Monday, 29 June 2015

Chris Squire 1948 - 2015


I knew there was something up. I opened the flap to my ipad and saw a whole host of retweets listed. Most unusual for a Sunday afternoon. As soon as I opened the Twitter app and started scrolling through the tweets I saw the shocking news displayed in front of me. I couldn't believe it. Chris Squire was dead. We all knew he was very ill and was sitting out on the next Yes tour so that he could be treated for leukaemia. It was bad news, but we all knew that he would fight. But just a month after telling the world he was ill and now he is gone was still a huge blow to all us fans.

I grew up with the man and his music. Yes music has always been with me and that bass sound. That sound was such an integral part of Yes music and it changed from album to album. I will never forget that harmonic bass sound that he used throughout Tormato. I saw him in concert on the Going for the One and Drama tours. Unbelievably he only made one solo album, recorded during the hiatus between Relayer and Going for the One. But Fish Out of Water is a wonderful album. Great songs and playing, by the man himself and the likes of Bill Bruford, Mel Collins, Patrick Moraz and Jimmy Hastings. I listen to his music a lot. I was only listening to Parallels a few days ago. His music and playing is always part of my life.

It's not surprising that Twitter and Facebook went mad yesterday with outpourings of sadness and appreciation, from fans and musicians alike such was the stature of Chris Squire as a musician. He was hugely influential, not just in progressive rock circles, but throughout rock music. I read he died in the arms of his wife Scotland (Scotty). That is so sad, but glad that he was with his family. He was and always will be with his extended family of fans who will never forget him and the truly original, beautiful and joyous music he made. Here's to The Fish, Schindleria Praematurus!


Friday, 19 June 2015

Phil Manzanera - SHM Editions

Another bunch of SHM discs from Japan and all in a nifty Disk Union promo box. These discs seem to be released on the back of Manzanera's latest album The Sound of Blue. That in itself is a pleasant enough, mostly instrumental outing from the guitarist. It's not going to change the world, but Manzanera always produces beautifully arranged guitar based pieces, mixing in Latin elements which echo back to his childhood upbringing in South America. The other albums in the collection, especially Diamond Head, Listen Now and K Scope are without a doubt classics. I actually prefer what Manzanera was doing on his early solo work here and on the Quiet Sun and 801 Live albums than anything Roxy Music produced. I just think there was something more off centre and wayward with Manazaneras music, especially when he had the likes of Eno, Robert Wyatt, John Wetton, Bill MacCormick, Mel Collins and Simon Phillips collaborating with him.

These new issues seem to be based on the latest available mastering from Manzaneras own Expression label reissues, though they do mostly contain a few more bonus tracks than those did. So, I am not sure the origin of those tracks. The papersleeves are up to the usual Japanese high standards though they have not reproduced the insert sleeves. Those are printed in black and white and form part of the usual Japanese credit booklets which come with their papersleeve editions. That's slightly dissapointing, but overall these look and sound sumptuous, especially Listen Now which has always been one of Manzaneras lushest and smoothest recordings. Overall a nice set!


Monday, 15 June 2015

Led Zeppelin Super Deluxe Editions


The reputation of Led Zeppelin as the biggest rock band in history is far greater in magnitude than the aircraft after which it takes it's name. The legacy of those albums which Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham produced in the seventies is immense. So it was surprising that it took Page so long to produce newly revamped editions of the bands catalogue considering other bands have done so with relish over the last few years. But he has done it and all within the space of a year!

So what of the much hyped super deluxe edition box sets? Many have been left thinking that they are a missed opportunity! Where are the high resolution stereo mixes or even surround sound mixes that many have come to expect from the likes of King Crimson and Yes deluxe editions? What we mainly have are remastered CD's of the studio album and a disc of outtakes, plus the same in vinyl form and a photo book. No notes or essays putting the band and albums in a historical context. However the boxes, though expensive are very well designed and made. The quality of the book and sleeves are very good. They even have the CD's in protective plastic sleeves, something you only normally associate with Japanese mini-LP papersleeve editions. There is no extra silly padding, like marbles, posters, scarves or tshirts which came with the Pink Floyd boxes. These boxes are just about the music. The remastering is subtle and does improve on what Page achieved before with George Marino. It's not a mind blowing improvement, but enough to appreciate a better sound achievement without ever compromising the dynamics of the original recordings.

