Every year when we do our Holiday Gift Guide I make sure to throw some prog rock into the mix. I love the genre, and there always seems to be some cool new stuff coming from the bands I’m into. This year was no exception.
This release came as a complete surprise to all of us Yes fans. With the full cooperation of current Yesmen Steve Howe and Alan White, keyboardist Oliver Wakeman, who toured with the band from 2008 – 2011 compiled the unreleased studio tracks he worked on with Howe, White, Chris Squire and Benoit David for From A Page. They amount to 26 minutes of previously unheard material which also happens to be some of the best music Yes has made in the past 30 years. The four songs contained work beautifully together and demonstrate that both Wakeman and vocalist David were more than capable of living up the band members whose shoes they had stepped into (in the case of Oliver, the shoes just happened to belong to his legendary father, Rick Wakeman).
Along with new album art from Roger Dean and a booklet written by Oliver that details the recording process for these songs, From A Page also contains the previously released In The Present: Live From Lyon from this lineup with a previously Japan-only bonus song now included. The release is a pleasant surprise that is an integral piece of Yesmusic.
In the current musical scene, it is commonplace for an artist to announce a new album months in advance. That makes the impromptu release of this "new" mini-box set from Yes a definite surprise. The package includes the previously released In The Present - Live from Lyon, which is a great live representation of the 2008 - 2011 line-up of the band. However, if you already own the album, the new inclusion of Steve Howe's solo, Second Initial, (previously a Japanese only bonus track) won't likely entice you to purchase it again.
The true distinction of this collection is the EP-length studio album of previously unreleased recordings by the same era of the band (Steve Howe, Oliver Wakeman, Chris Squire, Benoit David and Alan White). This material predates the Fly From Here album in 2011, that saw Wakeman replaced by Geoff Downes. Recently, with the support and approval of Howe and White, Oliver Wakeman worked with producer Karl Groom to complete and mix these recordings. Make no mistake, these are not polished demos. They are fully produced songs that sound fantastic.
Most importantly, the majority of these four tracks are essential Yes, and amongst the best material that the band has released in the last two decades. It would have been a shame for these songs to remain sitting on a shelf somewhere. Not only are they exceptional, they stand as a tribute to the late Chris Squire, whose musical imprint is all over them. The most recent Yes studio album, Heaven And Earth (2014), was not well received, but until now it stood as Squire's swan song. Though the tracks that make up From A Page were recorded a few years earlier, they are far superior.
To The Moment is a great example of the band's ability to be musically accessible, while still feeling wholly progressive. From the first note, the signature sounds are there and Squire's bass work is unmistakable. It also reminded me of the talent that Benoit David brought to the band. Words On A Page is comparable to Turn Of A Century from the Going For The One album, and like that song, is a great showcase for Steve Howe. These first two tracks were composed by Wakeman, but are very much band efforts. On the other hand, From The Turn Of A Card is essentially a Wakeman/David solo piece. Regardless, it doesn't feel out of place and is a strong track.
The Gift Of Love is a full band composition that is majestic and inspirational in a way that is unmistakably Yes. It is a fantastic song that can stand next to some of the great long-form YES classics of the past. The memorable chorus, sung in part by Chris Squire, is bittersweet to hear, but also a reminder of his brilliance.
Similar positive sentiment can be made about From A Page in general. It is somewhat odd that this fresh, vibrant material is almost ten years old, but it stands as a reminder of how good this band can be. It also makes one wonder if there aren't other treasures in the Yes vaults that just need a little bit of modern mixing. This surprise release is a must have for fans and a welcomed example of why Yes is one of the all time greats.
Within the last few months, I did a series of Yes studio album reviews as a way to commemorate their discography turning 50 years old. The last studio album review was Heaven & Earth, but then a week later, on October 25th, there was a surprise announcement. Now available via Burning Shed was From a Page, a collection of studio tracks worked on by Yes in 2010. At the time, the lineup consisted of Benoît David (vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Chris Squire (bass), Oliver Wakeman (keys), and Alan White (drums).
To me, this was a delightful surprise. I remembered seeing an old tweet by Oliver Wakeman containing titles of songs that did not make it onto 2011's Fly from Here, an album on which he only performed on three tracks and did not get his chance to shine as producer Trevor Horn had him replaced by Geoff Downes. While I love Fly from Here, I remember wondering what could have been as I typed my review of it. So to have Oliver (credited as producer) being allowed to release From a Page and have his chance to stand out really makes me happy.
