Expansive yet concise observation of multicolored, if pastel-hued, works by the English National Treasure sort of musician.
For all the manifold of Anthony Phillips‘ albums – about three dozens of them – the guitarist’s debut single under his own name, “Silver Song” that wasn’t issued as planned in 1973, holds a microcosm of his music: there’s pop approach and prog promise, classical coating and GENESIS agenda, with Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins helping their friend realize his intent. Tentative then, four decades later every strain of it has taken on grand, although understated, proportions, so this deluxe box – comprising five CDs and running in a roughly chronological, release-wise, order – serves as a mere introduction to the artist’s labyrinthine lore. It holds deceptively simple ditties such as “Unheard City” and major scale ensemble works like “Slow Dance” – abridged here yet retaining its immaculate majestic swell – but, a particular track’s span notwithstanding, the collection demonstrates the continuous lyrical integrity of Phillips’ oeuvre.
Written while Ant was still with GENESIS, yet recorded 20 years later and signing off Disc 3 now, “Lucy – An Illusion” flutters like a cobweb in the wind and lets its Renaissance ring crystallize the folk melody into a well-wrought ornament which would serve as a pattern for Phillips’ first solo LP, “The Geese And The Ghost” from 1977. The entire first side of this hushed masterpiece lands on the box, after a few early cuts including the exquisitely layered “Field Of Eternity” – whose romantic idea is endlessly echoed in the “Harvest Of The Heart” title and in Peter Cross’ cover illustration – to outline the composer’s concept thinking. Yes, Anthony’s a composer first and foremost, not only performer, and leaving the band he’s still associated with for studying music immensely expanded Phillips’ creative scope. Distinct threads run through shorter pastel-hued musings like “Which Way The Wind Blows” and the multi-part “Henry – Portraits From Tudor Times” that paves the way for several suites scattered across Ant’s albums, albeit the latter’s symphonic solemnity dissolves in transparent passages before turning electric. Yet the strings and woodwinds of “Tarka,” which was started around the same time and finished only in the late ’80s, are breezily lucid as befits prose poetry in motion picked up on 1995’s sensual “Gypsy Suite,” the guitarist’s another collaboration with Harry Williamson.
There’s a natural history tincture to this delicately textured rootsiness of tunes – so alluring on selection from “Wildlife,” Anthony and flautist/percussionist Joji Hirota’s 2007 summary of their soundtracks to TV programmes – where the patina of tradition often hides modern techniques, but the compilation also creates additional timeline by putting stray tracks from the “Private Parts & Pieces” collections – all eleven of them, spanning 1978 to 2012 and comprised of both outtakes and specially fashioned music – into a wider context. That’s why a “Macbeth”-themed “Scottish Suite” crops up on Disc 1 to reveal, in the “Salmon Leap” art-rock scope, Ant’s immense skills as a keyboard player, something to come to the fore on a Rutherford B-side “Compression” making a rare appearance here, on an expressive instrumental remake of GENESIS’ “Let Us Now Make Love” from 1990, and on “1984”: a gloomy, ivories-led exploration of a dystopian idea ushered in with the transparent “Prelude ’84.”
Anthony’s appropriation of new-age would be manifested on 1985’s “Twelve,” the calendar-shaped “PP&P” installment whence the unplugged drama of “April” is pulled, and on “King Of The Mountains” from 2012, but getting there involves inroads into 1978’s “Wise After The Event” for the sprawling anxiety of that LP’s title epic and finding an answer to the question of “Now What (Are They Doing To My Little Friends)?” in its quiet-to-loud spiritual uplift. This shift provides a sharp contrast to the disco-kissed riffs of “Um & Aargh” from the next year’s “Sides” that balances joie de vivre with a piano-defined “Bleak House” yet the same black-and-whiteness marks “Poly Piece,” a 17-minute arc to the Orwellian world. Still, the minuet of “Sea Air” notwithstanding, Phillips’ least expected move came on “Invisible Men” from 1983, as the brass-splashed “Falling For Love” signaled his embracing of a soul idiom, hinted at on the light hymn of “Sistine” and carried over into the baroque “La Dolorosa” from the “New England” cycle where the jazzily graceful “Cathedral Woods” lurks, too.
What with his aversion to stage, another surprise lay in the artist’s live radio session known “The Living Room Concert” from which three chamber ballads find their way here, “Collections” encapsulating Ant’s sotto voce rumination, and this train of thought distills his large form passages to smaller pieces on Disc 5. Extracted mostly from Phillips’ television and library music, these artfully avoid abstractness to remain as picturesque as his early albums were, “I Wish This Would Never End” weaving a memorable melody into its well-clipped vignettes, and “White Spider” off 2005’s fully acoustic “Field Day” spinning a filigree web of barely-there delights as picking crystallizes into false keystrokes. Still, the orchestral surge on elegiac “The Golden Leaves Of Fall” and gentle “Courtesan” is real, because 2012’s “Seventh Heaven,” which found Ant working with fellow Brit Andrew Skeet, flows on the Prague Philharmonic’s backdrop, even though “Imperium” – one of ten previously unreleased cuts that bring the compilation to the present tense – turns celestial on its own terms. So there’s no faux pas there on more than six hours of a dialogue between the artist and the listener, as the short elegant dance of “Pas De Deux” suggests.
Irresistibly engaging, the only drawback of “Harvest Of The Heart” – a point which, at the same time, feels great – is that, reflecting all Phillips’ releases, it’s not definitive, for Ant’s still creating wonders. So it might be the time to make hay, but seasons will change and another harvest will be ripe.