventh Heaven where some of the solo guitar works have been orchestrated in addition to pieces that Ant and Andrew co-wrote later. Ant is credited with having written ten of the thirty-five compositions. The orchestrated pieces from Field Day that I can identify include: Credo, Nocturne, River of Life, Sojourn, Rain on Sag Harbour and the exquisite Kissing Gate. Each of these pieces is lightly orchestrated and perfectly complements the original to heighten the sentiments of the composition.
For fans of Ant’s prog-rock work this album might be a stretch, but if listeners enjoyed the album Tarka (the orchestral collaboration with Harry Williamson released in the late 1980s) then I think this Phillips and Skeet collaboration will be well received. The orchestration and recording is lush yet is not overdone. Many of the compositions are quite visual and evoke certain moods or a sense of place. The orchestrations vary from solo instrument (guitar, piano) to full orchestra, chamber or ensemble.
There are some really gorgeous tracks, from the opening of CD1 Credo In Cantus (based on Ant’s Credo from Field Day) and the transition into A Richer Earth and the dramatic Under The Infinite Sky. Grand Central evokes a sense of motion as in a view taken from the station in New York on a busy morning. Desert Passage by contrast is a stark and dramatic piece based around (I think) a mandocello with Middle Eastern themes along with woodwind soloist (and collaborator from PP&PP6 New England) Martin Robertson.
CD2 opens with an instrumental reprise of Credo In Cantus and ties the two discs together. A spirited orchestral version of Sojourn follows and then the mysterious piano of Speak of Remarkable Things links to the poignant and beautiful guitar Nocturne from long ago—it has an ageless quality to it. Long Road Home has the image of a beginning (and it is quite cinematic in its breadth) with first full orchestra followed by solo woodwinds and closing with piano. The Golden Leaves of Fall continues a similar piano theme and to me the two pieces seem strongly connected. Mid-disc is Old Sarum Suite in five short movements and it has a brilliant range of instrumentation and themes, and shows the versatility of Phillips and Skeet’s collaboration. It has an historic feel to it similar to Henry: Portrait From Tudor Times from “Geese”. CD2 closes with an introspective piece Forever Always, (a common thread, reflection, in Ant’s own work since “Geese” Collections/Sleepfall: The Geese Fly West).
There are extensive liner notes with the CDs as well as photographs of the recording sessions with the orchestras and biographies on the soloists and principal players (John Parricelli, Belinda Sykes, Martin Robertson, Lucy Crowe, Paul Clarvis and Chris Worsey). The works were recorded in three phases (from 2008 through late 2011), with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir in Prague, then with string section at Angel Studios and then some tracks were re-recorded at Abbey Road along with recordings at Ant’s studio. The only quirk that I noticed is that CD2 actually has seventeen tracks, although it skips from 16 to 18 in the liner notes (typo!).
Seventh Heaven is both a collaborative work with Anthony Phillips as well as a splendid introduction to the work of Andrew Skeet. Whether a fan of Anthony Phillips’s prog-rock, instrumental or library compositions, I think this is a great addition to his oeuvre. Seventh Heaven is an expansive, sophisticated, and elegant work.