These half dozen albums, recently reissued by Esoteric Recordings, give a fascinating overview of the early RCA career of Greek electronica maestro, Vangelis, plus a couple of later albums including his fourth (and last) collaboration with Jon Anderson as Jon & Vangelis. This collection starts with 1975's Heaven And Hell, although not the start of his solo career which began whilst he was still a member of Aphrodite's Child, the first four albums in this set of reissues date from the start of the period during which he became popular in his own right. The sound on these reissues, remastered by Vangelis himself, is superb and every nuance of the music is clear with added enhancements, particularly to the earlier albums, and the odd amendment here and there plus a couple of bonus tracks. The CDs themselves are housed in a digipak with updated cover designs of resized and cropped images of the original artwork within a white background. Each includes a 12 page booklet with the original artwork as the front page.
- Vangelis - Heaven and Hell [Remastered] (Duo Review)
- Vangelis - Albedo 0.39 [Remastered]
- Vangelis - Spiral [Remastered]
- Vangelis - Beaubourg [Remastered]
- Vangelis - Direct [Remastered]
- Jon & Vangelis - Page Of Life [Remastered]
Vangelis - Heaven and Hell [Remastered]
Heaven And Hell (Part 2): Intestinal Bat, Needles And Bones, Twelve O'Clock, Aries, A Way (21:16)
Geoff Feakes' Review
Originally released in 1975, Heaven And Hell is the album that really brought Greek keyboard virtuoso Vangelis to the public's attention. His fifth solo outing following the demise of Aphrodite's Child in 1971 (the band he formed with Demis Roussos), it was recorded following his relocation to London from Paris.
Established in his new studio, it set a pattern for later releases with all music composed, arranged, performed and produced by Vangelis. Playing a variety of synthesizers, grand piano and percussion, he is joined by the English Chamber Choir under the leadership of Guy Protheroe, better known to prog fans for their work with Rick Wakeman. Their contribution, along with that of two solo singers (one famous, one not so) is crucial to the success of Heaven And Hell resulting in a collaboration made in heaven (if you excuse the pun).
The classically themed Heaven And Hell consists of two long form pieces spread across sides 1 and 2 of the original vinyl album. My copy from 1975 is totally void of track titles, unlike the detailed listings on later releases including this Esoteric remastered edition. If nothing else the titles were very convenient when it came to apportioning each section of this review. Vangelis created some very unique sounds for this album and whilst they would become familiar to the record buying public over the years particularly through his film soundtracks they set him apart from his contemporaries. It's fair to say that no other keyboardist sounds like Vangelis and Vangelis sounds like no other keyboardist. In the original gatefold sleeve (and the CD booklet here) there is an animated image of Vangelis encircled by a keyboard rig that would put Rick Wakeman to shame.
Bacchanale provides a powerful opening to Part One where a resonant synth fanfare gives way to a scene-setting barrage of symphonic keys, thunderous percussion and a relentlessly chanting choir. The euphoric Symphony To The Powers B (Movements One And Two) is equally strident although in a more spiritual John Tavener vein where the choir takes on a celestial vibe backed by chiming keyboards and percussion. Vangelis' piano playing here is very rhythmic in the style of Keith Emerson and Patrick Moraz in particular. The previous year Moraz had famously become Rick Wakeman's replacement in Yes even though Vangelis had been Jon Anderson's first choice. During rehearsals however Vangelis found it difficult to fit in with the band's collective regime proving that he was more an individual spirit than a team player. Even now it would be hard to envisage Vangelis playing Wakeman's keyboard parts.
Following the pomp and ceremony of Movements One And Two, the beautiful Movement Three begins with tender piano and cascading (synth) strings which build slowly, reaching a stirring peak with a six note motif. Six years later these same six notes would provide the opening of the victorious main theme for the 1981 film Chariots Of Fire, winning Vangelis an Academy Award. In 1980 Movement Three would become established in its own right (although many would have been unaware of the composer) when it was beamed into millions of homes around the world as the theme tune to the hugely popular TV documentary Cosmos.
