As most of you know, I am an enormous fan of the progressive rock (sometimes shorted to “prog”) band Yes (I have written more about the genre of progressive rock here and more about Yes here). On October 25, 2019 Yes released the E.P. entitled From a Page. This album was released in tandem in a box set with a re-release of the live album In the Present – Live from Lyon. I will only be reviewing From a Page, which is comprised of previously unreleased studio songs.
Before I get into the meat of the review, here is the basic information for the album:
- To the Moment (Wakeman), 6:09
- Words on a Page (Wakeman), 6:18
- From the Turn of a Card (Wakeman), 3:24
- The Gift of Love (Wakeman, Squire, Howe, David, White), 9:52
From 2002 – 2004 the “classic” Yes line up (Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Alan White, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman) toured extensively and successfully, but in 2005 the band inexplicably went on a hiatus. Finally, in 2008, Yes reformed with Jon Anderson continuing as lead vocalist, but without Rick Wakeman on keyboards due a conflict with his prior commitments. To replace Rick Wakeman, Yes hired on his son Oliver Wakeman to play keyboards, who is a very skilled keyboard player in his own right. This quintet went ahead and scheduled the Close to the Edge and Back Tour. Unfortunately, this tour was cancelled due to Jon Anderson suffering a severe asthma attack. Controversially, Yes went forward without Jon Anderson and hired Youtube Yes cover singer sensation Benoit David to replace him. This lineup of Yes toured consistently until its final tour in the spring of 2011 (see here and here and here and here and here).
In 2010/11 Yes felt its new lineup was sufficiently road tested to finally reenter the studio. Yes then began the writing and recording of what was to become Fly From Here. Over the course of these sessions, Yes – with the line up listed above – wrote and recorded several songs and pieces of music. During the sessions for Fly From Here, Yes persuaded Trevor Horn to return and help produce the song “We Can Fly” which Horn, along with keyboardist Geoff Downes, wrote for Yes back when they joined the band for the recording of Drama in 1980, but never officially recorded or released (though did play live on the Drama tour).
As Yes recorded and arranged We Can Fly – which evolved from an approximately five minute long song into a twenty-three minute epic suite – Yes thought bringing Geoff Downes back into the fold to play keyboards on the song he originally brought to the band in 1980 would be a good idea. Unfortunately for Oliver Wakeman, Trevor Horn’s influence grew and Geoff Downes eventually did more than just lay down some keyboard tracks on his old song. As the recording of Fly From Here progressed, Oliver Wakeman found himself out of the band and Geoff Downes in as keyboardist.
Once Geoff Downes was a full member of Yes again, some of what Oliver Wakeman wrote and recorded with Yes for Fly From Here was shelved in favor of more material written and arranged by Trevor Horn and Downes. Oliver Wakeman’s Yes material was returned to him and shelved for many years until the untimely death of Chris Squire (see here), which inspired Oliver Wakeman to take another look at it. Oliver Wakeman then began working on the music as a personal project for his own enjoyment and memory of the band, but after musing about the music on Twitter, Yes (now constituted by Jon Davison, Billy Sherwood, Steve Howe, Alan White, and Geoff Downes (with Jay Schellen as a touring drummer)) expressed interest in revisiting these songs with Oliver Wakeman. As the only remaining members of the lineup that wrote and recorded the songs, Steve Howe and Alan White approved their release as an official Yes album.
Oliver Wakeman took the lead in writing these songs (which is presumably why he was given them upon his departure), though one song was more of a group effort. This release consists of the only studio recordings made by the Oliver Wakeman lineup of Yes, which, on that basis alone, makes it a really valuable and interesting release for any Yes fan. It also makes one wonder “what if” this line up stayed together and what it could have accomplished. I am grateful that, at the very least, we have this release to offer a window into this lineup and I am looking forward to what the current lineup of Yes can produce. It is also worth noting that these recordings contain the bass playing and singing of Chris Squire. This album may turn out to be the last album of finished studio recordings by Yes (aside from “unreleased” tracks or demos or studio sessions and the like that could be contained on archival releases) on which Squire performs and, for that reason alone, this collection of songs is valuable to any Yes fan.
