Buy Alain Simon's Excalibur
II: The Celtic Ring
Jon Anderson with...
Layton, Voinea, Zvoncheck, Messertraum, Simon, Curiano
Buy Tommy Zvoncheck's ZKG
Over the last few years, and it seems now over the next few too,
Anderson has been spreading himself about in a large number of
collaborations over the Internet with various musicians. Many tell the
same familiar story: having responded to one of Anderson's calls for
collaborators, the individual receives a call from an excited Jon full
of grand ideas. The collaborator sends over some music tracks,
Jon adds lyrics and vocals, but then is sometimes out of contact for
extended periods, punctuated by more excited phone calls and grand
plans. The results of these many collaborations are all over MySpace,
but few have been physically released so far.
As I write, at least 14 complete tracks are or have been available
online. There's effectively an album's worth of material by Jon
Anderson with..., so this review is meant as a guide to what's out
there. I also know that many of these artists are active online, so
apologies if I didn't like your work! If this material hasn't always
been to my liking, I still support your work and hope you are enjoying
the unique experience of working with Jon Anderson.
By and large, the tracks say more about the collaborator than about
Jon. Most of the time, Anderson seems to be adding a vocal line to
existing material, although some pieces may be more co-written. Much of
the material is more mainstream than Yes; obvious comparison points are
Anderson's more recent solo albums like Earthmotherearth or The More You Know. The results are
mixed, but I have found myself disappointed at times. To be fair, many
of these tracks are uncompleted demos and not necessarily
representative of finished work. Anderson's vocals remain distinctive,
as do his lyrics, but those lyrics are often a weak point, using
familiar Jon Anderson words and themes but in an overly generic
fashion. That said, there are pieces here that stand up against any of
Anderson's solo work over the last 20 years. All these tracks come from
before Anderson's near fatal acute respiratory failure in May, most
apparently from 2007 or early 2008.
Two collaborators who have made most material available are Steve
Layton and Tom Curiano. Layton has six 2007 demos on his MySpace page, most
fairly short pop songs with an electronic sound. (They're worked
together on over 35 songs.) "Shine Shine
Deliverance", which Jon has sung live, is very Jon-ish. "The Day
Before" and "Lights Out" have some nice electronic backing. At times,
the demo quality is more
lyrics and vocals are middling. Overall, the songs are listenable, but
nothing that stands out. With one
exception, that is, for the one stand-out track and one of the best
reviewed in this article. "Sacred Balance" (10:22) is a four-part epic
with classic prog stylings – contrasting sections of soft and loud,
acoustic and electric, and an instrumental interplay that builds and
subsides – but also a quite modern sound. It feels like a good
combination of Anderson's input and a different flavour from Layton.
Tom Curiano is a drummer/multi-instrumentalist/producer from New York. His MySpace page has had
various songs recorded with Anderson available but only for very short
periods. There's nothing there at present, but I've heard 5 tracks
before now. This is a strong set of material and it sounds polished,
ready for release. The material comes across as a good combination of
Anderson's style with Curiano's. It's relatively mainstream: think of
it as an updated In the City of Light.
"Animal Life" (5:00) had an interesting mix of Anderson's style and
(presumably) Curiano's, with prominent drumming throughout. Although
quite mainstream in form, it has a certain quirkiness. A good song.
"Know Now" (4:31) was not as strong, a straightforward love song,
slightly reminiscent if anything of some of Anderson's 1960s work.
"Blessings of Water" (3:58) felt more like Anderson's solo work,
vaguely recalling Earthmotherearth
in particular. It began with Anderson's vocal strongly to the fore,
with a simple accompaniment, but the arrangement later opens up with
more parts and a Japanese feel.
"The Knowing" was split on MySpace into Part 1 (2:53) and Parts 2 &
3 (4:26). It began with multiply layered vocals, and a big anthemic
sound. I think this will appeal to many Anderson fans. The shortest
piece, "Lament" (2:57), is again a good mix of Anderson and Curiano,
with some nice Howe-like guitar work, but it sounds incomplete in some
It's hard to judge from briefly available MySpace samples whether the
material has staying power. Curiano says he has 14 songs done with
Anderson, and more happening now. This sounds like an album release
pretty much at the ready, an album at least on the par with Anderson's
last few studio releases. Yet, on the other hand, there isn't much here
that will change people's minds about wanting Anderson back in Yes.
