|©1975 Repertoire Records
1. Trip To The Fair
2. The Vultures Fly High
3. Ocean Gypsy
4. Song Of Scheherazade
For those poor unfortunates entirely unfamiliar with Renaissance, they were a progressive rock band of formidable talent that released a series of tightly executed neo-classical rock albums throughout the 1970s. Of their albums, Scheherazade is generally considered their finest hour. Since I only own Scheherazade and a piecemeal "hits" (I don't know if a band this obscure really warrants the word "hits") compilation, I tend to agree. Unlike many of the more wacky sonic adventurers of the progressive rock golden age (many of which were burned in effigy during the heyday of punk), Renaissance is pretty close to tasteful, and yes, even incredibly beautiful in spots.
The music of Renaissance in simple terms, is basically an infusion of Romantic piano music (largely influenced by the Russian repertoire) with a highly active rock rhythm section, subtle jazz playfulness, and the beautiful folky voice of Annie Haslam. Haslam alone is worth the price of admission, with her warm mid-ranged tone and her more rough, higher range. Not quite rock or classical, her voice falls on the perfect middle ground of British folk music. The piano and harpsichord work of John Tout is simply outstanding, leading the music with a galloping charge of power, technique and emotion. The bass and percussion dominate the remainder of the music, often times moving at tempos rivaling thrash. There is little room for guitar in the music and it only surfaces here and there without any distortion whatsoever, but who cares? The music is dense enough without guitar, especially when the guest orchestra players are factored in, or did I forget to mention their contribution?
The album contains a mere four songs, but two are over seven minutes and the final track clocks in at roughly twenty five. Each song represents a slightly different dimension of the band's work: "Trip to the Fair" is an eerily atmospheric piece with a mocking carnival theme, "The Vultures Fly High" is an example of the band's penchant for direct visceral assaults and aggressive vocal deliveries, while "Ocean Gypsy" demonstrates a fondness for heart wrenching tragedy and "Song of Scheherazade" makes clear the band's more grandiose symphonic ambitions. The songs are complimented with richly textured strings and opulent trumpet lines, all of which lend the music a vibrant heraldic quality. The songs revel in their differences, but also come together rather coherently to create a universal thematic quality throughout the record's duration.
Renaissance has (I say "has" since the band has recently reformed) the uncanny ability to take very complex compositional ideas and render them perfectly listenable and accessible. Many progressive rock bands were simply unable to find a middle ground between artsy sophistication and, well, rock music. Renaissance understood the proper formula and were therefore able to cut some very memorable and catchy tunes from the often obstinate jazz and classical traditions. Scheherazade could very well be the best symphonic rock album of the seventies.
Review by James Slone
Review date: 09/2000