Album Review by Eric Sandberg
When Founding Yes singer Jon Anderson announced the forthcoming release of of his fourteenth solo album 1000 Hands —Chapter One-- I was bemused, at best. Of the dozens of solo albums released by the various members of Yes [hundreds if you include keyboardist Rick Wakeman's catalog] only a couple are worthy of the band's best work.
Jon Anderson's first solo album Olias of Sunhillow  was written, composed sung, played and produced by Anderson by himself. He spent countless hours out in a barn teaching himself to play a myriad of instruments and recording multiple overdubs of his unique high tenor voice. The result was stunning.
In and out of Yes, throughout Anderson's spotty solo career, Anderson became increasingly less inspired and, frankly, lazy when it came to making albums, preferring to solicit completed music tracks from other musicians, both known and unknown. He would take these tracks and warble nonsensical hippy-dippy platitudes over them, exposing a voice weakened by the acute respiratory failure he barely survived in 2008, just prior to a planned Yes 40th anniversary tour.
Much to his chagrin, Yes replaced Anderson with a stand-in and he has been an exile from the band he founded ever since. Well, sort of. Over their fifty years of existence, Yes has had over thirty-five different members pass through the ranks so it's not too difficult put together another version of Yes [or twelve] from among the remaining cardholders.
At the age of seventy-four, through disciplined physical and vocal workouts, along with the support of his second wife Janee, Jon Anderson has miraculously brought his voice back to near full strength, and has been fronting Yes: featuring Anderson, Rabin & Wakeman on several world tours over the past few years.
All of this brings us to 1000 Hands, Anderson's first solo album since 2011's Survival & Other Stories, an album of music he solicited from random musicians via social media. Anderson has been working on bits and pieces of the album for a number of years, which is why it features many guest musicians, including the late Chris Squire and the estranged "other Yes" guitarist Steve Howe.
The album, which was recently completed by Anderson in Florida with producer Michael Franklin, features contributions from a veritable host of world-class musicians including: Larry Coryell, Stuart Hamm, Alan White, Billy Cobham, Chick Corea, The Tower of Power Horns, Pat Travers and features some tasty flute work by Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson on one track.
With all of this, the question still remains: what did Jon Anderson bring to the proceedings? The answer is just about everything he has. After the opening prelude track "Now" Anderson unleashes the full power of his voice and melodic skills on "Ramalama" a song that actually brought a little tear to my eye.
Though the rest of the album doesn't quite match the heights of "Ramalama" it is a remarkably consistent collection of strong melodies, beautifully arranged, played and sung. The lyrics are more focused but still retain Anderson's usual message of love, peace and light. They are easily swallowed when paired with the more inspired music accompanying them this time around.
If you are not a fan, or just a casual fan of Yes, I am not encouraging you to seek out this album, but if you are a long-suffering devoted fan of Jon Anderson's I can tell you that 1000 Hands is your reward.
Sadly, the album is only available from Jon Anderson directly at this time and, although his team has done a remarkable job of getting the word out, they have failed just as badly at letting people know where they can buy the album. I was unable to find a way to obtain it until I complained in a comment on a Facebook post promoting a review of the album, and another fan sent me the apparently secret link. All in all, it's just another example of the chaos that has ever swirled around Anderson's long career.
By the way, here is the link:
Your welcome, Jon.
Book review by Eric Sandberg
Anthony Horowitz is a clever Dick...er, Tony. His name made its first attempt at penetrating my hardened transom some years ago as it appeared on my television screen as the writer of various TV episodes of Poirot and Midsomer Murders [this was before opening credits meant one last peek at Facebook before a grisly murder occurs].
It wasn't until Foyle's War, a show I looked forward to as much as a new series of Inspector Lewis, that the name Anthony Horowitz achieved a foothold in my addled pate. Even then I was more in awe of the remarkable performance of Michael Kitchen than I was of the writer putting words in his mouth.
