Ariola 1982 / Esoteric 2015
Full-on classical extravaganza in a pop-rock setting – long overdue but still surprising.
That was a SKY thing from the off, to include a few symphonic pieces on each LP, and that’s what the band’s audience used to expect, especially after the success of their take on Bach’s “Toccata” on the second album. So if "Sky 3" saw the quintet minimize classical quotient to a single composition, its follow-up swung the pendulum to the other extreme – for the extreme pleasure of both players and listeners. Here, the gamut is run from Wagner’s “Ride Of The Valkyries,” stripped of bombast in favor of a reserved, piano to the fore, art-rock exploration, to the nocturnal glitz of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” with the rest of the numbers covering the in-between area.
A good portion of this belongs to the 20th century, the record sailing off with a gauzy, guitar-goaded glide into the waltz from Khachaturian’s “Masquerade” whose fine-tuned texture, passed from John Williams’ acoustic to Kevin Peek’s electric, inhabits a different tempo from Ravel’s “Waltz No.2” which is shaped minimalistic, in instrumental strokes, in the impressionist manner. In order to contextualize it all even more, Berlioz’s “March To The Scaffold” is elevated from a previously single cut to an album track status, as Steve Gray’s keyboards replace Francis Monkman’s erstwhile solemnity with a sly jazzy vibe, while Alonso de Mudarra’s “Fantasia” supplants the vihuela part with an organ and adds heavy riffs to the mix as if to counterbalance the harpsichord’s synthetic wave of Bach’s “Fantasy.”
But while its baroque core remains the same, this can’t be said of “My Giselle”: the early music masterpiece is fleshed out with a six-string stack and highly charged to lap into Renaissance lace and beyond it, to new-age airiness that Tristan Fry gives a thunder to, whereas the band’s reading of Mikis Theodorakis’ “To Yelasto Pedi” has its exquisite folk element – tightening as the piece progresses – aligned with Herbie Flowers’ bass buzz on Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Xango” with its marimba and sparse picking. There’s even more sparseness on “Listen With Mother,” a Fauré tune Gray and Fry duet on on a bonus DVD documenting the band’s 1982 concert for BBC and catching Williams and Peek engaging in an unplugged rendition of “Fool On The Hill,” SKY’s most formal approximation of a pop idiom. Later on, in the hands of lesser artists, such an approach would become commonplace; here, it’s still refreshening.