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Jon And Vangelis

The Best of Jon and Vangelis

Review by Gary Hill

Best Of releases are always an iffy scenario. As opposed to “Greatest Hits,” which are fairly cut and dry, “Best Of” indicates a “quality question.” That’s objective. That means that pretty much everyone will have their opinion of what song is and isn’t of sufficient merit to be included. Well, I personally can’t quibble too much with the selection here. I mean, yes, I would have loved to hear “Horizon” on here, but epics aren’t really prime compilation material. I’m also a bit underwhelmed by a lot of the Short Stories stuff, but there’s only a few tracks from that disc. This would be a good introduction to the team of Jon Anderson and Vangelis. It should be noted that since I’ve reviewed both Friends of Mr. Cairo and Private Collection, the track by track reviews presented here are adapted from those for the sake of consistency.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Italian Song
Pretty and gentle, this is a delicate piece of music. Anderson’s vocals are ethereal and the keys (while airy) manage to hold it down.

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.
One More Time
This starts with a sort of experimental, electronic musical texture. When it moves into the central balladic segment it gets a more melodic and developed sound. Really Anderson’s powerful vocal performance drives most of this track, but Vangelis’ keys do brings some soulful layers later. The track takes a little bit of time to get going in earnest, but it’s worth the wait.
Play Within A Play
The first half of this is built on a gentle, playful sort of styling. Some of the music in this section feels a little awkward to me. Anderson’s vocals pull it together, though. As it works out into the later section it gains energy and volume. It’s a hard rocking sort of sound that moves fast and has a bit of a Kraftwerk sort of feeling to it. I would have loved to hear Anderson put his vocals over this, but it doesn’t happen. Instead the track works back down to the mellower motifs for the next vocal movement. This is a cool piece, but not one of my favorites on show here.
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.

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.

He Is Sailing
This track had a greater degree of success than much of the rest of from which it originated (Private Collection). There’s a reason for that. It’s one of the highlights of that album. It’s got a more rocking nature to it, but doesn’t sacrifice the beauty and magic to achieve it. The vocal hook is one of the most effective here, too. This is just a great tune and still holds up quite well. They work through a number of changes, and it’s a track that shows plenty of elements of the creative efforts of both participants.
I Hear You Now
Rather bouncy, this is a catchy tune that has a spiritual feeling to it. It’s pretty, even if a bit on the gentle side. It’s an effective number to close the set. I really like the closing section with its space keys ala Hawkwind a lot.
 
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