For many, So Long Ago, So Clear featuring the evocative words and voice of Jon Anderson is the high point of Heaven And Hell and would later appear on compilation albums as a standalone track. It was also a precursor for the successful Jon & Vangelis partnership that would fully develop five years later. Rarely has Anderson sounded so good (inside or outside of Yes) although even he cannot quite match the sweeping grandeur of the symphonic mid-section that is Vangelis at his peak. It concludes in tear jerking fashion (echoing Yes' Soon from the previous year) with Anderson (double tracked) harmonising with Anderson.
Musically, Heaven And Hell Part Two is less linear than Part One, the moods are more interchangeable but it is no less successful for that. It opens with the appropriately titled Intestinal Bat where Vangelis synthetically and convincingly conjures up the sound of the nocturnal winged creatures against an eerie backdrop. In contrast, Needles And Bones is based around a catchy, almost playful rhythmic theme that somehow reminds me of Mike Oldfield. Vangelis' percussion playing hardly ever involves a traditional drum kit and here his lively cymbal work is superb.
Twelve O'Clock is Part Two's central piece, opening with a dark evocation of hell in its deepest depths with tympani, dissonant keys, howling voices and later stabbing synth lines underpinned by booming drums. Out of the ashes come lush, rhapsodic voices against a sole chiming bell reminiscent of those Hollywood biblical epics of the late '50s/early '60s scored by Miklós Rózsa. Soloist Vana Veroutis' soaring female soprano brings to mind Clare Torry's performance on Floyd's The Great Gig In The Sky but it's closer in spirit to Ennio Morricone's brilliant main theme to the all-time classic Once Upon A Time In The West.
Another change of mood and atmosphere for the penultimate Aries, a triumphant, if edgy theme in the vein of Wagner's The Ride Of The Valkyries, Ravel's Bolero, ELP's own Abaddon's Bolero and a dash of Holst's Mars, The Bringer Of War. It subsides into the hauntingly delicate A Way to close on a moment of serenity transporting the listener to heaven which is just as Vangelis had intended.
Whilst it's very tastefully packaged, Esoteric's digipak artwork defuses the impact of the original album sleeve depicting as it did two disembodied hands hovering over a keyboard with alternating images of a sky blue heaven (the back cover) and a fiery red hell (the front cover). The remastering however (supervised by Vangelis himself) is without doubt the best I've heard on any reissue. Very appropriate given that in my humble opinion, Heaven And Hell is 43 minutes of musical perfection.
Jez Rowden' Review
My introduction to music was largely fuelled by my mother's love of classical music and early on I'd listen to the likes of Tchaikovsky and Chopin with her. I became interested in film and TV soundtracks and when I heard Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygene Part 4, a big single in 1976 when I was 10, the world changed. I bought the album and started being drawn towards synthesizers. Soon after a friend recommended I listen to his dad's copy of Vangelis' Heaven and Hell. This album took it all to another level, an almost perfect melding of classically influenced styles with modernistic electronica and rock influences. I'd never heard anything like it and fell in love with Heaven and Hell immediately.
This was also the album that introduced me to Jon Anderson, although I didn't know who he was at the time or what a huge influence his music would have over me in subsequent years. As the '80s arrived I also heard Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here from the same record collection as Heaven and Hell) and as I listened to more prog it seemed like all the music I had enjoyed previously could be utilised within the genre with the added excitement of driving rock theatrics. I never looked back and Vangelis, and Heaven and Hell in particular, had a large part to play in that.
Although the first of Vangelis' albums to get widespread recognition, thanks in part to the use of one section as the theme to Carl Sagan's Cosmos TV series, Heaven and Hell was actually Vangelis' fifth solo album. Classical influences feature prominently as Vangelis utilises various choral variations to great effect with otherworldly synthesiser leads mixing with the more traditional piano sounds which are also prominent on the album, everything wrapped up in sweeping washes of electronica that in the late '70s felt like they had just arrived from space.
