Keys To Ascension 2 by Yes

June 2, 2011

Vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and drummer Alan White had an inspiration during 1996.They reformed as the classic Yes line-up, recorded live tracks from a three-night stand in San Luis Obispo, California, added a few new studio songs, and released Keys To Ascension. It proved to be a commercial and critical success.

If at first you succeed, stay on the gravy train. They returned a year later with more live tracks from the San Luis Obispo concerts, and more new studio songs, and released another album appropriately called Keys To Ascension 2 (a two-disc set). Unfortunately, Rick Wakemen wanted to release the studio tracks as a stand-alone album with a live bonus disc but was outvoted. He promptly left the band for the fourth time, if you are keeping count.

The quality is very close to its predecessor, but I tend to like the studio tracks on disc two a little better than the live tracks on disc one. All in all, it comes out about the same and is one of the better modern Yes albums.

The live “I’ve Seen All The Good People,” “And You And I,” and the just under 20-minute long “Close To The Edge” are like having an old friend come to visit. They have all appeared on numerous releases, and while nothing really new is added here, you appreciate their presence nevertheless.

The shorter pieces fare a little better, as they are changed a bit. “Time And A Word” is built around some masterful piano work from Rick Wakemen. “Turn Of The Century” is a Steve Howe guitar clinic, as he brings his classical guitar expertise to the forefront.

The studio tracks are built upon the epic and intense 18-minute long “Mind Drive.” It is as good as any extended track Yes has ever produced. It has distinct parts that explore the overall melody before returning to the basic theme. Eighteen minutes can be a long time for one song, but this is one of those occasions where Yes makes the length work in its favor. The other outstanding studio track was “Foot Prints.” Chris Squire carries the early part of the song alone and then settles in for some of the better bass lines of his career.

Keys To Ascension 2 was another album that reassured the Yes fan base that everything was fine. It remains a nice live update for some of their better known songs and a good introduction to some new studio material.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Keys To Ascension 2 [2-CD Set] on Blogcritics.

The Six Wives Of Henry VIII (DVD) by Rick Wakeman

October 22, 2009

Thirty six years after its initial release Rick Wakeman has returned with a live DVD version of his classic album The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Wakeman’s dream of performing this work live at Hampton Court Palace was realized on May 1 and 2, 2009 before a sold out audience of about 5000 for each show.

Rick Wakeman has been an on and off member of Yes since 1971 and was a part of such classic releases as Fragile and Close To The Edge. His latest tenure with Yes ran from 2002-2006. He began his career as a member of the group Strawbs and if I have one gripe with this release it would be the exclusion of their acoustic set which preceded his performance. It would have been nice to have seen his pre-Yes group in action.

Let me say that I played my vinyl copy of this album to death when it was originally released and I was not the only one, as it was a huge hit selling close to fifteen million copies worldwide. It was a unique album in its day. It was the first of several concept albums for Wakeman, but more importantly it also expanded upon the electric keyboard sound that Wakeman had helped to popularize as a member of Yes. Nearly four decades later it is easy to forget just how influential he was in the development of various keyboard instruments as a dominant sound in rock music.

He was wise enough to make this presentation a spectacle as well as a performance. The English Rock Ensemble, Orchestra Europa, and The English Chamber Choir are all on board for support which helps fill out and expand the sound and serves to enhance to music. Wakeman also wrote new opening and closing pieces, but the highlight is the inclusion of the song “Defender Of The Faith” which was cut from the original album for space reasons.

In the final analysis, however, it all comes down to the music which remains as good as ever. Wakeman is still a keyboard wizard and he moves smoothly through the movements. Whether you are familiar with the music or experiencing it for the first time it is a treat.

Its nice that a complete performance of this classic work has now been recorded and issued. It is a must for fans of Wakeman, Yes, keyboards, or better yet good music