❉ The voice of progressive rock still has plenty to say, writes James R Turner.
Over half a century in the recording business and most recognisable as the voice of progressive rock legends Yes (appearing on all but four of the bands albums) Jon’s latest release – reissued here on CD after making a limited appearance on CD last year – follows on from one of the busiest periods in Jon’s post-Yes career.
Following on his Anderson-Ponty & Anderson-Stolt albums, and his brief reunion with Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin for the Yes featuring ARW tours, 1000 Hands has been over thirty years in the making.
Starting life as a project called Uzlot with keyboard player Brian Chatton, who co-wrote most of the music with Jon back in 1990, it was put ‘on hold’ as Yes embarked on a world tour.
Resurrected in 2016 by producer Michael Franklin, Anderson reconvened several musical friends to finish the album off.
Featuring guest performances by former Yes colleagues Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White, as well as latter day collaborators like Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, legendary pianist Chick Corea, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, Billy Cobham on drums, the mighty Tower of Power horn section and the Orlando Symphony Orchestra amongst others, this is a mighty crossover between prog, pop, jazz and symphonic rock, and the whose who of guests inspired the 1000 Hands title.
Despite the long gestation period, and Jon’s illness (he had a severe asthma attack and suffered respiratory failure back in 2008, an illness that precipitated his dismissal from Yes) you would be inevitably concerned about the quality or coherence of the music.
Luckily, this album is superb and is far better than anything studio related that the current Yes line-up has produced in the past decade.
This is the first part of a trilogy of albums, and it certainly opens in style, with the opener Now, and its two follow ups Now Variations and the closing Now and Again, this is pure undiluted Anderson.
I’ve not heard Jon sound this good and in such fine form since Magnification, the first true classic on the album is Ramalama, with its mixture of pure undiluted Anderson spirituality and positivity, contemporary beats and a rousing chorus, this is a wonderfully uplifting piece of music, and, like so many of the songs on here comes from a place of positivity.
Anderson has always had a deep level of spirituality and connection with a higher consciousness running through his career, and here is no different, on songs like the driving First Born Leaders, with some direct and powerful lyrics and a fantastic musical tapestry. Anderson’s vocals soar on here and he sounds like a man reborn.
Running at around 50 minutes, the one thing that really stands out is that it doesn’t feel like a long album, it seems over as soon as it’s begun and flows and runs into each track, like a proper old school album should do, this isn’t an unconnected set of songs designed for a Spotify playlist, and it’s all the better for that.
Albums should ebb and flow, build and grow and take you on a musical and spiritual journey, and from one of the Godfathers of progressive rock and concept albums, this shows Jon has lost none of his conceptual nous and songwriting ability.
From the epic eight minute plus title track, the brilliantly infectious pop prog (reminiscent of the 9125 days or the Jon & Vangelis progressive pop ethos) of Makes Me Happy, which is sunshine in a song, an infectiously joyous song about the magic of being alive, which in lesser hands than these could have been really poorly executed, but with Jon’s lyrical skill and his enthusiasm and obvious love for life which comes across in every line, this is another one of his mini-masterpieces.
In fact listening to the lyrical positivity, the musical accompaniment from his cast of thousands (all of which bring something of themselves to the song) the production ethos is very much less is more, there’s nothing over the top or overtly traditional progressive. Jon’s not retreading old ground and not trying to remake Fragile, or Close to the Edge, why would he? He helped forge the originals in the white heat of the original progressive crucible.
Instead he’s writing contemporary progressive music, with a wonderfully light touch, a writer and performer who is accepting and at peace with his musical legacy and, from the sounds of the 8 minute plus title track and the beautiful I found Myself with some glorious vocals from an unnamed female collaborator is keen to build on his legacy.
Like other musicians from his era (Steve Hackett is a prime example) Jon Anderson is a performer happy to have his feet in both camps, performing the old songs live to the delight of his fan base and then bringing his fifty years of performing to bear on recording new albums that confirm he is still relevant and still has something to say in today’s fractured musical market.
Jon could be forgiven for resting on his laurels and popping out on the revival circuit and never step foot in a recording studio again, however on 1000 Hands (Chapter One) it’s clear that Jon still has plenty to say, and if the following two volumes materialise, I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
❉ Jon Anderson: ‘1000 Hands (Chapter One)’ is out 14 August 2020 via Blue Elan on deluxe double gatefold vinyl, CD, and through all digital platforms.
❉ James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.