ANDERSON/STOLT - Invention Of Knowledge
When Jon Anderson left Yes, I assumed that he felt that it was time to retire. A falsetto voice like his must sometime come to its limits, and considering that he is currently seventy-one years old, that might have been a fair assumption. Yes continued with Jon Davison on vocals. He used to be in a Yes cover band, and has a good enough voice, close to the original actually, and yet Yes’ album Heaven & Earth from 2014 was the most harmless drivel I have ever heard from a progressive rock band. That same year, Jon Anderson did some guest vocals with Transatlantic during live shows, and that’s where he met Roine Stolt, with currently fifty-nine years not a youngster either. Stolt is otherwise known as a member of Swedish cult prog rock bands Kaipa who started already in the mid-Seventies, and later the probably even better known The Flower Kings.
And to be honest, a lot of Roine Stolt’s music doesn’t sound that interesting. Too often he sounds too much the same, which is what happens when you release too much music… so far he’s published more than three dozen albums, in bands and as a solo artist. And still I was very eager to hear his collaboration with Jon Anderson. Both are very important figures for the progressive rock scene. Jon Anderson is one of the genre’s pioneers, while Roine Stolt’s been also already active for more than four decades, and has a lot of great material written in all of that time.
Invention Of Knowledge sees Anderson on vocals and additional keyboards, while Stolt plays all kinds of guitars and keyboards. Many guest musicians take care that the record gets the sound it deserves. Most notably we have Jonas Reingold on bass guitar, shared with Michael Stolt, who is probably Roine’s little brother. Grand piano is played by Tom Brislin and Lalle Larsson. Lots of people are doing backing vocals, among others the genial Nad Sylvan and Pain Of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlöw. On drums we have session drummer Felix Lehrmann, and even though he played already for pop artists (Yvonne Catterfeld, Lena Meyer-Landrut), he show here that he is also a very proficient progressive rock drummer.
The album only contains four long tracks, most of them subdivided into two or three parts. The opener and title track Invention Of Knowledge is a clear nod to Yes, with everything taking a bow to Yes’ classic sound. The deep bass guitar and the backing vocals recall the late Chris Squire, the guitars at times recall Steve Howe, and the song with its generous twenty-three-minute length has a lot of critics compare the entire album to Yes’ double vinyl record Tales From Topographic Ocean. This was never one of my favourites, and I claim without hesitation that Invention Of Knowledge is far livelier. A lot of stuff is happening, with classic prog rock parts being followed by gospel sounds, which fits the very esoteric lyrics. Not my cup of tea in that department, but that’s Jon Anderson for you.
From now on, the songs get shorter, with the following Knowing only seventeen minutes long. This two part track mostly lives from great grand piano parts that sound as if Bruce Hornsby had discovered progressive rock. The third track Everybody Heals, although coming once again in three parts, is only thirteen minutes long. This is another highly melodic track with some unexpected catchy parts, and while the album is dwelling mostly on the pastoral side of symphonic progressive rock, its last part allows for some weird, strange textures. The album ends with the eleven minute short Know..., the only song which has not been subdivided. This is also the one track that doesn’t try so hard to sound like Yes, and while this may dismay the old school hardcore fans of the British prog legend, it is also nice to hear that Jon Anderson and Roine Stolt can do something different together.
Earlier on in the review I was voicing my concern over Jon Anderson’s voice, but he still has an incredibly high and flawless organ at the age of seventy-one. The production of the album is perfect, marrying the warmth of early prog classics with the depth of more contemporary music. Invention Of Knowledge is hardly ever original, but the songwriting is more decent than one could have anticipated. Next to progressive rock, there are elements as diverse as folk, gospel, pop, jazz and much more. Just don’t try to compare it to Tales From Topographic Oceans. Both albums may feature four long tracks, but that’s where the similarities already end. Invention Of Knowledge is far more focused and as such pure pleasure for the ears. The last time Yes sounded great must have been twenty years ago with Keys To Ascension, and Roine Stolt can also claim this new record to be one of his career’s highlights. This is what my proggy heart has been beating for all along.