Side one is generally the more melodic with the classical influences coming through and working very nicely in this new setting. The rampaging introductory section features spikes of choral vocals, clattering drums and synth leads. Prog heaven. Things slow down for the next movement which is an intriguing piece that opens out into a sweeping starscape with choral support. The voices are baroque in tone, at odds with the elecrtronic washes around them and it is this juxtaposition, as with the piano matched against synthesizers, that adds much to the album's success. Twinkling percussion adds a lightness to Vangelis' piano section before the bass end of the choir take over. Jon Anderson's contribution on So Long Ago, So Clear is just beautiful and, for me, has grown in stature over the years, the perfect way to end side one. The two would later collaborate more fully on a series of duo albums over more than a decade.
Heaven and Hell itself is at odds with other electronic prog albums as it leaves the rock elements in the background. This is modern romantic classicism with streaks of darkness, as indicated by the album's title. From here it is not difficult to foresee Vangelis' success in mainstream film soundtrack work and there are certainly elements on Heaven and Hell that influenced work such as 1981's Chariot's of Fire soundtrack. Indeed in the midst of side one there is a theme that is almost a direct precursor of the main title to Chariots....
After the beautiful end to side one, side two opens in much darker territory and sets the stall out for what is, I think, an even more interesting 20 minutes. Sinister synth whines and abstract percussion introduce a peaceful yet desolate interlude before Beelzebub himself and all his little dancing wizards arrive to party. The percussion and tubular bells add an eerie evilness to what is essentially an upbeat jig. The synths ensure that the future remains close at hand.
A choir of monks appear in meditative mood and then things get really disturbing; insistently black drum beats, tambourines, wailing vocals, synths echoing stabs of brass. This is not easy listening and melody is a secondary concern after texture, which is very different to what has gone before. The darkness clears as a heavenly choir emerges, accompanied only by a tolling bell, the religious nature of the concept coming through clearly. The gorgeous wordless vocal of Vana Veroutis (which is right up there with Clare Torry's wonderful performance on Pink Floyd's The Great Gig in the Sky) emerges here to heal the wounds we suffered earlier. The power builds with the re-emergence of the choir (who perform admirably throughout), twinkling keys and strummed guitar adding much as the synth line appears to mirror the vocal.
A triumphant breakneck gallop of synths and percussion evaporates into the lightest and most dreamlike section of the album. Like a silent snowfall in a forest it covers the memory of what has preceded it with delicate notes picked out over a soft background drone that fades out as the album closes.
Vangelis was, and is, a master of what he does and this album is the pinnacle of his art for me. His soundtracks have reached a wider audience but Heaven and Hell is the perfect soundtrack to an unmade film that we can all play our own versions of in the comfort of our own heads. As pretty much a solo endeavour, this album is remarkable but it is the vocalists - Anderson, Veroutis and the English Chamber Choir - that really make it work. Not for Vangelis the "look at me" showmanship of other keyboard wizards, this is a man who appears to be creating what is in his mind for the benefit of no one else but himself. He doesn't need the capes, spinning piano, knives etc. Just give him a studio crammed full of instruments and he'll be fine. After Aphrodite's Child he didn't feel the need to return to a band format and although I'm intrigued by what he might have added to Yes if he had joined for Relayer I can never envisage it working. Not at all drawn by the money that was no doubt available, Vangelis decided that it was not for him and that only increases his stature as a man of principle intent on following his own path.
His life is as mysterious as this album, which is fitting, and if you only have room for one Vangelis album in your collection, this is the one.
