Tag Archives: classical

Alan Parsons at Club Nokia

Parsons_Alan_72dpiAlan Parsons and his supremely talented band played the Nokia Club in Los Angeles, performing in town for the first time in 6 years on June 11, 2015. The group was at the absolute top of their game, driving through a set list that included many of their hits recorded over the years as The Alan Parsons Project, and in particular highlighting one of their most popular albums, The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980). It’s going to be difficult to express just how amazing this concert was without leaving a bit of the journalist aside and instead sharing these thoughts as a devoted fan of Alan Parsons and all of his work over the years. So here goes, starting with some background.

Alan Parsons is the well-known audio engineer, record producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who began his career as a music engineer with the likes of The Beatles (Abbey Road) and Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon) and went on to engineer and/or produce award winning artists Ambrosia, Al Stewart, Steven Wilson and others too numerous to detail herein. Alan and collaborator Eric Woolfson began a career as The Alan Parsons Project (APP) with their definitive progressive rock release Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edgar Allen Poe) (1976), followed closely by I Robot (1977). These records are diverse, eclectic masterworks of the genre, and they belong in every quality music collection. Many of us selected our stereo equipment back in the day by spinning one of these albums to test out record players, amps and speakers such was the amazing production and sonic quality of the recordings. As APP went on, they released one great record after another: Pyramid (1978), Eve (1979), The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980), Eye In The Sky (1982) and on, in all ten albums, each demonstrating the strength of the Parsons/Woolfson songwriting team, and showcasing their musical talents and those of their many collaborators. These included orchestral arranger Andrew Powell, long time guitarist Ian Bairnson, drums from Stuart Elliott, bass and vocals from David Paton, and numerous vocalists including the late, great Chris Rainbow, Colin Blunstone, and Eric himself. The project ended in 1990 after Alan and Eric made a brief foray into musical theater with Freudiana. Eric continued with musical theater until his untimely passing in 2009, and Alan went on present their music live, while releasing and touring four solo records in the 90’s and 00’s.

Parsons_band_72dpiThe Alan Parsons Project maintained a focus on bringing beautiful melodies and vocal harmonies to their compositions. Along with some rockers, Eric and Alan wrote and recorded many achingly beautiful and sentimental pop tunes and with Andrew’s orchestral arrangements, the songs were rendered with lush and dramatic colors. This was definitely prog-pop and contemporary music of its time, for fans with a heart, which left some harder prog-rock zealots behind, while rewarding those who followed. I’ve found that everyone from several generations near mine know the name Alan Parsons, and can identify, for instance “Eye In The Sky,” but many have less an idea just how many hits they would recognize. One reason for this is that Alan and Eric never toured to support this work, save for a show in 1990 just before they split. The first time I was able to see the band was touring to support Alan’s excellent second solo record On Air (1996) when a new band was assembled with lead vocalist P.J. Olsson.

For this latest concert, Alan Parsons and his musicians were all in a great spirit, reproducing the sound of the APP records with pinpoint accuracy but also with some improvisation, and room to demonstrate virtuosity. The band are: Alastair Greene (guitar), Dan Tracey (guitar), Guy Erez (bass), Danny Thompson (drums), Tom Brooks (keyboards), Todd Cooper (lead vocals, saxophone, cowbell J), and long time vocalist P.J. Olsson. The band showcased the following numbers from throughout the years:

Parsons_PJ_72dpi

“I Robot” / title track
“Damned If I Do” / Eve
“Don’t Answer Me” / Ammonia Avenue
“Breakdown” / I Robot, “The Raven” / Tales of Mystery and Imagination
“Time” / The Turn Of A Friendly Card
“I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” / I Robot
“Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)” / Vulture Culture
“The Turn Of A Friendly Card” (suite) / title track
“Psychobabble” / Eye In The Sky
“Do You Live At All” / new track – single w/Fragile
“Limelight” / Stereotomy
“(The System Of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” / Tales of Mystery and Imagination
“Old And Wise” / Eye In The Sky
“Prime Time” / Ammonia Avenue
“Sirius,” “Eye In The Sky” / title track

