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Jon And Vangelis

The Friends of Mr. Cairo

Review by Gary Hill

Jon Anderson and Vangelis released several albums over the years. Their merging of musical styles and ideas has always worked quite well from my point of view. While there was one disc before this, Short Stories, this was the one that really got them attention. It was also the first one that came up on my radar. Vangelis is probably best known for movie soundtrack music and “new age” sounds, but if you really look into his past he was also a progressive rock musician in the band Aphrodite’s Child. In fact, at one point he nearly joined Yes. So, it seems like it must have been destiny for these two men to work together. This album is a great one, with only one song that I am not totally hooked on. I’m not sure that I’d say this is my favorite Jon and Vangelis disc (Private Collection is near and dear to my heart, too) but this one will always be right up there. The blending of new age sounds with progressive rock ones is a great marriage. This still holds up remarkably well, even in a totally different millennium. If you haven’t checked out Jon and Vangelis I can think of no better starting point.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
I'll Find My Way Home
A bouncy musical backdrop creates the ground on which Anderson weaves his trails of lyrics. Vangelis works this arrangement up towards more lush territory as it carries onward. A pretty song, this one makes for a solid opener. The break midsong where Vangelis adds to his musical layers is particularly strong. Anderson reenters after this with a renewed vitality and power and with the added emotion in the musical arrangement the song really flies.
State of Independence
Starting with a quick burst of jazzy sounds, this one moves out into a bouncing, playful musical journey. Anderson’s vocals have a bit of Reggae or world approach on their delivery. This one is a cut that feels rather like it could have made it onto one of his solo albums. Handclaps serve to add to the world music feel of the piece. When a saxophone solo soars out later the vocalist adds in layers of sound to create a new texture. This one is a lot more energized and “fun” than the disc’s opener. When it comes back from the instrumental interlude Anderson’s voice is slower and more angelic in its delivery – soothing and creating a melody line of its own in the process. He intensifies this approach as he carries it onward and Vangelis keyboard arrangement rises in response to serve as a fitting accompaniment. Later, as Anderson lays down more and more emphatic reiterations of the chorus, Vangelis turns the melody a bit dark and dramatic. It swings back out from there, though in the pretty jazzy modes to take the cut along. After a false ending a short reprise, with even more world textures enters to take the song through a short series of different reiterations before ending. This has always been one of my favorite pieces on the disc. The funny thing is, I heard a female R & B singer (after researching this just now it looks like it must have been Donna Summer – who would’ve thought the disco queen would cover a song written by Mr. Yes!) doing a version of this while I was shopping in a couple of stores. Even with a different arrangement and performance this cut is strong enough to stand up well.
Beside
A beautiful piano melody leads this off. Jon spins his vocal magic, his melody lines oozing with emotion and power. This is a gentle ballad that has a powerfully evocative structure. While the arrangement intensifies and magnifies this essence as it moves forward, they see fit to leave well enough alone on something that works. While there are songs I prefer on this disc, it is one of my favorites, and Anderson’s performance here might be the best on the disc. This is another that, while it would be somewhat altered, would be quite at home on an Anderson solo disc. In fact, it reminds me a lot of some of the material from Song of Seven.
The Mayflower
Magical sedate keyboard sounds merge in the ether with Anderson’s voice as this wonderful piece begins ever so gradually. The vocals are layered atop one another and at times the sounds of waves also sweep through the arrangement. When this begins to build up – still very slowly – it takes on a dramatic beauty that is stunning. They still keep it quite sedate until about three minutes in, although Anderson’s singing brings a definite power and drama to the piece. Then Vangelis brings multiple layers of sound and majestic energy into play. Several spoken clips link the original Mayflower to a future space mission of a vessel called “Mayflower.” After this the number turns more towards rock territory and more vocals are heard. Vangelis takes it from there, flowing lines of musical power over the surface of textures he has created. We get more spoken “chatter” from the space mission as the arrangement gradually falls away. In fact, those deep space signals are accompanied near the end by only very textural musical elements. This is one of the highlights of the disc and incredibly powerful piece of music.
The Friends of Mr. Cairo
Everyone has probably heard this track at least once or twice in their life. With the sounds of a 1920’s gangster shoot out, this kicks in with a jumping, bouncy sort of rhythm. Dialogue that feels like it could have come from a vintage film comes over the top and then Vangelis creates lines of melody to accompany this. As a crashing car sound is heard Anderson begins singing this tribute to old cinema. When the verses end and Vangelis creates keyboard fills there are more pseudo-movie clips in the mix. An extended instrumental segment has many more of these dialogue sections. Then Anderson spins a new vocal segment that is inspired and powerful. While the musical section that accompanied him was a change from the earlier themes, Vangelis shifts it back from there, then drops it to atmosphere. A voice simulating Jimmy Stewart enters. Then Vangelis reiterates the main musical line, but far in the mix. Next his keys signal an Arabian sound and more dialogue brings in elements of those type films. The music threatens to return here, flirting at the edges, but then a new melody shows signs of emerging. As this piano based section fully enters, Anderson puts down the cuts most powerful vocal treatment. While I particularly like the early segment of the composition, the evocative nature of this segment is unparalleled by anything else on the CD. This final movement is so powerful and beautiful it has to be heard to be experienced. If memory serves, though, there was a shorter version of this song released as a single (actually I own the single but have no working turntable to play it on) that did not have this section in the number at all. If I am remembering that correctly it is a crime because as good as the first elements are the song simply does not shine nearly as brightly without this closing treatment. As a definite fan of Humphrey Bogart this song has always lived in a special place in my heart. The truth of the matter is, though, even without the personal connection to the lyrical content, this is a strong piece of music and my favorite on the disc.
Back To School
Here is a bouncy, rock and roll treatment. It’s fun, but not anywhere near to standing on the same level as the rest of the disc. While I do like this song, if there were a throwaway here, this would be it. That’s based more on the strength of the rest of the disc than it is on this cut, though. There are some nice retro keyboard textures on this and the sax solo is a nice touch. This just pales in comparison to everything around it. That said, I’m not sure that a lot of songs could stand up well after the killer that is the title track.
Outside of This (Inside of That)
This number finds its way back into the pretty and sedate ballad ways. It’s a gentle and beautiful track with both men merging their talents to create a captivating and enriching listening experience. I couldn’t imagine a more satisfying conclusion to the disc.
 
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