Monday 6 May 2019

Jon Anderson - 1000 Hands: Chapter One (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 31 Mar 2019
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

I mentioned that Lucifer's Friend have been around since 1968. Well, that's so long ago, it's when Jon Anderson founded Yes with Chris Squire. While he continues to be part of whatever version of Yes is around at the moment, he continues to record and tour solo and I believe I've just missed him at the Van Buren here in Phoenix, which sucks, because this album is just great.

I read that, while it's certainly a new album, it's not entirely new. Back in 1990 or so, he was working on a project called Uzlot in California with Yes bandmates Chris Squire and Alan White, among others, but nothing came of it and Anderson left the master tapes in his garage and forgot about them. A quarter of a century later, producer Michael Franklin reached out and, with further recording sessions, they became 1000 Hands. The artists on the roster are of serious calibre, from Steve Howe and Chris Squire to Jean-Luc Ponty and Ian Anderson via Chick Corea, Carmine Appice and Rick Derringer.

While Yes are regulars on my local classic rock station, I often play other parts of his career at home. The Jon and Vangelis album The Friends of Mr. Cairo is never too far from my playlist and I listened through the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album recently. What I haven't played in forever is a solo Jon Anderson record, though I have fond memories of Olias of Sunhillow. Clearly I should return to his back catalogue because this is fantastic.

Anderson sounds like Anderson, which might sound like an odd thing to say, but I can't think of another singer with a voice as recognisable as his who hasn't seemed to change it in half a century. Aaron Neville, maybe, but over time voices change and Anderson's just hasn't. Some of what we hear on this album stems from his vocal exercises.

And this album sounds as progressive as anything he's ever done, even with nothing over nine minutes long and only two tracks coming close. Everything is built around his voice, perhaps unsurprisingly, but what sits behind it varies so wildly that I'm surprised it all holds together so well.

Did I hear both Tuvan throat singing and a hurdy gurdy on Ramalama? There's calypso and South African gospel on First Born Leaders, courtesy of Belgian group Zap Mama. Activate is mostly backed by electronica, except when it's solo flute or a symphony orchestra. At one point, Make Me Happy seems to be caught up in a Brazilian carnival.

And that's just the first half. The album, presumably the first chapter in a larger work, is firmly separated into two halves by bookends. It begins with a vocal piece called Now and finishes with Now and Again, while the halves are separated by Now Variations, three versions of the same song. Given how wildly different every other song here is, I'm not sure why the tracks are in the order they are.

Maybe the first half is more emotional. It's clearly bouncier and happier and the second half is more thoughtful and introspective. I Found Myself features a prominent bass and violin but has an Americana feel. Twice in a Lifetime has a notably different approach to violin, before it drifts into French accordion and eventually to both harpsichord and a horn section. The title track, 1,000 Hands (Come Up) is a jazz workout for piano and drums before it turns into a clapping singalong.

WDMCF (or Where Does Music Come From) is the only track to throw doubt on that delineation, as it's a bouncy song in the second half, even if it gets its bounciness from dance music beats until it veers rather surprisingly into solo piano. Certainly I prefer the first half to the second, but it's not outside possibility that the second half is deeper and will take longer to appreciate properly.

This album reminds me yet again that there are artists who continually aim to reinvent themselves rather than trawling out the same ol' same ol' every album. Jon Anderson is up there with Robert Plant as a perennial reinventer, someone who's immediately recognisable to the ear but always doing something new and fresh. I wish I'd had been able to see him live last week.

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