Posts Tagged yes

Album Appreciation: Relayer by Yes

Relayer_REMUS_spine_Layout 1
Progressive rockers Yes’ 1974 release Relayer was one of the first albums that opened my ears to what was possible in music. Pretty difficult to overstate the importance of that – especially to an impressionable teenager.

This was in the mid-70s. I didn’t know anything about Yes and hadn’t heard a single note. I was fascinated by Roger Dean’s amazing cover and bought Relayer partly for that, and partly out of curiosity to learn what these guys were about. Of course, seeing only three song titles on the back cover really piqued my curiosity.

I was blown away at once, listened to Relayer many, many times, and naturally dove into the rest of the classic Yes catalog. On my commute this morning, I heard Relayer for the first time in at least 25 years, and was almost in tears of joy. I had never forgotten it; it was just one of those things that drift out of your life somehow…

Some of those things we come back to, and find that their attraction has been lost. Relayer has lost nothing for me over time; it’s still incredible.

Gates of Delirium is one of the handful of absolute Yes masterpieces. Epic in scope, prodigious in moods, brilliantly executed, with passages of intense power and sublime beauty. It has always blown me away. This is what music is supposed to do. I began to know it then, and that conviction has only grown over the years.

Sound Chaser has the strongest fusion elements and bears the largest stamp of Patrick Moraz’ input – though the band was already well down the fusion path, as composition and arrangement for Relayer was well underway before he came on board. The three-way interplay (not to say flat-out battle) between Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Moraz just explodes all through this track, and Howe’s solo section is a gem.

To Be Over closes on a more mellow note, slowing to a pastoral and dreamy – but somehow still well-grounded – vibe. It fully embodies the opening line “We go sailing down the calming stream.” Beautifully done.

This was Patrick Moraz’ only album with Yes. Rick Wakeman is surely Yes’ Keyboardist of Destiny, but it’s tantalizing to try to imagine where Yes would have gone if they’d stuck with Moraz for a few more albums. The possibilities were surely unlimited. The next album with Wakeman, 1977’s Going for the One, was definitely another masterpiece, but Moraz’ departure closed off a path of exciting possibilities.

Yes’ best work remains a huge influence on what I do, and I expect that to be heard in my work going forward. Thanks, guys!

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Over the Horizon … Pondering a Milestone Project

Over the Horizon

It’s become a fairly amusing year-end ritual: I undertake – in all sincerity – a recap of the year just ended, along with plans for the New Year. Case in point: my 2012 review. The amusement stems from my well-earned awareness that “best-laid plans” are always subject to change, without notice or reason.

So, at the midpoint of the year, how have my plans for 2013 changed, and what do I <chuckle> anticipate for the balance (or possible absence thereof)?

I had thought to play a few live shows this year, but fewer than the six undertaken in 2012, which consumed most of my studio time. That has changed to maybe one – if art painters Royce Deans & Tali Farchi bring their Colorboration Project back to Chicago. Otherwise, it’s going to be a studio year. The priority is finishing several albums in progress.

I had hoped to come out of hibernation in the spring and play a concert of new pieces worked up from last September’s shows, but they’re still in progress, so that’s on hold. There are enough pieces in progress from last year’s shows for two albums, possibly more. I hope to get working on those next year.

Here’s an updated photo of The Keep as it stands today (the Guitar Corner is unchanged). The percussion section, having acquired some homemade trinkets, has outgrown the one shelf on my keyboard stand, hence the – ahem – Custom Hanging Multi-Pocket Repository. I should have kept the 3-level stand that I had… and that MIDI cable, running from the keyboard controller to the interface, hanging in the air behind the chair – I definitely must get a longer one.

The Keep, July/13

What’s next for The Keep? A significant computer upgrade, a second Roland Loop Station, and a mixer. Someday.

I’m also on the lookout for a designer and builder, as I would like to have a custom multi-guitar stand made, along with an intern to help me with marketing and promotion. Anyone who’s interested, please contact me [music at eyescastdown dot com].

Milestone Project

I probably have it worse than most people: the tendency to be dreaming up (and getting caught up in) more and more new projects while current ones languish, awaiting completion. Oh well, it seems one must keep many fires burning… The allure of future directions can be pretty distracting. The challenge is to balance looking ahead with staying in the present – and just getting stuff done.

So which future possibilities are calling me?

I’ve been nurturing a wish to write in other modes, especially for choir and for orchestra, as well as in Just Intonation, and these are all being subsumed into my ambient ethos. Hence the new “ambient orchestra concerto” project, which is still primarily an ambient conception, but with more orchestral textures. This is already anticipated to be a CD-length piece, but it could easily expand beyond that, especially if there are many participants. There are two other “crossover” projects, also at the “great idea” stage, with the details… mostly pending.

Tremor, Spore, Legacy by vidnaObmana

Tremor, Spore, Legacy by vidnaObmana

So, all these developments have my radar up for subjects or ideas that could inspire a Seriously Large Project (i.e., a set of 3 or more CDs). Recently revisiting two of the greatest in my collection (vidnaObmana’s brutally visceral Dante Trilogy and Steve Roach’s sublimely deep Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces) has strongly fueled that.

Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces by Steve Roach

Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces by Steve Roach

So where does one begin? What are some possible inspiration points?

These, of course, are legion, coming from different aspects of nature, and the various arts and sciences. There is already a literature-inspired project in the queue (if I’m lucky, work on that will begin next year), which I don’t expect to outgrow the one CD that’s contemplated for it.