Anderson's lyrics remain disappointing, generic fare from him.
Sorin Voinea has one track with Anderson at his MySpace. It's a
similar story: "The Shape of Things" is an OK track with a modern, even
slightly urban, sound. Neither the vocal performance or lyrics is
outstanding, but the track stands up reasonably well compared to
Anderson's last few solo albums. Voinea also has an instrumental
version of the same piece available.
Machajdík's MySpace has an extract of a contemporary
classical piece "Sadness of Flowing" with Anderson. This is very
different from the other music covered so far. For starters, it has now
actually been released, on Machajdík's album Namah. It is a beautiful and
haunting piece of music, with Anderson adopting a more narrative
lyrical style: the best work I've heard with Anderson for years. I
recently interviewed Machajdík here and
also recommend the rest of his album Namah.
I am unclear whether "The Key" by Messertraum has been released or not,
but a finished version is available at their MySpace. This
song features both Jon and daughter Deborah on an electronic dance
track. Along with some of the pieces mentioned above, it shows Jon's
willingness to work over a wide variety of styles. The lyrics remain
typical fare. It's a good vocal performance from Jon, but actually I
think Deborah's vocal is the stronger here. Another three tracks are on
MySpace and worth checking out.
Tommy Zvoncheck's "Rain in Florida" about the 2000 Presidential
election Florida vote can be heard in full at his
MySpace video page
and is on a re-release of his solo album ZKG. Zvoncheck has done better music
than this, while Anderson's lyrics are
amazingly trite and the vocal delivery tiring. By far the worst of the
bunch. Zvoncheck responded to the initial version of the review by explaining
the context of the piece here. This version of the song is the
original demo. Anderson was working with Zvoncheck on "Rain in
Florida", but put off doing his final vocal due to health problems
around Feb 2008. The recording remained unfinished, but given the
lyrics' topical nature and with Anderson's blessing, Zvoncheck released
it as is. Zvoncheck also explained the agreement behind this
collaboration, saying: "Our arrangement was for me to orchestrate and
arrange a 3 movement orchestral piece for him. In return, he would
collaborate with me on a song and said I could do anything I want with
it. I completed the task to Jon's satisfaction." This relationship
whereby Zvoncheck does orchestrations/arrangements for Anderson and
Anderson sings on his work has echoes in the experience of other
"Circle of Life" is from Alan Simon's Excalibur
II and a sample, not the full piece, can be heard at the project's MySpace page
too. That this is a bigger budget production is immediately noticeable.
Here, Anderson is just a guest vocalist and Simon wrote the lyrics.
It's good AOR and Anderson turns in a good performance, but nothing to
get that excited above.
I'm unclear of its origin but there's an untitled track by Jon
available at The
Wychwood Recorder's MySpace, seemingly from around early 2008. It
sounds like a quite complex production, but it is unclear whether this
is solo Anderson or another collaboration.
Overall, few of these show Anderson at his best as a singer or a
lyricist, and he seems to have largely opted out of any broader
composing role in these collaborations. Some of the vocal performances
have a breathy, raspy quality and one wonders whether these reflected a
deteriorating vocal health prior to Anderson's crisis in May, although
they may just be early takes. I am reminded of the early 1980s when
there's a similar series of uninspiring Anderson guest appearances on
multiple projects (many soundtracks, including "Metropolis", "Legend"
and "St. Elmo's Fire"). There's possibly more promise here than then in
tracks like "Sadness of Flowing", "Sacred Balance" and "The Knowing",
and most of the material is as strong as Jon's new solo material of the
last few years, but I feel Anderson has more to give. The positive way
of considering this material is as multiple works in progress, with the
better material presumably to see release, yet I also wonder whether
many of these collaborations will fail to go anywhere, destined to join
the large pile of half-finished ideas Jon Anderson seems to have.
Whichever, there is plenty of material already for which it is worth
turning on your computer speakers. It's all free after all!
Addendum: In response to this review, a further MySpace appearances by
Jon have been pointed out to me. "Soldiers of Discipline" appears on
Tenorio's MySpace page, recorded with Max Johnson (guitar, bass)
and Glenn Johnson (drums).
Henry Potts, 6 Dec 08; revised 8 Dec 08
Originally posted to alt.music.yes, Yesfans.com
and Progressive Ears.