Encores:
“Don’t Let It Show” / I Robot
“Games People Play” / The Turn Of A Friendly Card

Parsons_Todd_72dpiThis set included something from almost every APP album from 1977-1987, along with Alan’s new single “Do You Live At All.” Vocals took center stage as six of the eight performers sang multi-part harmonies atop crisp instrumentals throughout. Alan, Alastair, and Dan took lead vocal on one or more tracks while P.J. and Todd tackled more of the songs. On this night, P.J. in particular stunned the audience with fantastic, heartwarming lead vocals on “Time,” “Old and Wise,” “Don’t Let It Show” and others, each performed with poise and emotion. Additional lead vocalist Todd Cooper nailed several key tracks including a highlight of the evening “Psychobabble,” which shone light on Guy’s bass plus Danny’s powerful backbeat, and another classic, “Limelight,” peppering others with lilting sax solos, and even some cowbell! Dan sang on the funky hit “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” displaying attitude and chops during the memorable guitar bridge. The centerpiece of this tour is the multi-part suite “The Turn Of A Friendly Card” which gave the band additional time to stretch out, including more layered keys from Alan and classical piano from talented player Tom Brooks.
Parsons_guitar_72dpiAlan presided over all of this as master of ceremonies – singing, playing keyboards, acoustic guitar and addressing the enthusiastic audience. Club Nokia was a great venue for the show – intimate while being sizable enough for the large band to resonate. It is part of an entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles that includes a much larger arena – as Alan dryly noted between songs, “the place is called Microsoft something – we’ll play there one day, when we get big.” During another break Alan noted that all the APP albums were available in the lobby in vinyl format, known to younger fans as “those big black CDs!” and made a pitch for quality music formats, such as his new single available in WAV format, as those MP3’s “just make the music sound awful.” On this night the music sounded fantastic and the performance was stunning, befitting this man of many talents, Alan Parsons, and his marvelous band.

Parsons_Tom_72dpiParsons_Guy_72dpiParsons_Dan_72dpiParsons_ToddSax_72dpi

Parsons_Alastair_72dpi

*apologies to Danny Thompson, the band’s excellent drummer -no closeup captured!

Anthony Phillips’ Majestic “The Geese and the Ghost”

anthony_geese_coverI actually tried to return this album to my local “Licorice Pizza” record store after spinning it just once, back when it was released in 1977. At that time, it was more common for a local record shop to employ teens who might help guide you to new records based on your taste, instead of making you feel like a complete idiot. Knowing I was a huge fan of all things Genesis the clerk encouraged me to keep it for another week and try again, that “it wasn’t rock ‘n roll, but I’d like it.” I loved the brilliant second Genesis album, Trespass, and knew that Anthony Phillips had been their guitar player then, but leaned a bit more towards the sound of “The Knife” than “Stagnation” at age 17. However, I followed his advice and have thought for over 30 years now about the thanks I should have given him for convincing me to keep this amazing record, one of the most beautiful thematic albums ever recorded.

That The Geese and the Ghost still comes up in Gracenote as a “Rock” album still brings a smile. The record is actually a combination of classical, renaissance and pastoral folk pieces, sporting three tracks in the verse-chorus mold. After short musical intro, the opening track “Which Way The Wind Blows” is sung in delicate tones by Phil Collins, recorded before he took on lead vocals for Genesis. The music and lyrics set the mood perfectly for what is to come:

anthony_geese_imageI sit in the sunset
Watching God’s evening,
Receding so gently now
Into the Westlands.
I think I’m at peace now
But of nothing am I certain
Only which way will the wind blow next time?