There's also the matter of Benoît David. For much of Fly from Here, it felt like he was trying to emulate Trevor Horn. When Horn later replaced all of David's vocals for 2018's Fly from Here - Return Trip, there were fans here and there who felt as if David was essentially being erased from Yes history. Since he is featured on From a Page, as well as the live In the Present - Live from Lyon that was re-released with it in a mini boxset, things seem to have balanced out. Both David and Wakeman get their time in the spotlight, and we get to hear them alongside the other familiar members of this lineup, including the late Chris Squire.
1. "To the Moment"
"To the Moment" is a strong track to start this collection. It really begins with a heavy instrumental thrust. The shift from the intro to the way Benoit sings "I don't know what you're thinking when you close your eyes at night" somehow reminds me of "Be the One." The "From the moment of awakening" stanzas are accompanied by energetic interplay between the musicians. This music really does "pierce the gloom."
As the song continues, I'm ever aware of the textures that Oliver Wakeman adds to the background. His keys become more front and center nearly three and a half minutes in, sounding like his father in places. The guitar goes through a triumphant journey that reminds me of the Union songs "I Would Have Waited Forever" and "Silent Talking." And then Wakeman sweeps the space with his musical prowess in a way that reminds me of "Awaken," which is fitting given that "awakening" is a theme. I was worried about whether there would be a lack of Wakeman when I initially heard the single version of this track. But it's clear that some of the best stuff was saved for the full version. He plays until the end of the song, effectively cementing his place in the Yes discography.
2. "Words on a Page"
After such a heavy and impressive song, we are treated to somewhat lighter fare in the form of "Words on a Page." I am not sure why, but I love the way David delivers the words, "Magical worlds, distant planets." The keys and guitar notes make me think of "Madrigal." The bass adds to the reflective vibe. I'd also add that aspects of this song remind me of "Turn of the Century." I suppose one can say that "Words on a Page" feels like it could fit within the late '70s era of Yes.
As the song continues, I am even reminded of "To Ascend," a favorite of mine from Heaven & Earth. That song's lyrics "I will open the book / Raise the pen / Let it reinvent / My life again / Take me from where I am" come to mind as I hear the following lyrics from this "newer" song: "Journey that changes with time. Travel within the written word." I'm even reminded of that album's "Light of the Ages" as I hear, "All from the verse of an age." "Words on a Page" give me an impression of what Heaven & Earth could have ended up being had some of the material been fleshed out more.
When the drums are heard, they come in a bit of a power ballad form but do not overtake the atmosphere. The notes of the instrumental section feel very reflective. Before the singing returns, Howe's guitar soars and echoes through the valley imagined in my mind. "All from the hearts that you reach" resonates with me as a writer who hopes to make readers feel something.
3. "From the Turn of a Card"
"From the Turn of a Card" feels the most different from this collection. It was previously released on 2013's Ravens & Lullabies, an album by Gordon Giltrap and Oliver Wakeman. That album's version featured more instruments and had David on vocals. On From a Page, we have a stripped down version with just David and Wakeman, the former singing lead (in a lower register) and the latter playing piano and adding background vocals. From what I understand, this was never recorded with the rest of the band. I might actually prefer this newer version since the other one sounded a little bit too busy to me.
I could imagine this song being performed in a saloon-like place, or perhaps a parlor, or a classy club. It conveys a story about one not being certain about the future even when they seek guidance from others. Realistically, there is a bit of doubt since those who offer advice may not be all-knowing: "If you ask, they will tell, that things will soon turn out well. / Why can't I see, what you see?" Believing that things will get better is a gamble of sorts, which I suppose is why cards are a fitting motif. I am also reminded of tarot cards that people use to predict the future. The words "Now I can see" toward the end are reassuring.
4. "The Gift of Love"
The vibe of "The Gift of Love" remind me of "Kings and Queens" by 30 Seconds to Mars. Since that song was released in 2009, a year before "The Gift of Love" was recorded, I suspect that there may be a bit of an influence. Then again, the similarities could be coincidental. After all, it does not feel like an exact copy.
At the beginning, Squire's enigmatic bass is accompanied by keys announcing that this is a triumphant song worth placing at the end. The drumming is paced appropriately, step by step before the keys accelerate. Then the music slows down a little but still takes us on an optimistic journey. I am very fond of the sentiment "The Gift of Love is all we need." I also like how the song conveys the nature of dreams: "As I begin to dream I start to drift away / And I feel so free again." The latter line is repeated in a different way that conveys the free-flowing freedom.
