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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Chris Squire

Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir

Review by Gary Hill

This Christmas disc from Yes bassist Chris Squire came out last year, but I’ve just now gotten my hands on it. It seems likely that people will try to compare this to Jon Anderson’s Three Ships, but really the two discs are completely different. Anderson’s had a more electronic, prog meets ‘80’s music and world sounds feel. Squire has brought in a full choir and seems to be looking to take that choral feel and bring it into a more rock oriented structure. Of course, when you consider that Squire’s musical beginnings were as part of a church choir, this really makes a lot of sense. To help him in quest Squire has also recruited Steve Hackett. The music here seems to run between more prog rock oriented arrangements and those that would fall closer to the pure choral – and perhaps lean along the lines of new-age music. For someone like myself who grew up in the United States many of these pieces are unfamiliar, but I’m guessing they are standards in the UK. Squire has also included the song “Run With The Fox” that he recorded years ago with Alan White. I believe this is the same version that appeared on the Yesyears set and since I previously reviewed that CD set I’ll use the track review of that song here for the sake of consistency.

Track by Track Review
Adam Lay Y'Bounden
Here’s a song I’m not familiar with. I’m guessing it’s in Welsh. The first minute or so are in a purely choral fashion. Then it fires out into a cool jazzy groove. The choir comes in over the top of this as they carry on. It shifts out from there into a killer jam that’s very much along the lines of something from Yes and we get some awesome guitar work over the top. The choir returns as this continues.

I Saw Three Ships
The rock stylings come in as this one starts off. The choir creates the vocal line and the song moves as a less proggy number. While the choral vocals are the main ones on this we do get some more rock oriented ones, too. This is a rather playful number not nearly as elegant or involved as the opener.

O Come O Come Emmanuel
Another track that I’m not really familiar with, this starts off with mellow and quite pretty musical elements. It begins to grow in a definite progressive rock way. I wouldn’t say the music makes me think of Yes, but the bass work does, of course. We get choral vocals over a mellow rock backdrop. As layers are added (guitar and other elements in addition to more vocals) this becomes quite dramatic and powerful. Later it shifts out to more rocking territory. This is one of the strongest pieces on show here.

Silent Night/Night Of Silence
Acoustic guitar stylings start this. As the choir enters it feels like we might be in a church. The second half of this is a song I’m not familiar with. Chris Squire handles the lead vocal on much of this. I’m not sure I’d really call this song “rock” let along “progressive rock.” I would call it “pretty,” though.

Ding Dong Merrily On High
I’ve always really liked this song. Squire’s version starts off with a decidedly Beatles-like texture. That texture seems to still remain when the vocals enter, but they are buried between layers of choral singing. It works out to a smooth rock instrumental segment but then the chorus returns.

The Three Kings
This song apparently is similar (at least in terms of concept) to “We Three Kings.” Musically it’s quite different. The arrangement here is more of a pure choral one than a rock take. Squire does take lead vocals throughout much of the track but the choir still plays a big role, too.

Sans Day Carol
The choir starts this sans instrumental accompaniment. They continue acapella for a little over half a minute. Then the rock band sounds enter and the track takes on a whole different texture. This has a definite smooth jazz feeling to it. In some ways I’m reminded of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas music, but I really can’t pinpoint why. This is a cool track. It’s got some interesting guitar work later in the piece, too.

Personent Hodie
A bass line that makes me think of Squire’s Fish Out of Water album starts things off here. The choir joins and we’re off. This really feels very much like (minus the choir and orchestration) it could have been from that earlier solo disc. It’s a cool piece of music, although it’s another track that I’ve never heard of before. This arrangement gets pretty involved as it carries on.

Sussex Carol
Well, with that title I’d figure that this is something very much Native to England. The track has a lot more rock feeling to it than some of the other stuff here. The vocals alternate from more “rock like” ones and choral. There’s a certain playful nature to this. It’s a good piece of music, even if it feels a bit “lightweight” compared to some of the other stuff here. The arrangement does take on a lot of layers later, though.

Gaudete
Here’s another with which I’m completely unfamiliar. This has a great melodic structure. It alternates between a rock motif (with choral vocals) and an acapella vocal line. In some ways I can’t help but think of a marching band with the rhythmic structure of this piece. I like this one a lot. There are some definite jazzy prog elements here and there and it’s one of the more dynamic and complex arrangements in the whole set. As this is built upon it really becomes one of my favorite pieces.

In The Bleak Midwinter
I’m a stranger to this track, too. This is a very gentle piece that’s arranged like something you’d hear in a church. Squire takes some lead vocals but most of this is handled by the choir.

Past Three O’ Clock
This has a more rocking texture. It feels a lot like something from modern Yes. The choral vocals again bring a new dimension to the work. I like this track a lot, although if it’s a classic Christmas song it’s not around these parts.

Run With The Fox
Released by Squire and White as a Christmas single when Yes had ceased to be, this prog ballad with the bassman on lead vocals is a great song, both as a Yes track and a Christmas number. It feels a bit like a cross between Squire's Fish Out of Water album, Drama era Yes and a touch of ELP's Love Beach. That last influence can probably be explained by the fact that Pete Sinfield (who was responsible for that ELP album's lyrics) penned the words to this one. This has some nice touches like horns and strings, a killer bass line and is just a stellar tune. Its positive theme and texture are great.

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