The first book I purchased by Horowitz was not for myself, but for my father, who is a fan of Foyle's War and, as a young man, loved reading Ian Fleming's James Bond. As Trigger Mortis promised to contain original material by Fleming and was written in the style of the original novels (no futuristic gadgets or metal-mouthed giants chomping on tram cables), I thought he would enjoy it, and he very much did.
A few years ago, I heard a radio interview with Horowitz who was describing the plot of his then forthcoming novel The Magpie Murders. A book editor becomes embroiled in the murder of her most popular writer while clues abound as to the identity of the killer in the victim's final, yet to be published manuscript. A book within a book. That was enough for me.
Anglophile that I am [I briefly got the taste of living in London as a ten year old in the early 70s] I ordered the book from Amazon UK before some US editor could 'translate' the dialogue from delightful idioms such as "Go on in and 'av a butcher's" ['Go inside and have a look for yourself']. The book was nearly impossible to put down — complex threads woven into an easy read. I had barely finished it when I saw a new murder mystery from Anthony Horowitz was imminent.
The Word Is Murder promised a new, hook: one of the two main protagonists would be Horowitz himself. As he narrates his own story, Horowitz introduces us to the latest in a long line of brilliant, quirky English detectives, Daniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne is an ex-police detective, fired from the force for mishandling a prisoner, but is called in to consult whenever a case is a "sticker — that is, a case which presented obvious difficulties from the start."
In Daniel Hawthorne, Horowitz has created another intriguing, inscrutable, imperfect character, shrouded in mystery but, like all the best literary detectives, is always three steps ahead of everybody else. Hawthorne's [seemingly uncharacteristic] desire to have his exploits chronicled by a biographer leads Horowitz to become Watson to Hawthorne's Holmes.
Of course Dr. John Watson is as much a fictional character as Sherlock Holmes, but Horowitz is a real person and he cleverly adapts real aspects of his life into the story. In one memorable scene Hawthorne interrupts a critical meeting Horowitz is taking with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg about Horowitz's rejected screenplay for the next Tin Tin movie.
Throughout the book the fictional Horowitz wrestles between his common sense telling him he should not not be involved with Hawthorne, and his extreme curiosity about this gruff, intrusive and brilliant detective. It is this curiosity, and an unhealthy itch to solve the case before Hawthorne, that nearly gets him killed — which begs the question: if you die in your novel, what happens to the real you?
The real Anthony Horowitz
Another aspect of Hawthorne's character that the fictional Horowitz must endure is the blatant homophobia Hawthorne exhibits as he questions witnesses and suspects that appear to scrum for the other team. Horowitz's discomfort is ours as well and this keeps these books from from being too precious and makes us all the more curious about Hawthorne's murky past.
At the opening of the second Hawthorne novel, The Sentence Is Death, Horowitz again intertwines his real life with the story, describing in elaborate detail what goes into creating one simple scene in an episode of Foyle's War, in which real life actress Honeysuckle Weeks steps off of a period bus. One thing after another goes wrong and, as time is running out, the film crew's one chance at a successful take is spoiled by the sudden appearance of you know who in a modern taxi.
Another sticky murder has occurred and Hawthorne has been called in to consult. Even with urgent script rewrites, his agent breathing down his neck for a sequel to his Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, fictional Horowitz can't resist a new game being afoot. It's another complex case, full of red herrings, widows, ex wives, spelunkers, lawyers, businessmen, and a couple of unpleasant cops who do not want to be embarrassed by Hawthorne.
As the investigation progresses, fictional Horowitz continues to conduct his own clandestine inquiry into the mystery of Hawthorne. He uncovers one secret that explains an aspect of Hawthorne's mystique, only to encounter something else that only deepens the mystery of his past.
As in The Word Is Murder, the solution to the murder was unexpected, though the clues were all there. My one quibble with this story was a particular secret uncovered by Hawthorne [a red herring] that the real Anthony Horowitz, writing the book, perhaps over-telegraphed. It didn't quite ring true that the fictional Horowitz was gobsmacked by a revelation that most astute readers had sussed out a few chapters earlier.
