Round Table Review
The Music That Died Alone
Release Date : 22 September 2003
In Darkest Dreams [Prelude - Time For You (2:27), Night Terrors (3:27), The Midnight Watershed (3:05), In Dark Dreams (4:03), The Half-Light Watershed (1:18), On Returning (0:49), A Sax In The Dark (1:14), Night Terrors Reprise (3:38)]; The Canterbury Sequence [Cantermemorabilia (3:21), Chaos At The Greasy Spoon (3:03), Captain Manning's Mandolin (1:41)]; Up-Hill From Here (7:10), The Music That Died Alone [A Serenade (1:38), Playing On..... (4:45), Pre-History (2:38), Reprise (3:43)]
What originally started out as a solo album by Andy Tillison-Diskdrive from Yorkshire's Parallel or 90 Degrees, somehow evolved into a collaboration involving Sam Baine from PO90D, Roine Stolt, Jona Reingold and Zoltan Csorsz from The Flower Kings, solo artist Guy Manning (who had worked with Andy in PO90D precursor Gold, Frankincense and Diskdrive) and the delightful talents of none other than Van der Graaf Generator's saxophonist and flautist David Jackson. The Tangent should be considered more of a project than a band, as the seven musicians recorded their contributions separately, in several different studios and even different countries. One supposes that in modern jargon they could be called a virtual group!
The first thing one notices about the album of music they have created is that it doesn't sound as if it was assembled in different studios, more like the group got together in a studio and just blasted through the material while the tape was running. There is a fluidity to the pieces, but with the ever-present threat that at any moment things may delve into chaos. Naturally, this adds to the tension and excitement of the music and is an obvious nod to the musical anarchy that characterised Van der Graaf Generator when they were in full flow.
The album contains four pieces although, in fine prog tradition, three of the tracks are split into subsections. The album opens with the twenty-one minute epic In Darkest Dreams. With an immediate assault of wailing guitars and saxophones and some terrific Hammond organ there is no doubt of the intention - classic no-holds barred progressive rock. There is no mistaking David Jackson whose characteristic playing dives in and out of the mix, drawing from his saxophone sounds that only he knows how. But it is not all complete armageddon, some fine jazz-tinged piano from Sam Baine during The Midnight Watershed, a very melodic In Dark Dreams with subtle swathes of mellotron and a flute-driven middle eight that has hints of early Camel and the acoustic guitar and mandolin of The Half-Light Watershed that bears more than a passing resemblance to a section of Yes' Close To The Edge. With a final reprise of the Night Terrors section and a last note that hangs on forever (again, think Close To The Edge) this is a stunning opening piece.
The Canterbury Sequence is a loving tribute to the bands of the Canterbury Scene of the late sixties and early seventies. Cantermemorabilia combines the best elements of Caravan - the wry humour of Pye Hastings' lyrics, the light and airy flute of brother Jimmy Hastings, the bass of Richard Sinclair and the staccato organ of Dave Sinclair - in a song whose refrain you'll be singing for a long while after the album's over. Chaos At The Greasy Spoon is an expanded cover of the Richard Sinclair and Pip Pyle composition from Hatfield and the North's second album, The Rotter's Club. Captain Manning's Mandolin closes the piece in a gentler fashion with some fine guitar work from Roine Stolt underpinned by Guy Manning's mandolin.
Up-Hill From Here is the track most reminiscent of Parallel Or 90 Degrees, but more in structure than style. Dominated by guitar and Hammond organ (with a solo straight from the stable of Jon Lord), this very energetic piece is more of a direct rock song and proves that not every progressive song has to be written in complex time signatures!
The title tracks rounds off the album, starting with a piano solo the piece moves on to one of the highlights of the album for me, Playing On...... Jackson's flute and soprano sax are all over this piece and he really makes it his own. With an instrumental intermezzo, the album draws to a close with a reprise of Playing On..... before gradually fading out with an extended coda of synth and saxophone.
In conclusion a wonderful album that presses all the right buttons for me. Although rooted in the classic progressive rock style of the 1970s, it stands up fully to the prog scene of the new millennium. The lyrics are from the top drawer (as would be expected from one of the most pertinent lyricists writing today), the playing and arrangement can't be faulted and the production is impeccable. If you only buy one progressive album a year then The Music That Died Alone should be the one!