I hear the scat singing that is sung on "The Game" from Heaven & Earth. It feels very positive and liberating to sing along to it. I love how this, the final track on From a Page, ties back to the first song, just as "Into the Storm" ties back to the "Fly from Here" song series: "From the moment of awakening / To the moment that we wake from our dream / and realise it's not real." Wakeman's notes cast an air of uncertainty at this realization, but the "speaker" of the song seems to pick up from where they left off, allowing positivity to gush forth in their life. This song, moreso than perhaps even "Words on a Page," reminds me of Heaven & Earth and what it could have been. David sings about the realization again, but with certainty, followed by a confident sort of scat singing promising that love will prevail. I am really grateful that David is showcased the way he is here.
Howe's guitar then comes to the forefront again, and then David repeats the realization. The music swirls around, and I can picture dream clouds going in a circle forming a tunnel through which to travel. From here to the end, we hear the repeating of "The Gift of Love is all we need," "Open your heart, live free," and the scat singing from "The Game." Wakeman also adds a nice piano contribution, and really, all the instruments convey such an energetic vibe that make this something worth hearing. The drumming telegraphs the inevitable end of the song seconds before it's over. And what a victorious voyage it has been. This is definitely my favorite track here, and I cannot imagine it being anything other than the final track.
As you can probably tell, I absolutely love this archival release. It really showcases what David and Wakeman are capable of doing. The whole lineup feels like it gelled well for these songs, and I'm glad that they saw the light of day. I'm sure that some fans may create playlists that mix and match these songs with those of the latter half of Fly from Here or even with songs from Heaven & Earth. But these four songs work really well together. If the current Yes lineup is indeed thinking of making a new studio album in the near future, then they may want to take a page from From a Page.
From a Page is an unexpected gift from Oliver Wakeman who decided after the death of Chris Squire to re-work on some lost recordings from the 2008-2010 Yes period. These four tracks shows what Fly from Here could have included if Oliver Wakeman had not been replaced by Geoff Downes to recreate the Drama formation. I will not says these tracks would have increase the quality of Fly From Here as I already consider Fly From Here as one of the best Yes album ever, no less. But it would not have decreased it either.
To The Moment is the hit single. Let's say, in other times, with another band, on another planet, it could have been a hit. Nice song with great vocals from Benoit David and really good instrumental section. Wakeman's keyboard shines all over the song.
Words On A Page is a delicate piece with great vocals and harmonies and an instrumental section in the middle starting with Wakeman's beautiful piano and followed by a perfect slide guitar section from Steve Howe. If you think Sad Night At The Airfield is a great track, this one should also do the trick. Probably the best track of this mini album.
From The Turn Of A Card is probably the least Yes style of the lot. It is a new version of a track initially recorded by Oliver Wakeman, Benoit David and Gordon Giltrap in 2013. Wakeman took the vocal part and re-recorded a softer piano-only arrangement. This is a great track nevertheless and it is very interesting to hear Benoit David's "real" voice (a lower pitch), once he had not to mime Jon Anderson anymore.
Finally, The Gift of Love is a combination of two different compositions. One from Oliver Wakeman and the other from Chris Squire which will resurface later in a very different version as The Game on the beloved Heaven & Earth album. Very interesting to see how you can create such different songs and atmosphere with the same basis.
In the end, the only default of this mini album is its length: only 26 minutes long. Wakeman states that they were also working on Into the Storm, The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be and Don't Take No For An Answer during these sessions. It would have been interesting to see Wakeman's versions of these tracks (specially Into The Storm that he co-wrote) and it would have give us a full album, the third version of Fly From Here that we could have called "Fly from Here - Final Boarding Call For Passengers.
Wow! That was a surprise! It’s unusual in this day of pre-orders that an album appears and is available on the day it is announced – but that’s what has happened with the new Yes release From A Page.
For anyone not aware of the band’s history, when Jon Anderson took ill in 2008, and Rick Wakeman decided not to continue, the remaining band members, Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White, brought in vocalist Benoit David and keyboard player Oliver Wakeman, to reactivate the band and tour, successfully keeping the band/ its name alive. After several years of successful touring, the band began exploratory writing and recording sessions which ultimately resulted in some typical Yes personnel reshuffles, with former Yes members Geoff Downes (keyboards) and Trevor Horn (production) returning, bringing with them song ideas which ultimately took the place of some of those developed by the touring line up. Songs were set aside and replaced by those that Horn and Downes had developed and remained unheard – until now!