This distraction [for me, anyway] was either intentional and meant to put the fictional Anthony Horowitz in his place, or a sign that the real Anthony Horowitz just might have a little too much on his plate — with Alex Rider (his popular Young Adventure series) novels and TV scripts, Tin Tin screenplays, Hawthorne novels and God knows what else he's committed himself to.
In any case [and I hope there are many more cases...and a TV adaptation], I eagerly await the promised third installment of the Hawthorne mysteries but, no pressure, Mr. Horowitz. Take your time.
Music Review: Ian Brown — Ripples
An album review by Eric Sandberg
Ian Brown is possessed of a natural gravitas of the sort Liam Gallagher desperately aspires to. Ian doesn't have Liam's snarl, but his once pot-ravaged voice has settled into a soft, pleasant timbre that carries a big stick.
Where Liam writes lyrics that are painfully naive, Ian's words range from knowingly innocent to jaded omnipotence. Everything the former Stone Roses front man does is brimming with confidence and a quiet swagger.
After conquering the world with their 1989 debut album, The Stone Roses fell into the 'we need to get out of this record contract and sign with a major label' trap, delaying their Geffen Records follow-up, the appropriately titled Second Coming, until 1994. By then, visionary, atmospheric producer John Leckie had moved on and Ian Brown's voice had been reduced to a rasp from smoking pot.
I met three of the four members of Stone Roses [Guitarist John Squire was the no-show] at a sparsely attended record release party in a tiny restaurant on the Sunset Strip in December of that year. Mani and Reni, the Rose's world-beating rhythm section, were jovial and friendly while Ian did his best but seemed preoccupied. After the event, as I drove by the front of the restaurant, I saw Ian standing alone on the curb with his hands in his pockets, staring into the night's sky.
"What am I going to do now?" I now imagine he was thinking.
My Second Coming CD booklet signed by Ian Brown
The sweepstakes for who would have the most successful post Stone Roses career seemed to favor guitarist/artist John Squire. Despite its failings Second Coming was a showcase for his fluid, lugubrious and sinewy guitar chops. But never count out sheer chutzpah and the willingness to start from scratch to reinvent yourself.
Aided and abetted by endlessly imaginative knob twirler, Dave McCracken, it was Ian Brown who found a completely new musical direction. Salvaging his faded voice and emphasizing his lyrical wizardry, Brown and McCracken created a sea of colorful and varied soundscapes married with intriguing word play and themes.
Brown's solo career took off — four straight Gold albums, "Best Solo Artist" and "Godlike Genius" awards from New Musical Express and Q Magazine's "Legend" award, along with the briefest, but coolest, cameo ever in a Harry Potter film.
Confirming what we all knew: Ian could not possibly be a Muggle
This run of ingenuity and continuous reinvention ran up to his fifth solo album, 2007's The World Is Yours, which paired his rap-savvy rhymes with powerful string arrangements, delivering enough Bond theme songs to lead off the next twelve movies. After a Greatest Hits package Brown released one more album My Way in 2009 which showed him, for the first time, seemingly unsure about his direction, as evidenced by his puzzling cover of Zager and Evans' "In the Year 2525."
The next move improbably turned out to be a full-on Stone Roses reunion. The band played several headline gigs and festivals and released a new single "All For One." The song divided fans. John Squire's trademark guitar pyrotechnics were paired with arguably the most inane and simplistic lyric Brown ever wrote. A follow up single, released only on 12" vinyl sounded like an outtake from Second Coming.
As the band attempted to record a new album, Brown was captured on video outside the studio proclaiming what was happening inside to be "glorious!" This proved to be disingenuous as Brown closed Stone Roses final UK appearance in Glasgow with “Don’t be sad it’s over, be happy that it happened.”
Ian waves goodbye to Glasgow on behalf of Stone Roses and their career
Now, at the age of 56, Brown has released a new solo album Ripples. After fronting his old band for a spell, Brown has opted to continue in that format utilizing simple guitar, bass and drum arrangements with minimal gimmickry. The lead track "First World Problems" is announced by a soulful retro harpsichord riff and Brown's patented barbed lyrics.