Vangelis - Albedo 0.39 [Remastered]
Following the magnificent heights Vangelis scaled in 1975 with Heaven And Hell, the follow-up was perhaps certain to be something of a disappointment. Whilst the Greek keyboard maestro contributed his usual battery of synthesizers, keyboards, bass and drums, the rich choral work that distinguished its predecessor was absent. With the exception of the narrated title track and sampled voices (the telephone speaking clock and recordings from the Apollo moon landings), Albedo 0.39 eschews vocals in the traditional sense. It did however still find a receptive audience, selling particularly well in the U.K. where Vangelis had made his home less than two years earlier.
Pulstar was an especially popular track in its time receiving a good deal of TV exposure with a sparkling synth hook that provides a suitably catchy opener to the album. The vaguely oriental Freefall is the first of three shortish tracks (along with Mare Tranquillitatis and Sword Of Orion) that serve as ambient links to the longer pieces although the sceptic in me might suggest that they are little more than album fillers.
The same could be said about the longest piece, Main Sequence, a meandering jazzy synth solo over a frantic rhythm that takes up almost the track's entire 8 minutes. It brings to mind Patrick Moraz's excellent debut solo album The Story of I without being anywhere near as inventive (or enjoyable).
For me the album's most successful pieces are those that have an epic sweep typical of Vangelis' later movie soundtracks like 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) and Alexander (2004). Best of these is Alpha with its stately synth melody underscored by a 4-note ascending rhythm pattern that builds to a triumphant peak. Likewise, both Nucleogenesis Part One and Nucleogenesis Part Two conclude on a grandiose high. Part One in particular benefits from a full bodied celestial organ intro which provides a welcome change of timbre to the high pitched synths dominating elsewhere whilst Part Two cunningly incorporates several false endings (in the style of Mike Oldfield's Amarok) before reaching its sweeping finale.
Albedo 0.39 concludes unceremoniously with the near 5-minute title track. Here a disembodied voice (recording engineer Keith Spencer-Allen) reels off a list of factoids relating to the physical properties of planet Earth over a spacey backdrop, ending with the repeated line "Albedo 0.39". As the digipak liner notes further elaborate:
"ALBEDO: The reflecting power of a planet or other non-luminous body. A perfect reflector would have an Albedo of 100%. The Earth's Albedo is 39% or 0.39."
Whilst Albedo 0.39 certainly has its moments, for me it rarely reaches Vangelis' normal high standards. The melodies are lacking, the arrangements untidy and overall it has the feel of a work that has been rushed perhaps to meet contractual obligations. Such shortcomings would soon be remedied however with the excellent 1977 follow-up Spiral, Vangelis most overtly progressive album from this period.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Vangelis - Spiral [Remastered]
Bonus Track - To the Unknown Man Part Two (2:33)
Entirely instrumental, apart from Vangelis' processed vocals on Ballad (one of the few occasions where his voice can be heard on his albums), Spiral is a further move forward from Albedo 0.39 although it includes sounds familiar from that album, less so those featured on Heaven and Hell. Each track has a distinctive style which emphasises a different facet of Vangelis' work.
Vangelis plays synthesizer, electric piano, drums and percussion with sequencers featured heavily, particularly in the title track. The album is also flavoured by his first use of the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that became a stalwart of his subsequent work. Spiral is a forward looking and futuristic collection making extensive use of the available synthesizer technology of the day.
Opening with the title track which sets the scene, Spiral is one of Vangelis' most compelling works. It builds on a rippling arpeggio chord that is panned in stereo to give the listener a spiralling sensation. The sequencers give the track its drive and distinctive futuristic nature which develops as the pulse flattens out. As the pace changes, jazzy hand cymbals alter the direction of the piece before the main theme arrives, the layered lead synths taking on a brassy visage, before Spiral breaks down into an almost chaotic section to an abrupt end. Vangelis has his own sound, many of the elements of which appear in this piece; brass effects, synth melody lines, drums and percussion.
