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Lest young readers misunderstand, the term “progressive rock” does not refer to music made in support of Antifa or Black Lives Matter.
Rather, it refers to a style that mashes up psychedelia, Western classical, and jazz, often with a dash (and sometimes dollops) of “mystical” pseudo-poetry where proper lyrics should be. It ruled the late-night FM-radio roost throughout the ’70s. New bands tend its pulse even now.
The original generation, however, isn’t ready to pass the baton.
Consider, for example, 1000 Hands: Chapter One (Blue Élan), Love Is (BMG), and The Red Planet (R&D Multimedia), the latest albums by Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, and Rick Wakeman respectively. And although they’re solo efforts, they’re solo efforts by three-fifths of the classic lineup of one of prog rock’s most iconic groups, Yes. And whether juxtaposed or shuffled together, Yes is what they sound like.
There’s Jon Anderson’s airy and instantly identifiable alto-tenor voice, which on the evidence of 1000 Hands must have been kept in a time capsule. True, Anderson began work on the album circa 1990, so some of the vocals might sound youthful because, relatively speaking, they are. A few songs, however, are of recent vintage, meaning that Anderson’s singing on those must be recent too. And, frankly, however many eras the vocals represent, you can’t tell one from another. Not a bad trick for a singer who’ll turn 76 in October.
Almost as crucial to the Yes sound is Steve Howe’s guitar virtuosity, the many facets of which are on full display throughout Love Is. Electric but never heavy, acoustic but never precious, Howe chisels riffs and melodies from the cliffs of rock, folk, and pop (he was a member of Asia after all) atop the brisk beats of his son and drummer Dylan. And on the idyllic instrumental “Pause for Thought,” there’s just enough synthesizer to put one in mind of …
… Rick Wakeman. Wakeman’s masterly—and masterful—way with various electronic keyboards (Korg, Roland, Hammond, Mellotron, and Minimoog according to his new album’s credits) elevated Yes’ music into the cosmos back in the day, and he makes them sound every bit as extraterrestrial on The Red Planet, riding prog-heaven chord changes and the martial rhythms of a three-man backing band called the English Rock Ensemble.
Anderson’s 1000 Hands, meanwhile, is called 1000 Hands because it features the contributions of over 20 mostly famous musicians and the Orlando Symphony Orchestra. A “thousand hands” is an exaggeration, obviously, but it accounts for the textures, which bear aloft the most consistently buoyant melodies of Anderson’s career.
And while at 73 Howe sings only passably, he and his bassist Jon Davison harmonize well enough to make one wonder whether Crosby, Stills & Nash might be willing to have a go at covering a Love Is noninstrumental or two.
The Red Planet comes on red vinyl.
Yesterdays was the title of an early Yes compilation. Think of the latest from Anderson, Howe, and Wakeman as Yesterdays Once More.