“Six Pieces For Orchestra” - A review of Tony Banks’ new album by Kristine Fleckenstein.

Upon receiving Six Pieces For Orchestra in the mail today (31st March 2012), I instantly opened it up to take a listen to the pieces. It is with great pleasure as an ardent Tony Banks fan to write this review as I listen to this new album from Tony.

Siren - A majestic, warm intro with strings and woodwind. Martin Robertson’s alto saxophone playing is beautiful, warm and expressive but it doesn’t overpower the orchestra. His playing blends in with the music and compliments it. The melody line is very reminiscent of keyboard solos Banks has composed in the past for Genesis. Similar top the sweetness of One For The Vine. Deep bass lines in the orchestra are present in the piece as well. This composition has a warmth very much like some of the music that Tony composed for The Wicked Lady soundtrack. This first track is very similar to the mood of Spring Tide on Seven; bright, bubbly and warm. It is a very springy sounding piece with a mix of pastoral qualities, romantic but with grandeur. There is a great deal of emphasis on the strings and woodwind in this one as well as low and mellow brass instruments such as the French horn. There is a yearning quality to this piece, but a mood of strength and confidence too. Given that this piece was written with a female protagonist in mind, the seductress persona. This one definitely lives up to the personality of such a character. Confident, beautiful, majestic, the kind that could light up a room when she walks into it.

Still Waters - complex chord sequences, slow and moody. This one is written in the true Banksian tradition. With the focus on the oboe and strings there are some very exotic chord changes in this. It takes turns you don’t quite expect them to. It is like a journey into the unknown, floating on a flowing river. You never quite know where this one is going to take you. This piece has Tony’s gentle sounds. A rather different touch is a viola playing the main melody of the piece; a refreshing change in the Tony Banks orchestral genre. The piece is reflective; it flows like water. Strong bass sections enter later in the piece, very much like the brassy synth sounds Tony has used on pieces on A Curious Feeling (In The Dark or Forever Morning) spring to mind. The strings get higher up in key towards the latter half of the piece , adding to a deeper yearning quality that the track has. The oboe’s melody line in this calls wistfully in the distance. I get the imagery of a river in the dawn covered in fog with the woods surrounding it. Clear Banksian romanticism.

Blade - Rather intense introduction with a rushing string crescendo. Charlie Siem’s violin playing is expressive, yearning, it really tugs at the heartstrings. This piece rushes in with a romantic feeling, beautiful chords that flow, lovely arpeggios from the woodwind. Harmonically it flows with unexpected twists and turns. Majestic beauty in the strings and low brass. This is one of the strong points of the album. Siem’s technical virtuosity is featured exclusively in this piece but the faster sections are balanced with longer sustained notes that pull and tug. There is magnificence to this piece that really shines and glimmers and yet cuts right to the heart. The melody line in this piece is absolutely superb. It pulls with a deep yearning. There are qualities to it that are reminders of previous Genesis keyboard solos such as The Cinema Show. The orchestration is large, lush and expansive with crescendos and decrescendos throughout the piece.

There is a great deal of warmth from the strings, complex key changes. It feels like a song without words thanks to the arrangement of the piece. The melodic and harmonic themes recapitulate themselves within it. The mood of the piece does paint a picture of the male protagonist. A heroic male figure; but one that is also a romantic soul, one whom you know will be out to save his female counterpart in time of need. This one is a ravishing delight for the ears.

Wild Pilgrimage - To counterbalance the intensity of Blade, Wild Pilgrimage has a very gentle chord sequence, similar to Black Down from Seven. From the start, it is a journey piece out into the unknown. A solitary walk in an open field. Warm, full, magnificent and delicate chords come from the strings, low brass and a main melody line is played by the upper strings and upper woodwind. It has a delicate yearning. Various elements of the woodwind play melodic themes that convey a feeling of yearning and questing; searching for what lies ahead on the journey. The music has a mood where one is wistfully looking back into the past but then resolves itself into looking forward into the future, and seeking to resolve in the present moment, embarking on the journey. With a moderato pace to the music in the first half, with some quicker moments towards the end, it shows the anticipation of reaching one’s goals. There are brief pauses of reflection from both the woodwind and brass and then a sense of eager persistence to keep going on one’s journey. This is clearly a reflective piece, uplifting and gentle. The last note has a fantastic resolution and it is clear a decision has been made.

The Oracle - The intro is gentle, inviting, mysterious. Unexpected twists and turns in the melody line are played by the oboe. It asks questions. The tone of the melody line seems similar to the flute introduction to the Genesis song, Domino but they achieve a resolution when they go into a major key. This piece has a lot of emphasis on the woodwind in the orchestra; flutes, clarinets, oboe and piccolo. A gentle counsellor type of mood in this piece seeks advice from within. A gentle call, one’s conscience directing them towards their goal. The piece resolves itself unexpectedly towards the end, since the piece is hypnotic and it keeps the mind going in a stream of consciousness that the music takes it. There is a clear emphasis on a major key tonality in the piece, much like that heard in Siren.

City Of Gold - The piece shines in the introduction. Warm strings and woodwind, major tonality but there is also a feeling of mystery with yet more unexpected chord changes. The strings and brass come out in a m majestic and towering mood, echoing the theme in Blade. The orchestral sound is full and it takes you to your final destination. It is also an unknown place that is waiting to be explored. The melody lines in the brass also echo themes from pieces Banks has written for Seven such as The Spirit Of Gravity. The music gradually intensifies with arpeggios from the woodwind and warm sustained notes from the strings and brass pull the musical idea along into the heart of the final destination of the music. There are moments of pause and reflection from delicate melodies on the oboe and slow sustained strings. The strings are reminiscent of those used on the likes of Fading Lights. Then the piece intensifies after another pause for reflection, the strings and brass pulling up higher. A contrast between intensity and reflection goes on throughout the piece. It has majesty and grandeur. The brass sounds along with the strings are balanced with each other. The oboe melody has a sound reminiscent of tracks from both A Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering. Towards the finale of the piece, the music shimmers with the chimes of piccolos and higher woodwind and the brass fanfares. The tremolo strings in the last part give way to the trills of the high woodwind and a fanfare of brass. A majestic piece as a whole.

Over all the album is magnificent, reflective, yearning with warm grandeur. It has an inviting quality. Even with the absence of Tony’s keyboard work which is something fans of his rock material would wish to hear more of, the album would satisfy the listener with the warmth and emotion of the tracks. They have a newfound sense of confidence and an exploratory quality. Even if the tracks are given a programme, they can be appreciated purely on an abstract level. It is best to listen to them on that level to really grasp their beauty. Tony Banks has composed a fine orchestral mind journey; the soundtrack to anyone’s life; the listener’s personal wild pilgrimage to their very own city of gold.

Our thanks to Kristine for sending in this review.

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