This is followed by the Stooge's influenced "Black Roses" and "Breathe and Breathe Easy (The Everness of Now)" which features Ian alone on acoustic guitar, plaintively singing "Wake up for the war on your mind." It almost sounds like he's having a go at good old Liam on this one. 'This is how it's done, son!'
The album continues with a pleasing assortment of R&B inflected rock tunes with Ian testing his new found confidence as a real singer. Sadly, the album ends on a bum note with a half-hearted attempt at reggae which should have been relegated to a B-side.
Ripples doesn't break any new ground, and is not an album I would introduce to an Ian Brown newbie, but it is a welcome return for long-time fans who are either still smarting over, or relieved by the fizzled Stone Roses reunion .
Book review by Eric Sandberg — Master of the Mundane: Stewart O'Nan - Henry, Himself
Since 2002 Henry Maxwell has loomed large as a literary character without actually appearing in a book. Henry is first mentioned in the opening pages of O'Nan's novel Wish You Were Here. In this book, which takes place a year after Henry's death, we learn about Henry obliquely, as if the words are separated and arranged to form a white silhouette of him on the page.
The central theme of Wish You Were Here is the impact of Henry's absence on his family: Emily, his wife of fifty years, his older sister Arlene, his grown children Kenny and Margaret and their children. The family is gathering for one last summer at their cabin in Chautauqua, a tradition dating back to Henry and Arlene's childhood.
Wish You Were Here continued a subtle shift in O'Nan's approach to his particular brand of storytelling begun in his previous novel Everyday People. Up to this point O'Nan had garnered a reputation as a master of literary horror. Not the kind of horror that his friend Stephen King churns out like regular issues of a comic book, but more of a modern take on the horror of Edgar Allen Poe - the sort of horror that inhabits our daily lives - the horror derived from our poor choices, our disappointments and denials that we subconsciously run from and inevitably are forced to turn and face
Stewart O'Nan with Stephen King — Go Sox!
O'Nan's first novel Snow Angels (later adapted as a film starring Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell) starkly deals with a heart-wrenching series of tragedies in a bleak, small Pennsylvania town, while his third novel The Speed Queen has the narrator describe her own murderous crime spree (to Stephen King via cassette recordings) while simultaneously absolving herself of her actions.
O'Nan's examinations of the nature of evil achieved a new level of sophistication and profundity in his 1999 novel A Prayer For The Dying. Set in the backdrop of fire and plague A Prayer For The Dying chronicles one man's descent into a literal and figurative Hell and is required reading in some college Literature and Psychology courses.
With Wish You Were Here O'Nan laid claim to a new title - master of the mundane. Not a lot happens in its 517 pages - no crime sprees (well, maybe one small one), wars or murders - just a family coping with the loss of a patriarch and their stories of disappointment and hope. It is an engrossing read. "Stewart O'Nan sees with a vengeance" one New York Times reviewer wrote early in O'Nan's career, and see he does - all the humdrum details that make a life.
After four more acclaimed novels, including the bestseller Last Night At The Lobster, O'Nan decided to check in on Henry's widow. Emily Alone finds Emily Maxwell ten years on from Henry's death and struggling with a creeping sense of 'what was it all for?' as her kids and all the families of her Pittsburgh neighborhood have long since moved away or died, her children's lives in chaos. When her only friend/sister-in-law/nemesis Arlene suffers a stroke she is jarred from the monotony of her life into making a bold move.
But what of Henry? The specter of the late Henry Maxwell is the driving force behind two critically acclaimed and popular novels. Who was he? In O'Nan's forthcoming sixteenth novel (excluding a collection of short stories and two non-fiction books) we finally meet Henry, himself, and he's not a terribly interesting guy. It is, in fact, Stewart O'Nan's great gift as a writer that he can make the last good year of a boring man's life so compelling.
Henry, Himself provides the reader with a glimpse of the Maxwell clan intact, Henry is in relatively good health (if not in good shape) in the year he turns seventy-five. Readers familiar with the other two novels in this trilogy will feel an added sense of tension as they try to piece together the timeline between this story and the first book. I won't give anything away except that the final paragraphs are among the most poignant I have ever read.