The "brass" elements set out the intro for Ballad, a generally calm and languid piece with Vangelis' heavily treated voicing running through it as a wordless organic thread through the synthesizer heavy atmosphere. This is the nearest you could get to a ballad on an album of electronic instrumentals. A harmonica effect is used for the main melody giving a jazzy vibe until drums add rhythm at the mid-point, the piece suddenly - and briefly - bursting open and I'm left to wonder what impact this unique musician would have had on Yes if he had taken the opportunity to join in 1974. The pace falls away with the harmonica sounding mournful and lost. The bluesiness is very unusual in an album such as this but is effective in this setting with sparse percussive additions, calm taking over at the end.
Sequencers return for Dervish D which takes a swirling rhythm and adds a twisting motif over the top, percussion keeping it all in the human realm rather than allowing it to drift off into robotic futurism. I'm not sure that the title fully reflects the music as it is circuitous without the unbridled energy that the name suggests. Vangelis has always been able to give his machine music a human face and that is certainly the case here. Percussion adds rhythm to the arpeggiated sequencer with a distinctive melody line and the bluesy edge of Ballad returns with the addition of the synthesized harmonica, somewhat at odds with its electronica tag but it is most effective.
The two longest track son Spiral make up the whole of the old Side Two. To the Unknown Man opens slowly with a delightful and light melody over a bass line pulse. The piece will no doubt be familiar to U.K. listeners of a certain age having been used as the theme to snooker shows of years gone by. Vangelis' music has always lent itself for use with visual media, from his earliest solo days he had been collaborating on film projects, this coming to fruition in the '80s and beyond starting with his worldwide success with Chariots of Fire in 1981. To the Unknown Man itself is very cinematic, the atmospheric theme and nature of the piece developing with the introduction of other elements such as a militaristic drum beat and string-like washes as the piece progresses as a march. The sound fills out further with a counter melody appearing as the march continues, eventually falling away as a rock beat emerges. To the Unknown Man is a very elegant piece, well realised and satisfying, certainly one of the highlights of the album it successfully distils the appeal of Vangelis during his '70s output.
3+3 is built entirely in threes. A lengthy track of three parts, all of which fall into measures divisible by 3 - 3/4, 6/8, 9/8 or 12/8. Sequencers again supply the base with a spiralling pulse that runs through the whole piece, a simple melody of bell-like tones sailing above the rippling undercurrent. Hand bells and percussion are effective as a focal point, washes of synths swaying in the background. The brass elements are very well realised, giving the impact of a full brass section, whilst the harmonica changes the feel with its bluesy tone, an interesting juxtaposition of the new with more traditional forms as the sequencer continues to hammer away in the background, the metronomic pulse continuing unabated. It's an interesting sequence that sometimes edges towards dissonance, reigned it at regular intervals by a pulse of melody. The patterns develop through the rest of the piece on a gradually rising scale with the various parts intersecting in a fascinating dance.
This remastered version closes with a bonus track, the brief second part of To the Unknown Man, reprieving the sounds of the original in a classical style with a new melody, the whole reminiscent of a late 19th Century romantic work. Again well realised, this is a cleansing way to end the album and succeeds in making it sound complete. A great way to conclude a fine album that still sounds fresh after all these years, the relatively early technology performing admirably.
Spiral is a very satisfying album that I have returned to frequently over the years. It does not sound dated and this newly remastered version makes it sparkle. As a development from Vangelis' previous work it is an important marker on his evolving style.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Vangelis - Beaubourg [Remastered]
All originally recorded for RCA records in Vangelis' then recently established Nemo studio in London, Beaubourg completes a 4-album cycle that began in 1975 with Heaven And Hell, soon followed by Albedo 0.39 (1976) and Spiral (1977). Like Heaven And Hell, Beaubourg consists of two 20 minute pieces of electronica composed, performed and produced by Vangelis but that's where the similarities end. As with the rest of this current batch of Vangelis reissues from Esoteric, the remastering was supervised by the man himself and it's another superb restoration. Given the inherent subtleties of Beaubourg it perhaps benefits more than any other from the sonic enhancements.