Before I get into the songs, it should be noted that the song “From the Turn of a Card” was used on another album featuring Oliver Wakeman (Ravens & Lullabies with Gordon Giltrap) and “The Gift of Love” features elements written by Chris Squire later used on “The Game” (specifically the wordless vocals and the melody for the chorus which includes the title of the song) which was eventually recorded and released on the album Heaven & Earth (see here).
I wanted to wait on writing this review until after the euphoria of new Yes studio songs wore off of me. My first reaction to the songs was very simple: joy. Since I received the album, I think I have listened to it a thousand times and I have continued to enjoy it nearly as much each time.
As Oliver Wakeman is the primary composer, the music tends to be led by keyboards – indeed often piano – more than a typical collection of Yes music. This approach is somewhat refreshing and offers an interesting take on what is otherwise a classic Yes sound.
The first song “To the Moment” is a rollicking song based around a crunching guitar lick. The singing is melodic with really nice backing vocals over the chorus, which quickly becomes an earworm. The keyboard features are classic progrock synth solos in a very (Rick) Wakeman-esque style. The instrumental interlude is somewhat brief, but Steve Howe’s guitar soars. Indeed, his playing is more adventurous, soaring, and melodic on this album than most of his playing on Fly From Here and Heaven & Earth.
“Words on a Page” could almost be the “And You And I” of the 2010s. The melodies are strong and emotionally evocative, and Steve Howe’s steel guitar really brings out the emotion. The music is piano based at first, but slowly builds into a traditional “big” Yes sound with memorable themes which build and recapitulate with different instruments.
“From the Turn of a Card” – in terms of the basic song – is nearly identical to the version release on Ravens & Lullabies. On Ravens & Lullabies the song is, ironically, a lot more “prog rock” and sonically diverse and, in some ways, I like it better. The version on From a Page is basically a piano solo with harmonized vocals. O. Wakeman recorded entirely new piano parts for this song and used alternate takes of Benoit David’s vocals that he recorded on Ravens & Lullabies. In fact, perhaps the most interesting part of this song is the register David sings in throughout. While his range is certainly generally consistent with Jon Anderson on nearly every other Yes song he has ever sung, he sings in a significantly deeper (i.e.: lower) register on this song, far lower than nearly any other Yes song and/or singer in Yes history, and that offers a new and welcome sort of sound for Yes.
“The Gift of Love” is the traditional long Yes track for this album. This song is a melodious multi-part song with its sections being introduced, modulated, and recapitulated throughout the song in the standard Yes way, often contrasted with countermelodies. This song, I think, can fit into best of the Yes canon.
“The Gift of Love” hits almost all the right notes for a Yes fan. In fact, these songs do, in many places, what I love most about Yes songs. There is very little straight up chord playing. Instead, in the classic Yes style, the bass, guitar, keyboard, and singing are often playing different melodic lines that all seem to somehow work together in harmony. The depth and complexity of what one should expect from Yes is present in this music.
The playing on the album is excellent. Wakeman’s playing is perhaps the best keyboard playing on a Yes album since the Keys to Ascension collection. Steve Howe’s guitar soars throughout, especially his steel guitar, however his acoustic work is atypically understated. The singing is top notch and the backup singing is strong. In fact, David’s performance on this album is much better than on Fly From Here. The bass playing bears Chris Squire’s signature style and sound, however I have to say that of all the great parts on this album, there are no real memorable basslines or bass parts. The drumming is sound and a lot stronger than what Alan White can muster today, but aside form a handful of interesting and subtle moments (like toward the end of “The Gift of Love”), the drumming is unremarkable. Finally, perhaps another criticism that could be leveled at this album is that there is no really rocking and/or high tempo song. They do not really get much beyond the mid-tempo “To the Moment.”
Overall, this album is a fantastic Yes album and can easily stand with the Yes canon. It bears all the hallmarks of the traditional Yes sound, while also bringing a fresh, rejuvenated, and joyful approach that, for the Yes fan, makes for a very satisfying album. Profound thanks to Oliver Wakeman for writing most of this music, inspiring Yes to play and develop it, and motivating the release of it.
Finally, the album art is a traditional Roger Dean Yes album cover. The cover is one of his better ones from the last few years, as it has some unique elements (e.g.: the ship). The back cover is, more or less, an artistic sequel to the artwork he provided for In the Present.