The book unfolds in a series of self-contained short stories ranging in length from two paragraphs to eight pages. Many chapters focus on such earth shattering topics as a broken garbage disposal, a basement drain crisis, dead grass patches from dog pee, rodent infestation and a gift left in a toilet bowl.
Midway through the book, as each prosaic aspect of Henry's routine is revealed, I become paranoid that O'Nan has been secretly remote viewing my own life, so keen and universal are his observations. Like a good stand-up comic, O'Nan turns a trip to the john into comedy gold, except we're not laughing.
Each episode, many of which revolve around holidays, anniversaries and birthdays, tell us more about Henry and, by proxy, ourselves. The narrative style only becomes tedious in one chapter which goes into excruciating detail about all eighteen holes played at a Putt Putt golf course in Chautauqua. The segment tells us nothing we don't already know about the characters and has thoroughly cured me of any nostalgic notion of going putt putting the next time I visit my father on the Outer Banks.
What's most fascinating and ironic about Henry is his seeming detachment from his own family, their foibles and crises, preferring that Emily bear the brunt of their alcoholic daughter's misadventures, and his hesitancy to broach the subject of a crumbling marriage with his son-in-law. Henry bonded his family more through a strict adherence to tradition than he did by being emotionally available to them.
Strewn throughout are Henry's reminiscences from his own childhood, his job as an engineer on an important project which was ultimately shelved, a previous, heady love affair before he met Emily, and perhaps most telling, his experiences as a foot soldier in World War II. His ability to detach from his grim experiences in Europe informs his emotional remoteness from his family.
Henry, Himself is a satisfying and hopeful rumination on the human condition as only Stewart O'Nan can write it. It is not absolutely necessary to read the other two books before reading this one. Knowing what happens in the future is almost a distraction from the story being told here but that knowledge most certainly enhances the poignancy of its conclusion
Album reviews by Eric Sandberg — The Red Beans & Rice Combo - Let the Joy Begin — Tom McDermott - Podge Hodge — Charlie Dennard - Deep Blue
I grew up in Pittsburgh in the seventies as an anxiety-ridden white male. My father is a jazz and classical music loving PhD and my mother, a talented artist. I formed a love of music at an early age mostly under the tutelage of 13Q AM and their cool illustrated music charts distributed weekly at the National Record Mart (Boy I wish I still had those).
I eventually graduated to WDVE FM and all the Pink Floyd, Yes, Led Zeppelin, etc. that came with it. I explored more 'off the beaten path' music from friends. I still remember standing on Stew O'Nan's porch, ringing the doorbell as a swirling dirge of Klaus Schulze flowed out of his bedroom window. Mark Gaudio told me about a song by Chris Spedding called "Get Outta My Pagoda." I had to hear that.
I discovered Gary Numan when a DJ played "Are Friends Electric" at 2:00 AM while I was cleaning the kitchen counters at Beth Shalom Synagogue. That led me to Ultravox, Japan and David Sylvian, Ryuichi Sakamoto and many others.
My father was bemused by my musical tastes. He once reluctantly admitted that The Wall was "musical" but he clearly saw Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Steve Howe for the frauds they were when they attempted to play jazz. Try as he might, my dad was never able to get me to see the light when it came to jazz or classical music. I was so ignorant that, several years ago, I sent him a copy of Miles Davis Kind of Blue for his birthday. His response was confusion. "I despise modern jazz" he told me. Until that moment, I didn't understand the difference between traditional and modern jazz.
A few years ago Facebook afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with a wonderful guy who sat behind me with a trumpet in Band and Orchestra at Taylor Allderdice high school for four years. As we got reacquainted, Tom Roberts learned that I had done absolutely nothing with my life while he was developing an impressive musical career, playing in a jazz duo with his wife, suffering on the road as part of Leon Redbone's band and developing his prodigious piano chops as he helps to keep the art of "stride" piano alive.