 Phil’s pretty, choirboy like vocals and 12 string guitar accompaniment draw the focused listener back to another, simpler time, evoking the pastoral scene gracing the album’s front cover. It’s one of the most graceful, exquisite songs of all time.

anthony_geese_portraitWhat follows is a magnificent showcase of acoustic 6 and 12 string guitars, bass, cello and violin (with occasional orchestra), winds (including flute, oboe, recorders, and lyricon), and all manner of piano and keyboards, with sparing use of electric guitar, drums and percussion. Besides Phil Collins and Michael Rutherford of Genesis, additional guests will be familiar to fans, including John Hackett (brother of Steve) on flute and Jack Lancaster (Blodwyn Pig, Lancaster Lumley, Aviator, and many others) on flute and lyricon. Viv McAuliffe sings a duet with Phil on “God If I Saw Her Now” – a lovely delivery on this touching song.

The featured tracks are two suites, the renaissance sounds of “Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times” and the title track “The Geese and the Ghost.” These suites are multi layered acoustic masterpieces featuring dexterous 12 string guitar playing, composed by Anthony and Mike – much of it way back when Trespass itself was written, then developed over the ensuing years. Anthony sings a third vocal track, “Collections,” in his breathy, quavering manner, ending the record with one of the most emotive, poignant piano pieces ever put to record, “Sleepfall: The Geese Fly West” ending with an orchestrated coda so delicate it seems to vanish in the distance of an imagined dusky sunset.

The material for the album was written and recorded over a period of seven long years, before finally seeing the light of day, due mainly to busy schedules and record label indifference. It’s a wonder the album did get released on Passport records in the states and Hit and Run records in the UK and elsewhere. That it did, and is now available in this new re-mastered release from the Esoteric label, available at Cherry Red records, is a blessing.

anthony_geese_bookletThe three-disc set is by far the best presentation of this material since the original LP release. The stereo CD is crisp, clean and most importantly quiet. The DVD disc includes a version of the main album in a 5.1 surround sound mix. These 5.1 mixes, which have been so popular of late for progressive rock re-masters, often don’t satisfy, but this is a case where they accomplish what is intended. The mixes place the listener right in the center of the dense acoustic recordings, illuminating additional detail, and retaining all the clarity and integrity of the stereo version.

A second disc of bonus tracks include several that fans will already know – one of the best being the track Anthony recorded with Mike and Phil in 1973, “Silver Song,” written for departed early Genesis drummer John Silver. This is followed by what might have been a B-side “Only Your Love” from the same period. The two tracks feature Phil again on vocals at a level of quality that should have made his replacement of lead singer Peter Gabriel two years later an easier decision. Apparently there had been consideration of making this a side project while the Genesis gem Selling England By The Pound was being written. Amazing how much music was pouring from these talented musicians during that period. Besides Anthony’s “Master of Time,” the rest of the bonus tracks are demos and outtakes from Geese – of interest mainly to fans who may want to dissect the final product. One last thing as far as content – it should be noted that a short segment of additional material was found for “Henry” – a reprise of “Lute’s Chorus” that will please fans and new converts alike.

anthony_geese_ghostThe package is a spoil of riches – Phil Smee at Waldo’s Design & Dream Emporium should be commended! Within a sturdy CD sized box comes the three discs, each in a thick paper slipcase, adorned with blown up images from the magnificent cover painting by artist Peter Cross. A fold out poster is included with the album cover and byline on one side, and the narrative for “Henry” on the other, each of the six segments include the original line drawings along with the text. For the uninitiated, it will aid your enjoyment of the record to read these while actually sitting down to listen – as actress and fan Rosanna Arquette nicely puts it, “…there is this feeling of hope, innocence, and fantasy when you made music for the sake of music rather than a single or hit record. It’s a whole experience, not just a chapter, but the book read cover to cover.” That booklet that includes this heartfelt quote, details the work and it’s long path to its March 1977 release, including liner notes and gratitude from Anthony. It includes photos and original adverts, which describe the album in a most fitting way for the time: “The Geese and the Ghost is a musical panorama from the intimacy of haunting love songs through the majesty of historical pageants to the drama and destruction of war.”

No question this album rewards the focused listener who is open to classical and renaissance era music, with just a hint of progressive “rock” for good measure. It’s [not] only rock ‘n roll, but I like it ….rather, I love it.