In a process that was sparked by the passing of Chris Squire, and which has continued over the last few years, Oliver Wakeman has labored to bring some of the recorded, but previously unheard material from the 2010 writing/ recording sessions, to release, with the approval of Yes, in this deluxe box set. The box set is filled out with the Live In Lyon album, until now the only official release by this line up during its existence. So how does it shape up?
What we have here are four new tracks (five if you include the Edit of one track on the vinyl). Three of these are full Yes performances and one is a contemporary song which has been complete in a sympathetic way. Kicking off with “To The Moment” it’s obvious that this is “proper Yes” rather than scraps or leftovers. This isn’t a “Free As A Bird” pieced together from spare parts… it’s clear from what you hear that this was a track completed to a very advanced stage with overdubs, backing vocals and everything you’d expect in a fully fledged song. As a lead off track it is extremely strong – Chris Squire’s distinctive vocals and bass are present, and the dueling soloing of Howe and Wakeman demonstrate the incredible strengths of both players. Benoit David’s vocal performance is superb showing his capabilities extended beyond just being a mere Anderson fill-in. On “Fly From Here” it was clear to many, and subsequently acknowledged, that in many cases Benoit was re-singing Trevor Horn’s guide vocals, complete with what I would call “Horn Vowel Sounds” (if you don’t know what I mean, listen for the emphasized Es when Benoit sings “Fly From HEEERE” or “RIEEDING the Tiger”). I have to say on first listen this track blew me away, and with repeated listenings it still feels like an extremely strong Yes track, of a different kind to what we got on FFH.
“Words On A Page”, the almost title track, is next. Perhaps the strongest song on the mini-album, it’s a more relaxed and softer song than we’ve heard from Yes in a long time. If I could draw a parallel, the acoustic guitar and piano lead in, with wonderfully sympathetic playing by Howe and Wakeman, “Turn of the Century” is what springs to mind. As we hear in this and the next track, Benoit is singing comfortably in a slightly lower register than Yes lead singers usually do, but it’s no less Yes-like in its execution. As bass joins with a beautiful counterpoint, White presents light drum rolls and rhythms which underpin the expanding melody. A real highlight of this track is a superb slide guitar solo from Howe, which follows a mid song quieten-down. Simply put, this is just Classic Yes of a kind we have never heard before.
I had mentioned before that a contemporary track “Turn of a Card” is included here which isn’t quite a direct product of the recording sessions. It turned up in a full band version, with Benoit singing, on a joint Oliver Wakeman/ Gordon Giltrap album. However, for this version (of a song written by Oliver at the time of, and envisaged as a contender for, the next album), Wakeman has take Benoit’s vocal track from the Giltrap version, and augmented it with a lovely piano part. It’s a very worthy addition to the album and very much in keeping with what precedes and follows it.
Finally this mini-album ends with an almost 10 minute epic. Writing is credited to all five members, and Wakeman explains the origins of the song in the detailed notes which are included in the accompanying booklet.The core of the piece is constructed from parts written by Squire and him – echoes of “The Game” – a track from the most recent Yes studio album, Heaven and Earth – are present but that’s all fine. Again, the recording captures what sounds like a fully recorded song, with backing vocals and instrumental solos present. Pastoral but powerful, this is another great song and one I’m certainly glad to be able to hear.
The “Live in Lyon” double live CD is also part of the passage. Let’s face it there have been quite a few (4 in fact) live Yes albums since this one was released. Revisiting it, it did surprise me at how different it sounds to what has followed. The timbre of David’s voice lets you know it’s him – and not either Jon – singing. The set list goes deep with “Astral Traveller”, “Machine Messiah”, “Onward” and “Tempus Fugit” rarely performed tracks at that point in Yes history, and even something like “South Side of the Sky” being an outlier track. They are all superbly performed with energy and gusto, and it’s hard to find fault with what’s here. Even something like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is performed possibly in the best Howe-band version I’ve heard. Oliver Wakeman was a great addition to the band – able to cover the styles of Kaye, Downes and his father in this release, and getting the balance right between playing all the notes the faithful want to hear, while bringing his own style to bear.
In summary, I expect a huge “Thank You” to Oliver Wakeman (certainly from me!) for this box set and the glimpse of what was and what could have been that it gives us. For Yes fans, it is a must-have release, and a package that is a worthy tribute to that under-represented album / era.