Aside from our mutual school friends, you could imagine that Tom has a lot of interesting friends on his Facebook feed. Names like Wayno and Tom McDermott and Scott Black. Now Tom McDermott and Scott Black are people my dad is always talking about. My dad and my saintly stepmother Sue spent a lot of their retirement hanging out in 'Nawlins', befriending musicians like Tom, Scott, Evan Christopher, Tom McLaughlin, Jack Maheu and others. He had even heard of my friend Tom Roberts.
Perhaps my only real talent in life is posting pithy comments in other people's social media threads. I've parlayed this talent into cyber friendships with many of these people, including a gent named Charlie Dennard, who is as nice and humble as he is an incredibly talented pianist, organist, composer, arranger and band leader.
Tom Roberts, recently settled back in Pittsburgh and has formed a jazz trio fronted by the aforementioned Wayno (who is also a brilliant cartoonist who more than likely appears in your dying local newspaper every Monday through Saturday). The Red Beans & Rice Combo, Charlie Dennard and Tom McDermott have all released new albums in the past year and, whether it is an altruistic desire to support virtual friends or a sense of guilt instilled in me from growing up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, I purchased my first ever jazz albums for myself.
First was The Red Beans & Rice Combo's Let The Joy Begin. Because Wayno is more of a talented crooner with a twinkle in his eye than a vocalist on the order of Sarah Vaughn, this band mines a rich vein of whimsical jazz/pop. "Calling All Cars" by Allen Toussaint, Jimmy Liggen's "I Ain't Drunk," "One Meatball," "Save The Bones," "Who Drank My Beer?" You get the idea. The album lives up to its title - it is pure joy from start to finish, anchored by drummer Dave Klug, filled-in by Robert's world-class piano (and whistling) and brought to life by Wayno's charming ukulele skills and vocal delivery. Let The Joy Begin is now my go-to album when I need a lift, replacing Black Sabbath's Sabotage.
L-R: Dave Klug, Wayno, Tom Roberts
Tom McDermott has released many albums in his career as a New Orleans club fixture and is perhaps the most famous of my new virtual friends. I have one of his my father gave me called Louisianthology which, to my best guess, was conceived to introduce New Orleans jazz and its influences to children and employs a liberal use of electronic instruments to hold their attention.
Podge Hodge is McDermott's 17th CD release and also lives up to its name. It is a 24-track hodgepodge of tunes curated from earlier, out of print, albums along with a generous helping of refashioned numbers, many of which are previously unreleased. It sports a wide assortment of Jazz styles, full band numbers (clarinetist Evan Christopher is featured) and solo piano. As such, Podge Hodge serves as a perfect companion anthology to Louisianthology for adult ears.
Tom McDermott and friend - photo by John McCusker/The Advocate
I honestly had no clue who Charlie Dennard was when he sent me (!) a friend request on Facebook (I must have typed something pretty funny in one of Tom McDermott's threads). I had to look him up. You should too. His list of accomplishments and collaborations is too long to cite here, but it is impressive. He has a new album out of all original material titled Deep Blue. I am not even going to try to review this album because I'm not remotely qualified.
I've read several reviews of Deep Blue on jazz websites and, like just about everything my uncle Bernard Holland wrote about music in the New York Times, I didn't understand a word. One thing I can say is that I like it very much. It's beautiful. The arrangements are crisp, the engineering and mixing make you feel like you're in the room, and the musicians utilized to expand on Dennard's piano themes are clearly among the best in town.
The opening track "St Charles Strut" announces itself with a captivating drum solo and the motif teases you with the melody from "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" but stops short by repeating the penultimate (my father's favorite word) note rather than complete the familiar line. I honestly am not sure whether Dennard is doing this on purpose or he is just too high brow a musician to be aware of it.
These three wonderful releases, along with a box full of CDs my dad sent me - teeming with George Lewis, The Dukes of Dixieland, Errol Garner and countless others - are finally getting through to me and for this, I am grateful.
https://www.facebook.com/RedBeansCombo/ https://www.tomrobertspiano.com/red-beans-rice-combo http://mcdermottmusic.com/
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.