Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead, Editor

NOVEMBER 24, 1997: 

Open Your Eyes (Beyond)

If, during the early ’70s, a seer had communicated to me the idea that I would someday be in a position to interview a member of the progressive-rock band Yes, I would probably have soiled my britches right then and there. And, had that prophet further informed me that I would ultimately choose to ignore the opportunity to converse with those Starship Troopers, I’m sure I would have suggested that he hastily depart via the same waves and particles he rode in on. Nevertheless, I find that both “eventualities” have recently come to pass.

So what’s the problem? Well, the problem – my dilemma – stems from the inescapable fact that Yes have, by now, sucked like a black hole for many years. They’ve broken my heart, and I mean over and frigging over again. And their latest release does nothing to diminish my disease. So why in the cosmos would I want to talk to any of them? Just exactly what would I say: “Hey, are you really this damned lost, or are you simply searching for acceptance in all the wrong places? And what’s the difference, by the way?”

Some history: In 1971, one of the classic versions of this band (personnel lineups, that is – there would be many as the years passed) released The Yes Album on Atlantic Records. One band out of a handful of the day’s worthwhile “art-rockers,” the group had already established a degree of credibility amongst certain elements of that burgeoning scene. But The Yes Album – their third – demonstrated beyond any doubt that this group had ascended to a new plateau. Whereas the previous two releases showed much promise, those also imparted to the alert listener a distinct sense of semi-blind groping. The Yes Album, however, burst from the studio with a vitality and creative maturity matched at the time, arguably, only by the likes of King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

After The Yes Album came a string of thoroughly brilliant releases: Fragile, Close To The Edge (a prog masterpiece), the much derided Tales From Topographic Oceans, and Relayer. Negative/dim-witted critical evaluation of these tremendous works was the typical response from scribes whose heads were vigorously thrust up the asses of “artists” such as the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger, ZZ Top, and the eternally overrated Band, and one can’t help but wonder if such claptrap finally ate away at Yes’ will and vision.

Anyway, something awful began to happen after Relayer (1975), and things have been getting “progressively” worse ever since. I don’t know who these guys imagine themselves to be speaking to nowadays, but it sure ain’t me or the legions of former fans like me who are begging them to regain their courage and inspiration. Open Your Eyes stands as yet another sad chapter in a series of sellout moves. And the strangest thing is, as wonderfully talented as they are, Yes will never satisfy the customers they seem so intent on serving…hell, I don’t think they can even hope to attract those people.

Yes volunteer for dinosaur duty.

At a time when almost every rock-and-roll song babbled mindlessly and endlessly about the boy/girl thing, the prog bands were daring enough to sing about distant galaxies, future shock, wicked weather, metamorphosis, epiphany, and the like. And, when they were centered, no group – no, not one – did it better than Yes.

How the mighty have…whimpered.

– Stephen Grimstead

Jackie Terrasson & Cassandra Wilson
Rendezvous (Blue Note)

On her last two albums – Blue Light ’Til Dawn (1993), and New Moon Daughter (1995) – vocalist Cassandra Wilson displayed an uncanny gift for reinterpretation and reinvention. On those records she favored guitar-based, somewhat unconventional jazz instrumentation. Both were simply brilliant, and thrust her from relative obscurity (although she’d been recording for years) into justly deserved jazz superstardom.

What sets Wilson apart is her soft and husky voice and her ability to weave around a song’s melody, recasting a tune into something new and remarkable. She does the same vocal magic on Rendezvous, but allies herself with pianist Terrasson in a more traditional jazz setting of piano, bass, and percussion. Like Wilson, Terrasson also is a master at reinterpretation, and his piano playing takes considerable liberties with a song’s rhythm and harmony.

Together, their talents make for a series of unmistakable and refreshing versions of standards. A relaxed, easy-going feel permeates this disc, as chestnuts like “Old Devil Moon,” “Tennessee Waltz,” “Tea For Two,” and “It Might As Well Be Spring” gently unfold with unexpected and delightfully new aspects. The result is one of the most intriguing and original sets of jazz standards in some time. Don’t miss this one. (For her next project, Wilson is going into the studio in December to record a tribute album to Miles Davis. Look for it late next year.)

– Gene Hyde

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