Anderson-Ponty Band, Better Late Than Never, a Review
In September 2014 progressive rock band Yes‘ co-founder and vocalist/harpist/guitarist Jon Anderson teamed up with virtuoso progressive rock (and classic fusion bands and Zappa alumnus) violinist Jean-Luc Ponty to form the supergroup Anderson-Ponty Band (APB) to play a live concert to be recorded for an album (CD/DVD) which was released in September 2015. The set list they played consisted of mainly reworked Yes, Anderson, and Ponty pieces with a couple new tracks thrown in for good measure. Apparently (see here) the actual set list was a little longer and included a few more pieces left off the album. The live concert from September 2014, upon being recorded, was then modified and edited and overdubbed in the studio.
CD Track List:
|2.||“One in the Rhythm of Hope” (a reworked Ponty piece)|
|3.||“A for Aria” (a new piece)|
|4.||“Owner of a Lonely Heart” (a reworked Yes song)|
|5.||“Listening with Me” (a reworked Ponty piece called “Stay With Me”)|
|6.||“Time and a Word” (a reworked Yes song)|
|7.||“Infinite Mirage” (a reworked Ponty piece)|
|8.||“Soul Eternal” (a reworked Anderson piece)|
|9.||“Wonderous Stories” (a reworked Yes song)|
|10.||“And You and I” (a reworked Yes song)|
|11.||“Renaissance of the Sun” (a reworked Ponty piece)|
|12.||“Roundabout” (a reworked Yes song)|
|13.||“I See you Messenger” (a new piece)|
|14.||“New New World” (a reworked Anderson piece)|
DVD Track List:
|1.||“One in the Rhythm of Hope”|
|2.||“A for Aria”|
|3.||“Owner of a Lonely Heart”|
|4.||“Listening with Me”|
|5.||“Time and a Word”|
|9.||“Renaissance of the Sun”|
- Jon Anderson – lead vocals, harp, guitars
- Jean-Luc Ponty – violin
- Jamie Glaser – guitars (Jamie Dunlap was part of the original line-up of APB and thus performed live on 20 September 2014 at the Wheeler Opera House, Aspen, Colorado, United States but by January 2015, he had left the band and had been replaced by Ponty’s guitarist Jamie Glaser who, as a result, overdubbed Dunlap’s parts on the present live album)
- Wally Minko – keyboards
- Baron Browne – bass
- Rayford Griffin – drums & percussion
So, like most reviews, what one thinks of an album depends on what one expects from it. If one expects a prog-rock tour de force, then one will be sorely disappointed. Despite the pedigree of Anderson and Ponty and, indeed, the fusion background of the rest of the band, ABP does not live up to its potential. Instead, the music is very light (even when it is heavy like during “Owner of a Lonely Heart), often twee, and and is more a fusion of new age and rock, with jazz sounding bass, than a fusion of jazz and Anderson. Of course the underlying Yes, Anderson, and Ponty music is amazing and the stuff of prog rock legend, but I will try and keep this review just about the interpretation that APB has given them.
Anderson, I think, does most of the heavy lifting in the creation of this album as he wrote most of the music and pushed the kickstarter campaign (see below for more on that). Excluding “Intro” (which is something of an overture written by Minko), 7 of the 13 remaining songs are from Anderson’s prior work and at least one of the new songs “I See You Messenger” is derived from Anderson’s stock of unreleased material. Ponty’s solo compositions are instrumental and Anderson’s contribution to them are largely adding lyrics and melodies with which to sing those lyrics over Ponty’s music. So, Anderson has a writing credit for every track on the album save “Intro.” Aside from singing, he also strummed a guitar, plucked a harp, and a played very small stringed instrument which seems to be turned to a specific chord for him to strum (I do not know the name of this instrument). Ponty is an excellent, virtuoso, and experimental violinist, and his playing throughout the album is technically top notch though not particularly inspired. He more-or-less noodles over the Yes/Anderson material – though on occasion he plays something interesting – and, probably obviously, seems much more at home with his own material.
Of course, the music – especially the Yes material – is rearranged to fit a vaguely new-age-jazz sound which is often stripped down in its complexity compared to the originals, but and some of the interpretations are interesting. In saying that, I really did not need yet another version of “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” It is worth noting that “Time and a Word” is a reggae interpretation with some Beatles references thrown in here and there. Although this version is fun, it is hardly original to APB as Anderson has been doing since at least 2008. Various quotes from songs like “I’ve Seen All Good People” or “And You And I” or even “Don’t Kill the Whale” (in “I See You Messenger”) are sprinkled throughout. As an aside, I really like the “Don’t Kill the Whale” quote and I think that song is catchy and the quote makes it doubly so.
As a huge Yes fan, I was most interested in Anderson. It is very nostalgic for me to hear a new recording from this legendary singer who has made so much music that has such an impact on my life, especially since he nearly died not long ago (see here). His range is still there. His spirit is still there. His emotion is still there. Despite that, his strength is not nearly what it used to be. The power of his voice is greatly diminished. Though still ethereal, his voice is more “breathy” (for want of a better term) and less strident now. I have to say that, despite this, Anderson, as always, seemed to be very aware that his voice is very unique and tries to use it uniquely if only for it’s sound and he does that here as well (e.g.: the vocal sounds on “One in the Rhythm of Hope”). Lyrically, he is not really offering anything new. There are various Yes song references (e.g.: lyrics like “Second Attention” or “That that is”) here and there and the remaining new lyrics fit Anderson’s long standing custom of writing about the sun, light, innocence, Earth, love, moon, and other sorts of “mystical” things.
As a brief editorial, considering Anderson’s diminished voice, stale lyrical ideas, and rather pedestrian musical ideas on this album, I do not think he would be an improvement over Jon Davison (Yes’ current singer) in Yes as Davison’s voice is stronger and his writing is much more creative and interesting right now. Of course, none of that speaks to the nostalgia and love of/for having Anderson back in Yes and I, for one, would not oppose his return in the least, nor does it in any way diminish Anderson’s influence, creativity, and impact on Yes and prog rock in general.
This collaboration started its life as Kickstarter campaign (see here) and took over a year to prepare, perform, record, produce, and release. The extended time it took to go from inauguration to release is the inspiration for the title “Better Late Than Never.” I have to say, as far as expectations are concerned, for an album that took over a year to put together, I was truly hoping for more than just some fairly twee rearrangements of old songs and a couple of light weight new ones. I was hoping some true creativity would work its way into the music.
All in all this album is really only for Anderson and Ponty fans who enjoy nostalgia and enjoy the idea of these two luminaries working together and enjoying the music of other. So, as fans of both Anderson and Ponty, I really enjoyed the music and hearing the collaborate, but I was disappointed that they did not really do anything special or creative or really stretch themselves at all.