Passport 1978-1984 / Esoteric 2015
Amazing grace of a patchwork, or devil in the details: initial installment of English composer’s most famous series boxed and expanded.
Not too many artists are able to create a consistent body of work out of what originally was a collection of odds and sods. But for Anthony Phillips there has always been a method when it comes to handling his own backlog. A key to it may lie near the end of this box set which comprises first four albums, in a rich vein of eleven, of a string that’s a parallel to the former GENESIS guitarist’s core discography, as well as additional CD of rarities, and it takes going all the way down there to crack such an enigma. “Sistine” – a beautiful song written in 1981 yet left off “Invisible Me” to grace “PP&P IV: A Catch At The Tables” three years later, albeit Ant felt compelled to also record a slightly flatter piano version of it – alludes to the famous chapel’s ceiling, as painted by Michelangelo, where various fragments create a mesmerizing whole: that’s how it is with Phillips’ oeuvre, too. More so, the ballad flows like a letter from a soldier, possibly a new incarnation of Private Parts had he fought in WWI, and a similar, if only imaginary, temporal shift can serve as a constant for the entire series
Puns aside, in terms of style, it goes back as far as Renaissance motifs of “Scottish Suite” that opens “PP&P II: Back To The Pavilion” from 1980 in a full-on prog-rock fashion making the “Amorphous, Cadaverous And Nebulous” an opposite to its title: the music for an aborted “Macbeth” project, it injected a deceptive conceptuality into an array of disparate compositions and saw Ant renew his collaboration with Mike Rutherford for the first time since their work on a “Henry” cycle which had sat in the heart of Phillips’ debut album five years earlier. Deeper still, “Field Of Eternity” off 1978’s “collection of guitar and piano solos, duets and ensembles” arrived at the series’ start as a transparent echo of GENESIS’ “Pacidy” to trace Anthony’s evolution as a writer, the dynamic, if elegiac, scope of his expansion measured as impressively in the finely interlaced piano layers of “Beauty And The Beast” and the filigree guitar weave of “Flamingo” from the same LP. When the Strat wave behind “Harmonium In The Dust” covers the chamber delicacy of it all, a tremendous palette employed to create a variety of moods is revealed, yet the overall opulence is contrasted by tonal minimalism of “K2” – a mesmerizing ghostly spot of “Pavilion” – and the “Heavens” with its solemn baroque austerity.
The lazily warm “Stranger,” a CD addition to the context, holds one of only a few vocal performances in this mostly instrumental tapestry, while a bonus demo of “Silver Song” flaunts an electric picking and Phillips’ soulful voice. No words are needed, still, for Ant’s dialogue with Argentinian guitarist Enrique Berro Garcia on “PP&P III: Antiques” – released in 1982 as the first record written especially for inclusion into the series – as their intricate interplay is exquisitely cinematic. Yet there’s a contrast, too, with “Hurlingham Suite” offering a wintry experience, as if to follow the “Autumnal” and “Spring Meeting” vignettes of previous volumes, before its “Bandido” section boils the chill, and “Otto’s Face” shapes a sparse Latinesque dance, whereas the coldness of “Suite In D Minor” has an English country air to it – anxious and relaxed at the same time, as “Cobblestones” unfolds into the blues. These pastel-hued – save for the hot and taut “El Cid” which the two artists concocted as late as 1994 – aural pictures have more angles than meets the ear, so their alternative, largely solo, versions at the end of the CD enrich one’s perception of what sometimes seems to feel a bit dry, up to “Esperansa” hinting at a tentative singer’s part.
Shades of flamenco spice up the transparent “Eduardo” on “The Tables” wherein vigorous “Arboretum Suite” set things in breezy motion tightening and loosening it along the way. But for all the piece’s duration “Dawn Over The Lake” initially keeps the momentum at minimal level, as strings ripple over the time-measuring drum-box, while displaying an amazing detail on the crest of a melodic wave. Much more waves on this chapter come from Mellotron and Polymoog who provide the black cloud for “Heart Of Darkness” before silver lining shines a folk-colored light that’s so gentle in a post-release afterthought of the record’s title track.
It turns to a flicker for “Prelude 3” which was recorded in 1981 and is placed on the “Extra Pieces” disc now alongside the ethereal “Sea Sketches” from the same period, while the earliest non-canon curios here are 1975’s piano exercise “Lines In The Sand” and the 33-second wonder of “Marionette Vignette” from the following year. Most of these snippets are ideas standing their ground, yet 1981’s “Long Ago” comes across as a song whose lyrics sound more developed than its tune is, unlike “Still-Born Love” from 1977 that oozes elegant melancholy, another “PP&P” trait.
The best kept secret of this treasure chest – even with a key provided – is the fact that “Private Parts & Pieces” isn’t an aficionado-only adventure: it’s an integral part of Anthony Phillips’ catalogue and often a springboard for his main course of albums. To have the series’ beginning packaged together is a perfect encapsulation of the artist’s understated greatness.