To be honest these boxes could have been much, much better in terms of high res presentation and a decent book on the background to the recordings. But there is something classy about them which cannot be denied. They are pricey, but Led Zeppelin are a premium band and can justifiably charge a premium price, but I expect over time these will go down in price. The bands elevated position within rock and roll and even popular cultural history is without question and to own these box sets is like owning something important. Maybe that's a bit over the top but so are Led Zeppelin!



Friday, 5 June 2015

Art Bears SHM Series

The Japanese do seem to be ramping up the release schedule of various catalogues on SHM CD at the moment. Of interest to me over the next few months are titles by Phil Manzanera, Henry Cow and Gong and all as papersleeve editions. Just out are the three studio albums released by the post-Henry Cow outfit Art Bears. ReR released a stunning box set of all Art Bears material a number of years back, all expertly assembled and mastered by Bob Drake. These SHM issues use choice material from that box set to enhance the separate albums on these reissues as added bonus tracks. The discs are listed as being remastered, but not sure from what source. I suspect they have used the existing digital transfers to tweek things here and these as there is a ReR Megacorp licensing credit mentioned. They do sound very good, but it's the packaging which is the star here. All the inserts which were included within the original vinyl editions, poster, lyric sheet and booklet are produced here in miniature form, with the sleeves faithfully reproduced right down to using the same card stock and even gold embossing as on Winter Songs.

I do love Henry Cow's music, but Art Bears were somehow even more special. After the long complex instrumental pieces of HC, the trilogy of Art Bears albums saw Dagmar, Frith and Cutler resort to shorter, song based pieces. This may have been the height of punk when they were recorded, but there was nothing that was produced in the name of punk that was as anarchic or extreme as these songs. It's a pleasure to have these albums reproduced as beautiful as these SHM editions are and sounding pretty good too!




Thursday, 4 June 2015

Jaga Jazzist - Starfire


Jaga Jazzist are another outfit like Snarky Puppy who are the modern equivalent of a big band, mixing multi instrumentation and personnel to produce a wide screen instrumental music blending jazz, rock, classical etc. But on this latest album, Jaga Jazzist have based the album around a more techno, electronic foundation. Lots of synths and programmed percussion mix with the more traditional guitars, woodwind, brass and drum kit to produce a joyous series of instrumental pieces. This is like systems music, but with a jazz swing and prog rock time changes enabling each composition to go through many developments and alternatives. But they never forget a tune, which makes this complex music so adventurous yet approachable. Another winning release.


Monday, 1 June 2015

Yes - Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two


The prospect of seven shows from the same tour, with the same set list by Yes may on the face of it appear madness! Yes music is tightly constructed and there is very little room for improvisation. So the question is are we not hearing exactly the same thing night after night? This box set emphatically shows that is not the case. These live recordings are a revelation compared to Yessongs, before this box the only other live document of the band from this period. The sound is clear, detailed with great separation between each band member. It's Steve Howe who keeps things interesting from performance to performance. He adds so much different tonal colouring to his playing which constantly keeps things interesting. Alan White moves everything along at a cracking pace. The relentless energy he displays throughout every performance is breathtaking. Together with Chris Squires fast twangy bass lines this is a hot rhythm section. Rick Wakeman is placed on the right channel so all his intricate keyboard dexterity is now clearly defined. Over all this Jon Anderson's vocals soar and hold everything together. This is a band relishing playing this music. They are young and at the peak of their abilities and passion.

For any Yes fan, they must have thought that Yessongs was it. Great performances, but sonically wanting. So to be presented with these discs is manna from heaven. These recordings sound wonderful and the packaging of the box is a beauty. New artwork by Roger Dean of course and excellent notes in the booklet about the renovation of the tapes which are insightful and fascinating. All round this is a triumph and we must hope there is more to come.