Roine Stolte seems to appear on every second album released on Inside Out at the moment, so people could almost be forgiven for being somewhat apathetic at the arrival of this new prog ‘supergroup’ – but I would urge prog fans (whether their particularly fond of the Flower Kings or not) to give this album a listen, as it is undoubtedly one of the best progressive rock releases of the year so far.
Although Stolt is perhaps the best known musician here, The Tangent is actually the brainchild of Andy Tillison, keyboardist/ vocalist of the cult (and underrated) British group Parallel Or Ninety Degrees. Tillison’s bandmate Sam Baine supplies piano, whilst Stolt’s fellow Flower Kings’ Jonas Reingold and Zoltan Czorsk provide the rhythm section. Guy Manning handles acoustic guitars and mandolin, whilst the final piece of the puzzle is the return to prog of legendary Van der Graf Generator saxophonist David Jackson. In fact, its perhaps Jackson, with his excellent and readily identifiable playing, who really adds that extra ‘something’ to the album.
The Music That Died Alone is basically made up of four (very distinct) suites. The opening one, the twenty-minutes odd epic In Darkest Dreams is a real gem which will have most prog fans in raptures. Riding in on some ELP-esque keyboard work, this track moves smoothly through a variety of styles and moods, from the almost jaunty, Flower Kings-esque Night Terrors, to the darker strains of In Dark Dreams (which features saxophone playing from Jackson that brings to mind his work on VDGG’s Still Life album); the quiet, acoustic The Half Light Watershed, with its massed backing vocals, has a feel reminiscent of Yes at their peak, whilst A Sax In The Night is a wonderful sax solo that immediately transports you to a smoky nightclub at 3 in the morning. Yet despite the fairly transparent influences and the fact that many of the parts may seem disparate, the band manage to create a sound very much their own and the song really does flow well as a whole. The decision to split the vocal duties between Stolt, Manning and Tillison is also a good one, as it adds some extra variety to what is, in anyone’s books, a cracking way to open an album.
The Canterbury Sequence covers a completely different musical sphere – its title, the fact that Tillison sings (on this track at least) in a style very reminiscent of Richard Sinclair, and namechecks Caravan and Hatfield And The North in the first sentence of the lyrics perhaps indicates where this track is coming from! The first section has a pleasantly light and breezy feel with Jackson’s wonderful flute playing floating over stabs of Hammond. Elsewhere there’s room for all the musicians to stretch out – typically fluid bass work from Reingold, great jazzy piano from Baine, a fine moog solo from Tillison and, in the final part, a wonderful tradeoff between Stolt’s soaring lead guitar and Manning’s melancholy mandolin. Everything fits together so perfectly, with the musicians appearing to play off each other, that its difficult to believe that many of the ‘band’ were never actually in the same room (or even in the same country!) together.
Up-Hill From Here has a more modern feel, a generally upbeat rocker that almost plays like a slightly skewed alternative rock track – again given that extra kick from Jackson’s punchy playing. Stolt’s solo work in the middle of the track is reminiscent of Dave Gilmour at his most aggressive.
Things drop down a gear in both tempo and mood, as a flourish of grand piano introduces the title track. This suite has a melancholy feel throughout (appropriately for a song which appears to lament the ‘death’ of progressive rock) with Jackson’s flute and saxophone playing driving the track for its first part, whilst the middle half picks up the pace a little, and reminded me of Camel circa Nude. Prehistory features some great jazzy improvisation work led by Baine’s faultless piano playing, before the album ends very evocatively with some haunting sax and shimmering keyboards.
Although this album is ‘only’ 48 minutes long, I think this works in its favour as the tracks never outstay their welcome and you’re left wanting more, always a sign of a good album. So in conclusion, this is a very strong release which I have no hesitation in recommending to all fans of progressive rock.
So far 2003 has been an excellent year for progressive rock releases, yet the biggest surprise of all has arrived.
The Tangent is a musical project that sprang from the mind of Andy Tillison, known from his work with Parallel or 90 Degrees. Originally intended as a solo project, it got slightly out out of hand when a demo was sent to Roine Stolt (Flower Kings). The Busiest Man In Prog™ agreed to lend his voice and fretwork to the compositions, and also recommended the Flower Kings' rhythm section, Jonas Reingold and Zoltan Csorz to handle the bass and drum duties. The recordings were then complemented by none other than David Jackson from Van Der Graaf Generator (on flute, sax, clarinet and pretty much everything else that blows...), Po90 cohort Sam Baine on piano and finally Andy's friend and regular collaborator Guy Manning on acoustic guitar and mandolin. The result is, truly, stunning.