After the quasi-classical and operatic tendencies of Heaven And Hell and the symphonic prog of Albedo 0:39 and Spiral, Beaubourg takes Vangelis into hitherto uncharted territories. Although he dabbled with ambient soundscapes and avant-garde fusion in his earlier works, Beaubourg is devoid of any recognisable themes or melodies. Based around a series of seemingly random sound patterns using modulators and no discernible keyboard sounds, it's perhaps best described as an electronic tone poem. It is also supposedly inspired by the Paris district of the same name where Vangelis took up residence prior to relocating to London. Given the abstract sounds created here, Beaubourg clearly left a profound imprint on Vangelis' consciousness.
Out of convenience Vangelis is often lumped together with his contemporaries Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream. In reality he had his own distinct sound and was perhaps closer in spirit to artists like Tomita, Tonto's Expanding Head Band and Walter Carlos who were creating their own sonic idiosyncrasies around this time. In the case of Beaubourg one cannot rule out the influence of experimental, electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
For me however, the work this album most closely resembles is the ground breaking soundtrack to the 1956 Sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet by Louis and Bebe Barron reputed to be the first all-electronic score for a major Hollywood movie. Likewise, when immersed in Beaubourg's otherworldly sounds it's not difficult to conjure up similar mental images such as a small group of astronauts stranded on a remote planet being stalked by an unseen menace. There is even a droning sound near the beginning that could readily pass for a landing spacecraft. Incidentally, just 4 years later Vangelis would create his own music for a sci-fi film with the (underrated) soundtrack to Ridley Scott's much debated Blade Runner which, by the way, sounds nothing like Beaubourg.
Heard now, Beaubourg sounds almost like a pretext for Vangelis to demonstrate the technology potential of his then state of the art studio. The same could be said of your hi-fi system with sounds continually panning from one channel to the other and back again. As such, to get the most out of Beaubourg it's best heard alone in a darkened room or better still through a good set of headphones. Given that it could hardly be described as music in the true sense (and certainly not prog) a rating out of 10 would be wholly inappropriate.
Vangelis - Direct [Remastered]
Jumping forward to 1988 we get to Direct, another milestone album that marks a new development in Vangelis' music. The format of shorter pieces gives a more "song based" focus - "Direct" as the title suggests (although the title actually reflects his method of composing whereby the process of composition and recording occurs simultaneously with few overdubs) - with each of the pieces, though intricate, aiming for a more mainstream and populist market. Also, with a dozen tracks the lengthy, sweeping soundscapes of yore have been replaced by shorter and more to the point pieces (most in the 4 to 6 minute bracket) which adds to the variety on offer.
Almost completely instrumental as with much of his work, synthesizers and drum machines are at the core of Direct with operatic vocals on Glorianna performed by Markella Hatziano and narrative on Intergalactic Radio Station by technician Casey Young.
Variety is, indeed, the name of the game with Direct. To open we have The Motion of Stars where pulsing sequencers give the drive but stabs of brass and other orchestral effects supply the dynamics. There is real depth with lots going on amid the celestial atmosphere suggested by the title. The Will of the Wind is New Agey with a backdrop that hints at an easy listening version of Ozric Tentacles, pan pipe-like sounds taking the melody. This piece is in a more traditional song format. Metallic Rain is a rather pensive piece with background washes over which a bluesy melody emerges. It develops with the emergence of a string part and percussion with a full-on rock beat arriving in the mid-section, dropping in and out through the second half which has most of the more satisfying elements of the piece.
So far, so different - a theme which continues into Elsewhere. Sequencers are again at the core with a delicate melody picked out in bell-like sounds. Flute takes up the melody and a sparse beat emerges, the piece ending and fading out with a fragile four-note phrase that is repeated into silence. A more insistent pace and moody feel comes to the fore during Dial Out, the percussive rhythm building from the start until an epic theme emerges, fully orchestral in feel and very compelling. Things move into a low key rock vibe with a guitar-like melody line and bass pulse, piano stabs adding bluesiness punctuated by percussion.
