Stir the cup that’s ever-filling for new puzzles to pour out: never an old chestnut, prog lore receives a chamber reading.
Over the years, there were a few attempts to wrap JT material in symphonic garb – from “A Classic Case” that featured the ensemble’s mainstays to Ian Anderson‘s “solo” orchestral endeavors in the field – yet all of those focused on expanding the scope of experience rather than encapsulating it from the inside. This album turns the game around, as familiar melodies are reverted to the original band’s name and old songs find a new context, thanks to the iconic flautist and John O’Hara, the group’s pianist, who committed a delicate act of iconoclasm by applying chamber matrix to rock pieces and exposing them in a different light courtesy of CARDUCCI STRING QUARTET. Not for nothing Anderson renamed most of the tunes, thus creating a set of puzzles for a connoisseur, although what lies behind titles like “We Used To Bach” is quite obvious – which can’t be said of the tracks’ selection, because “Bourrée” has been omitted in favor of less predictable choices now.
Such an approach is explicit on “Aquafugue” that, riff included, adheres to the titular form yet retains its erstwhile sharpness, whereas two violins, viola and cello breathe fresh air into “Farm, The Fourway” and lift this previously mundane number off the ground. Ian’s woodwind may anchor the grace of “In The Past” to a baroque base, but there’s an entire dramatic dimension opened in “Bungle” and “Sossity Waiting” – a transparent portmanteau for the oft-overlooked “Sossity: You’re A Woman” and “Reasons For Waiting” – the latter welcoming dry vocals which bring home the “impossible schemes” message. Still, two of the classics come as a natural pair: to many a fan “Songs And Horses” wouldn’t seem a surprising weave – only the way they move together towards eternity would. Just as impressive, a cinematic “Loco” is marrying minuet to hoedown, and if “Only The Giving” and “Pass the Bottle” don’t go far beyond their respective “Wond’ring Again” and “A Christmas Song” templates, a contrapuntal unfolding of the “Velvet Gold” tapestry does, grandiosely so.
Even more triumphantly, “Ring Out These Bells” holds a heartfelt joie de vivre in its swirl and refrain which is gently intoned by Ian Anderson and the strings that are devoid of superficial solemnity despite being recorded in churches. These quiet joys can be an ultimate realization of JT’s progressive impetus – that’s why there’s glory in the final mining of the great catalogue.