[Sidebar-Due to some medical issues that have been more or less been creeping up like the taxman does when they smell a potential audit victim, postings here will be a tad intermittent. Yours truly is hoping that at some point the young team of doctors who I am working with will find something to put all of these to rest and life can resume with some sense of normality and I can post here more often]
For a while, yours truly had been hoping to obtain the above mentioned disc for various reasons. One being that this would complete a little part of the collection in that I was interested in the more electric concerts that Renaissance had recorded....with and without orchestras. Second being that this has some material from 'Tuscany', which is one heck of an album. As has been mentioned in other corners, considering the last two studio pieces ['Camera Camera' and 'Time-Line', respectively] this is a comeback, a triumph so hearing anything live from this mini-tour in Japan would be fantastic, a real treat. Lastly, it seems that the word had gotten around that Terry Sullivan would be back on drums, David Keyes would be on bass and two excellent keyboardists - Mickey Simmonds and Rave Tesar rounding out the band. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention that the groups was led by Annie Haslam and Mickey Dunford. So when this arrived in the mail, I tore at this like a child on Christmas Morning looking for that long awaited present.Let's say on the first listen and subsequent playings.....there is no disspointment here.
'Carpet of the Sun' leads off the concert and it is just as good as any previous version, but this has a kick. Much like the others on these discs which in other settings have had an orchestra, those parts are filled with synthesizers, but these are not your father's type of synth background. Close your eyes and it sounds as though the strings that accent the beginning of 'Carpet' are there. This is to the credit of Mickey Simmonds and Rave Tesar doing the right thing as far as sampling is concerned. And then there is Annie's voice. You know from these moments that this is going to be a fun trip, a wonderous trip back home with the band. And the best is yet to come all through the disc...
The next track being 'Opening Out' is usually coupled with 'Day of The Dreamer' from 'A Song For All Seasons' , but here is a standalone and it does work as that. Just a simple piece....nothing more and nothing less....and as beautiful as the studio version. 'Midas Man' comes after and it is a shame that this one was not featured in concert as often, if only because it is another song that while the melody is simple, the lyrics will get someone to think. After all, we have all at one time had employers who have acted like misers in the tradition of, let's say Ebeneezer Scrooge.
After these first three, the Tuscany material comes to the fore. The title track 'Lady From Tuscany' is just as powerful here as it is on the CD, the orchestral samples playing as though there is the Royal Philharmonic is present with either Louis Clark or Harry Rabinowitz at the baton. Of course, Annie carries the day here, much like on the CD...once you hear her upper range you know that this is truly classic Renaissance, the band in their element. 'Pearls of Wisdom' follows next and this is actually another example of a truly great love song that was common for the band to play from 'Prologue' on. It is a combination of the lyrics and the lushness of the intruments that shows a truly great romantic edge [folks if you are like me, you may have sent copies of Ren lyrics as love poems to the person you are interested in and this song falls into the same family of material and can work just as well *S*]. The last of the new songs in this portion of the concert is 'Dear Landseer' which sounds just like the album version. It is a sweet piece, a tale of an artisan from a long bygone era and the images he creates as well as those which are still a part of the London landscape to this day.
'Northern Lights' is next and it is not a Renaissance show without this song. Granted there are as many versions of this...live and otherwise....as there are 'Famous Ray's' Pizza in New York City, but here it sounds as though the band is having fun with the song. Speaking of having fun, the next song 'Moonlight Shadow' is played in a similar vein [lyrics to the contrary]. There are versions of this which have made the rounds, here however this could have almost have become a singlalong.
The next two tracks 'Precious One' and 'Ananda' are those which have been featured on Annie's solo albums and have good readings here. Sadly due to the state of current radio trends you may not hear much of her solo work. And that is a shame. Yes, these may not sound like they would fit on a Renaissance CD, which I guess would be the point, in that these are two songs that have helped Annie define her own style. In this setting they are worth multiple listenings.
The second CD starts off with one of the 'magnum opi' that Ren was known for. 'Mother Russia', which is played in full. This one still brings chills, especially given certain political realities on this planet. With that said, it is still powerful still timely. Again let's credit the keyboardists for the attention to detail in replicating the orchestral flourishes which are one of the song's hallmarks.
'Trip To The Fair' comes next and this is a study in what happens when Ren infuses a song with jazz figures. The album version on 'Scheherazade' is has a similar break, but this version sounds as though it comes out of the Brubeck school of cool...with turbochargers. Think of it as being a rather nice game of 'call and response' . Of course this is framed by the storyline as related by Annie's vocals.
The next two piecces can be considered a romantic couplet. Frist being 'One Thousand Roses' which is the last track from Tuscany plays like the album version. Lyrically, it is a wonderful story...and repeated listenings show there is a tale that any person who has wanted to show their unconditional love for another can relate to. It is followed by 'I Think Of You' which is from 'Turn of the Cards' . For the life of me, I cannot figure out why this was not featured more often in their previous tours, but be that as it may....wow....this is just a great version. This could have been a solo version by Annie with just Mickey on guitar and the result would be the same, as the rest of the band had a little hand in this....
And then came 'Ashes are Burning', the standard close. Once again, the middle breaks are jazz centered with Mickey Simmonds expanding on the basic melody with a solo for the ages. This led to David Keyes on bass, who while he is not Jon Camp, then again Jon Camp is not David Keyes. What David did was put his own signature on what is the 'seldom imitated-never to be duplicated' Jon Camp solo [which is a clinic on how to do a bass solo] as though it were being played on a lead guitar.The eolo here that really surprised was that of Rave Tesar, which almost sounded like this was a lead guitar. Upon further airings, this is a 'wow factor' solo...in a sense in the same ballpark as the solo Mickey did during the encore of the 'Camera Camera' tours. The end.....Annie in her element, another reason why this was a band to be reckoned with and to savor.
If there are no other live material to be upcoming from Ren, then this is a great way to say so long. Not many bands can do this, even those that have been on their respective concert circuits for decades. Even with changes in personnel, there is that consistency, that fire in Renaissance that still remains...not many can say that, let alone play it.