The only true vocal track, for Glorianna (Hymn a la Femme) Markella Hatziano's vocals are key, initially adding the melody and then harmonising with herself. The operatic elements are accentuated by cymbal splashes and timpani as Vangelis lays out string, brass and percussion sections to support the vocal. A flip side to this, Rotation's Logic features a more traditional "band" approach with bass line, drum rhythm and melody. This is the only piece on Direct with a recognisable bass line that persists throughout the whole track. The melody is simple but bears repetition given the variations in supportive structures developed through the piece.
For The Oracle of Apollo a mysterious otherworldliness takes hold but it is the wonderfully light harp melody that makes it stand out as one of the highpoints of an intriguing album. Support is sparse, strings in the distance as the theme is repeated and taken forward with additions. Much more ominous is Message, a child's voice chattering as an epic theme develops and builds. Classical in influence it brings Wagner to mind with its sense of impending threat built on strings. The scale of this piece is to be admired and you could imagine it being played by a symphony orchestra as the brass and percussion get involved, the metronomic rhythm driving the listener towards a fate that appears to be unavoidable. But, like a storm passing overhead, it fades and the innocent voice safely returns.
With rhythmic pulses, Ave is another rock-based number with jazzy fretless bass giving a Fusion vibe. The drumming is busy, the melodies built up systematically, and there are hints of some of Chick Corea's work from around the same period, but without the intense soloing. The mood changes with a brief baroque-style harpsichord motif and harp to close, which is at odds with what has gone before. The lilting bell-like tones and cello opening of First Approach reminds me of Camel's Nude but with less sadness and more of a sense of opportunity. Like the sun rising on a calm and clear day, the piece develops as the world wakes. There is hope and optimism, an oasis of calm after some of the more intense pieces that preceded it.
Finally, Intergalactic Radio Station draws the album to a close in shiny and metallic futurism with pulsing synths. This is a strident piece with a sense of purpose, the mid-section featuring a repetitive guitar-like motif before harp emerges, jazzy and freeform like it's just jamming along. I'd like to hear more use of a harp in this sort of setting. Guitar lines return as the track builds, punctuated by trumpet-like stabs. The narrative towards the end is excitable and brimming with enthusiasm as the track fades to a close.
A particularly varied album, Direct requires less concentration from its listener than the earlier recordings, but those who do wish to look deeper will be rewarded as there is much to enjoy here and the craftsmanship of the man at the heart of it is hard to ignore. These are beautifully realised pieces that work on two levels; they are entertaining and diverting pieces of music but they also possess the depth that allows listeners to fully immerse themselves in the soundworld created. This may just be the Vangelis album for those who don't like electronica.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Jon & Vangelis - Page Of Life [Remastered]
Tracklist: Wisdom Chain (5:22), Page Of Life (3:16), Money (6:07), Jazzy Box (3:15), Garden Of Senses (6:22), Is It Love (4:28), Anyone Can Light A Candle (3:49), Be A Good Friend Of Mine (4:14), Shine For Me (4:11), Genevieve (3:47), Journey To Ixtlan (5:51), Little Guitar (1:49)
Bonus Track - Sing With Your Eyes (5:20)
In November/December 1973 as the U.K. audience were taking their seats for Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans shows they may (like me) have been intrigued by the ethereal, ambient music that drifted from the PA system, preceding the familiar strains of the Firebird Suite. This was not the usual pre-show music one expects at a rock concert but was in fact a piece entitled Création du Monde taken from Vangelis' L'Apocalypse des Animaux album released earlier that same year. It left a profound impression on Jon Anderson and the pair became firm friends resulting in an invitation the following year for Vangelis to audition for Yes as a replacement for the departing Rick Wakeman. This was not to be of course, but they did collaborate in 1975 when Anderson sang the haunting So Long Ago, So Clear on Vangelis' Heaven And Hell album.