I could make jokes about tinkering with stuff like the Fibonacci Sequence, the Golden Ratio, Moebius loops, etc., but that would probably be in bad taste.

For sheer immensity of inspiration, one can’t do better than to have a go at the Vedic scriptures, as Yes attempted on Tales From Topographic Oceans – with, for me, frustratingly mixed results.

Part of the attraction – and part of the problem – is that the Vedas are beyond vast – covering every branch of science and knowledge. So one needs to find a touchstone that’s circumscribed enough to get a handle on…

… and I think I have one! So let it brew – for a few years. While I try to get some stuff done…

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Sundry Bits of Dabble: a Lifetime’s Artistic Resume

This is probably a total Exercise in Self-Indulgence, but anyway… JKN thought it was a good idea, so who am I to argue? Maybe he’s just trying to get me razzed or something… but it will be cool to see what others have to report on this subject, if they care to.

The idea was to recount a lifetime’s artistic activity, an artistic resume, if you like. In my case, that involves mostly writing, music and theater.

After grade school choir, nothing happens until Grade 11 (1975), when I get into acting. At my small rural high school, we staged the first two plays of James Reaney’s classic Donnellys trilogy, Sticks and Stones and St. Nicholas Hotel.

In between those two came the First Watershed Event: My Fair Lady in Grade 12 (1977). I had never intended to get involved with a musical, but somehow or other was invited and convinced to try out for the lead part of Prof. Henry Higgins – and got it! The production went very well, and I had a great time. This. Changed. Everything.

By this time I had determined that I was going to be a writer, so my orientation changed from math/computer nerd to artistic wannabe – although the computer thing (as far as it goes) still comes in pretty handy.

After My Fair Lady, next year’s musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, was a big step backwards but, as most of our major talent had graduated, it was all we could manage. It was OK, but if I’d known that it would cost me a place on the soccer team, I probably would have passed.

My three-year university career was dominated by a comedy performance group which I started and administered, which played mostly Monty Python, a handful of Saturday Night Live bits and some originals.

There were also frequent open mic nights in our college, for which I played solo or teamed up with various friends. Memorable songs that I can recall playing include: Horse with No Name (America), Let It Be and Here Comes the Sun (Beatles), Flowers are Red (Harry Chapin), The Eagle and the Hawk (John Denver), Lucky Man (Greg Lake), Imagine (John Lennon), Circle of Steel, If Children Had Wings and Endless Wire (Gordon Lightfoot), Rivendell (Rush), and Stairway to Heaven (yeah, yeah) with no guitar solo.

Our comedy group also played a couple of these, with fairly infamous results. The most memorable was probably the night only two of our six guys could attend, for which we prepared all the classic Python two-handers (Parrot Sketch, Cheeseshop, Travel Agent, Nudge Nudge, etc.). A friend of mine in the audience, unsolicited, played the part of a howling mole, and definitely upped the ante for us.

I left university a year early (1981) to join a rock band with my then-best friend. I was the drummer, with a carbon copy of Neil Peart’s Tama kit to prove it. We played lots of Rush, and songs by Led Zeppelin, Max Webster, Jimi Hendrix, Yes, Frank Zappa and others. Without a keyboard player, we did interesting arrangements of ELP’s Lucky Man and Yes’ Starship Trooper. My favorites were the first four songs from Rush’s Moving Pictures LP, along with their La Villa Strangiato and Yes’ I’ve Seen All Good People.

That lasted about four years, so now we’re into the mid-1980s. Married life intervened shortly thereafter, but there was still time for try out standup comedy at a Toronto comedy club’s open mic night. I went twice and thought I did pretty well, but gave it up in disgust, as the common taste ran to what I would politely label “toilet graffiti”. I think Bill Cosby would have a much tougher slog if he started out today.

In 1989, I started up a vocal duo with a friend, which later grew to a trio. Our instrumentation was just my guitar. This lasted about two years, and memorable songs that we played include: A Sort of Homecoming (U2), Mrs. Robinson, The Sound of Silence, Bookends and Scarborough Fair (Simon & Garfunkel), Bluebird (Paul McCartney), If You Could Read My Mind and Rainy Day People (Gordon Lightfoot), Cats in the Cradle (Harry Chapin), Nowhere Man, Blackbird, Across the Universe and She Loves You (Beatles).

Apart from a few guitar ideas, none of the stuff that I wrote up to this point has survived – with good reason. The earliest writing that I’ve kept is what came next. My separation and divorce led to a period of introspection and exploration, punctuated by occasional poetical eruptions (1993-96). Therapeutic venting in the form of free-associative wordplay. Most of them are more or less embarrassing now but a few of them still stand up, which I published here as the Divinations series.

Time for the Second Watershed Event: the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Music By the Masses workshop in 1997. A small fee bought me guidance from a real composer (Martin van de Ven, from the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band), while I wrote a three-minute trio to be recorded by TSO musicians. I was quite pleased with my Trio Galactique for violin, viola & cello, which timed in at a modest 2:37. It dabbled in, and hastily disposed of, enough ideas for a handful of pieces. Already the influence of Arvo Pärt, whom I’d recently discovered, can be heard. When I can wrench the audio out of the cassette, I’ll post it here.

This turned me irresistibly away from wannabe writer, to wannabe composer/musician. Around this time I took up mantra meditation. After a few more years of acoustic guitar noodling, which now took a more contemplative and devotional turn, I discovered Steve Roach and the ambient/electronic universe (2001). Everything. Changed. Again.

In 2004, another cocoon split and eyes cast down emerged. And here we are.

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