The album is meant to be an ode to the prog of the seventies, and in that it has succeeded. The album is undeniably retro, yet at the same time so fresh and alive.
The album format seems to hark back to the seventies too: the running time is just over three quarters of an hour, as if it would have would have fitted on a vinyl album. Also, had it been a vinyl album, it would have had the same format as classics like Close To The Edge, Relayer, Foxtrot, Meddle, Pawn Hearts and the likes, with an epic taking up one entire side of the LP, and three or four shorter songs on the other side.
Album opener In Darkest Dreams is the (almost obligatory) epic. The Prelude is a brief glimpse of the best that the prog genre has to offer. It starts with a heavy organ intro, not unlike the work of Keith Emerson, before the tone switches more towards Yes when the rest of the band kicks in. A Moog solo in the style of Mark Kelly or Clive Nolan lifts the song to the eighties, while some typical Spock's Beard tricks give us a glimpse of prog in the nineties, though David Jackson's saxophone keeps reminding us it is the Seventies this album focuses on. Time travel in under three minutes!
Roine Stolt sings the first few verses of the song, thereby giving it a very distinct Flower Kings sound, though on the rest of the album this is far less conspicuous. The chorus of Night Terrors reminds me a bit of Spock Beard's Skin. The Midnight Watershed is a bit of a jazzy piece, which features some great jazzy piano, courtesy of Sam Baine. In Dark Dreams is where Andy Tillison's voice comes in for the first time. It is a little ballad, which features some delightful bass by Jonas Reingold. Then it's time for a little ode to Genesis, with a dreamy piece on two acoustic guitars, before we're treated to a reprise of Night Terrors, once again sung by Roine Stolt.
The Canterbury Sequence shifts the tone 180 degrees and is, as the title suggests, grafted upon the music from the Canterbury scene. David Jackson plays some fantastic flute during the opening part, Cantermemorabilia, while Jonas Reingold and Zoltan Csorz are in full jazzy swing.
The second part of this trilogy, Chaos At The Greasy Spoon is a cover from Hatfield & The North, incorporated in The Tangent's own composition.
The final part, Captain Manning's Mandolin is the closest the album ever comes to The Flower Kings with a long guitarsolo accompanied by -indeed- Manning's mandolin.
If I have one minor gripe about the album, then it's the slightly bland Uphill From Here. As if to say that not all seventies prog was good, the band comes with a song which sounds like the some of the album filler some bands put on their albums in the second half of the seventies.
The song has its moments, but David Jackson's saxophone is over-present and becomes a bit irritating. The second (instrumental) half of the song is somewhat better with some great guitar-solos by Roine Stolt.
Album closer, the title track The Music That Died Alone is a strong contender for best song of the year 2003, as it contains all the ingredients for a classic. A beautiful serene piano intro, not unlike the intro to Awaken. The second part, Playing On is not only musically an ode to the prog genre, but also lyrically the song deals with the prog genre and the fact that it's been made so unpopular by the media just of the sake of making something unpopular. As the title suggests, The Music That Died Alone does refer to the prog genre - the thought is also embodied in the Jon Anderson quote that can be found on the cover "What happened to this song we once knew so well?"
The last two parts give all members of the band one last time to shine: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, organ all solo in Pre-History before ending with a reprise of Playing On with fading flute and saxophone.
An easy, though unjust comparison would be that other little project Roine Stolt was involved in: Transatlantic. This was also music very obviously based on the prog of the seventies. However, where 'repetition' seemed to be the keyword with Transatlantic, the word here is 'diversity'.
Also, unlike Transatlantic all individual musicians seem to have been allowed to let their own creativity flow, and all have contributed an equal share to the music. It is difficult to imagine that the musicians have never been in the studio together, in fact, the album was recorded in five different studios, across two countries, though the music sounds pretty much as if it's seven folks in one room!
In all, Tillison & Co have created a very accessible, yet very proggy album, which will appeal to all fans of the genre. Possibly the best prog album of the year!
Mark Hughes : 10 out of 10
Tom de Val : 9 out of 10
Bart Jan van der Vorst : 9 out of 10