So Long Ago, So Clear was the blueprint for the Jon & Vangelis partnership, which properly began in 1979 with the single I Hear You Now becoming a U.K. Christmas hit that year. In fact, I will forever associate J & V with the festive season as two years later I'll Find My Way Home was also a Christmas hit. Following his eviction from Yes, Anderson was free to commit to the partnership resulting in three albums in fairly quick succession during this period - Short Stories (1980), The Friends of Mr Cairo (1981) and Private Collection (1983). The recording sessions for their fourth (and final) album began in 1986 but due to commitments elsewhere (Anderson had rejoined Yes and Vangelis had a prolific solo career) Page Of life didn't appear until October 1991. Compared with its predecessors sales were poor and under Anderson's direction it was reissued in the U.S. in 1998 (with one new song, Change We Must, at the expense of four songs that were removed) much to Vangelis' dissatisfaction.
This Esoteric reissue of the original album has been re-mastered under Vangelis' supervision and contains as a bonus track the highly sought after Sing With Your Eyes which appeared on the 1991 CD single. Overall, it's an album of two halves containing some quite lovely, atmospheric songs that J & V do so well (as does Anderson on his solo albums) interspersed with more up-tempo efforts with the emphasis on the instrumental works that sound a tad dated now thanks to their '80s synth-pop tendencies.
Highlights include the beautiful and unpretentious title song Page Of Life, worthy of J & V in their prime, the dreamy Garden Of Senses with a sparse vocal arrangement and Vangelis' sultry sax sound, the delicate Anyone Can Light A Candle and the wistful Genevieve with its surging key strings and almost oriental backing. The latter is one of Vangelis' simplest but most engaging melodies whilst Anyone Can Light A Candle resurfaced on Anderson's excellent 1994 solo album Change We Must. That version is very similar to this one although perhaps the orchestration here is more restrained. The aforementioned bonus track Sing With Your Eyes is one of the few survivors from the original 1986 sessions which is a shame because it's one of the strongest offerings here with a classical style arrangement very similar to So Long Ago, So Clear building to a triumphant orchestral peak at the mid-point before subsiding for a tranquil conclusion.
Other noteworthy tracks include the uplifting Is It Love which is mostly Anderson's creation with some very un-Vangelis like piano and electric guitar from several guest musicians including Jimmy Hahn who is perhaps better known to Yes fans as the 'ghost' guitarist on the Union album. The graceful Shine For Me is also a familiar song although the hymn-like tone does border on the pious whilst Journey to Ixtlan has an expansive almost classical feel and as a result it's the most prog-like song on the album. Anderson's vocal is sparse leaving room for Vangelis' heraldic trumpets and exotic percussion.
Of the rest, the opening Wisdom Chain is in familiar J & V territory with Anderson's chant-like vocal and Vangelis' repetitive keys motif creating a Wurlitzer like sound, whilst in contrast Be a Good Friend Of Mine is an up-tempo mainstream affair where the synths alternate between a gritty guitar sound and '80s pop bringing Harold Faltermeyer to mind. Lyrically Money is a rehash of Pink Floyd's song of the same name whilst musically it's reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's 1983 hit Rockit complete with a very '80s flavoured splashy drum sound. It's also twice as long as it needs to be which cannot be said of the aptly named Jazzy Box, a light-hearted fusion instrumental with Vangelis creating all manner of effects including speed guitar, xylophone and a throwaway reference to the Irving Berlin standard Cheek To Cheek.
The original album concludes with Vangelis' Little Guitar, another appropriately titled track featuring a rare but sweetly effective acoustic guitar solo from the man himself.
Although Jon & Vangelis' best work was behind them by the time Page Of Life was released, it still has its moments especially the ballad like songs. Even though J & V fans will probably already have this on CD (unlike the first three albums which would have been purchased on vinyl) the inclusion of Sing With Your Eyes along with the excellent re-mastering will certainly make it an attractive proposition.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10