Voiceprint 1996-2012 / Esoteric 2018
Final installment in singular aural artist’s most acclaimed “parallel” discography – incessantly fresh and with no signs of fatigue.
It’s been a journey which started as an outlet for odds and sods yet ended up as a sort of extracorporeal experience: existing on a tangent to Anthony Phillips‘ main body of work, the “Private Parts & Pieces” series includes not only sketches that didn’t fit his “proper” solo albums but proper albums per se, with unifying themes, and collaborations, too. Still, the volumes comprising this box set signal the veteran’s return to original concept of stitching a common context for cuts with various roots, and although Phillips’ latter-day creativity may seem more or less conventional in comparison to his earlier material, there’s solid maturity to give a mosaic wholeness to any collection of fragments.
Such a kaleidoscopic state suits 1996’s “PP&P IX: Dragonfly Dreams” quite well, the record being a suite in two parts which tie together tunes devised at different times, some as far back as the ’80s and a few done as duets with Quique Berro Garcia, his partner on “Antiques” – the series’ third installment. When Ant’s fingers scratch strings on the teasing “Openers” (note the use of plural form, a reflection of his multilayer approach to melody), they set an atmosphere that’s more than intimate and require an almost unprecedented level of trust to let the listener into the artist’s vulnerable reverie. While most numbers embrace elegiac, gypsy-tinged landscape, as suggested by the likes of “Melancholy Flower” and – stripped of words anchoring its demo recorded during "Invisible Men" sessions – “Something Blue” where the drift is bucolic, this serenity has quite a stormy undercurrent, Not for nothing brief yet playful “Quango” hints at somewhat more agitated action going on behind the scenes, and the beat of “Lost And Found” evokes a sense of urgency, especially once it’s devoid of the tune that’s attached to the cut’s alternative version on the bonus disc.
There are characters who inhabit the album, the upbeat “Luigi Palta’s Confession” and “Sarah Blakeley’s Evening” adding an obscure storyline to it all and contrasting “Under The Ice” – abstract but as intriguing as a scintillating organ oscillation that reveals spiritual solemnity in the ever-expanding scope of “Lostwithiel”: a tentative title of the musician’s first solo opus. Whereas “Chinese Walls” will offer a fleeting delight which should defy the composition’s epic ripple, gradually intensifying if always delicate, the haunting twilight ballad “She’ll Be Waiting” and the shimmering rapture of “Night Song” – delivered by eerie bel canto that’s absent from the track’s otherworldly mix on the extra CD in order to render tangible the swell of Phillips’ orchestration – remain in many a memory for a long time, and not because of their spectral vocals.
Released in 1999, “PP&P X: Soiree” has nothing ghostly about its Satie-esque vignettes, so riveting on fully-developed sonic paintings – one of these, “Creation,” was written in the perioid of “From Genesis To Revelation” – yet infused with promise on shorter cuts, memorable as “Venetian Mystery” or “Noblesse Oblige” whose unhurried roll sounds very dignified, as does the solemn, albeit secretly adventurous, “Summer’s Journey” which radiates jazzy excitement. The impressionist-styled poise of Ant’s piano, the record’s sole instrument, is perfectly sculpted on “Sad Ballerina” and is sweetly, almost painfully, sparse on “Sultry Leaves” where high notes get scattered across lower register à la autumn rain, with “Rain Suite” widening the panorama with gust-like dynamics. Here, the slightly sly and insistent “Scythia” and graciously stumbling “Cantilena” rub shoulders with the light and fluttering, but emotionally loaded, dances “Passepied” and “Passacaglia” while the bold strokes of “The Oregon Trail” make this number truly cinematic.
The last, eleventh, album in the series, issued in 2012, lives up to its legend from the very start, “City Of Dreams” – the title track split in four parts and scattered across the record, to be complemented by the three stations of the constantly oncoming, all-enveloping “Mystery Train” which shape a feel of perpetual motion and pass a latent chug to the gently groovy “Night Train To Novrogod” – glimmering with crystalline thrill. The momentum, outlined in “Piledriver” whose tight throb is urban in a retrofuturistic way, doesn’t let up even when new-age passages take hold, because only four of the album’s 31 pieces cross the 3-minute mark, some clocking in in less than a minute. Still, several of those – “Act Of Faith” that soars from silvery ivories, or “King Of The Mountains” that sees Ant’s majestic guitar reach for the tallest peaks, “Days Of Yore” with its Renaissance strum – are expansive enough to challenge their own brevity and contribute to the overall picture, and while “Sea & Sardinia” may resort to watercolor sounds to conjure up Mediterranean repose, “Doom Flower” would go deep within synthesizer waves whence come celestial voices carrying “Realms Of Gold” to paradise, toward “Anthem For Doomed Youth” where choir is equally angelic.
As for the aforementioned fourth disc in the box – titled “Private Parts & Extra Pieces III” – it contains arguably inessential yet extremely pleasant numbers, running from the unusually pushy, if still short, “Brand New Cadillac” to the amber-light depth of “Piano Drama” – a two-movement classic which failed to find home previously. There’s also the exhilarating, yet inherently sad, “High Roller” and elegantly suspenseful, with thunderous piano splashes, “Castles And Courtships”; the lyrical, sustained licks of “Sunset Drifter” and space-ripping “Lost Monolith” that Stanley Kubrick might have desired.
It’s impossible to desire anything else from Anthony Phillips after this collection – and Esoteric Recordings excelled in making “Private Parts & Pieces” as comprehensive as a series could be – so there can be a good reason for him to stop and not release any new music since the last album in the line was out. But it’s also impossible not to think that number “XII” has a magical ring and completeness to it…