Tubular Brass 2017
Brazen reading of perennial favorite – taken to a different plateau and anchored down to Earth.
One can bang a tube or blow it, but music will be born either way. Mike Oldfield made tubular bells a focus of his debut album which he keeps returning to in order to refine the piece’s detail, and there were a few attempts to cover his classic, yet none has been bolder than this. Brass is the boldest sounding group of instruments (even though the trumpets of Jericho didn’t have metal in them) and the most celestial one, and that’s why professor Sandy Smith’s reimagining of the original Virgin gem, using elements of latter versions, David Bedford’s and Oldfield’s own, seems so compelling. Previously ethereal, most moves of the composition feel fleshed out now, with a shine instead of shimmer, to emboss grace on erstwhile intangibility and evoke heavenly glory as a result.
From the moment the horns tighten their gentle grip on the opening theme and counterpoints expand the melody’s scope, the listener’s being pulled into a realm of irresistible pleasures as baroque dances enter the frame – and the fray, once the full ensemble kicks in in place of subtle guitars – while a blues snippet is turned into a “Blue Danube” kind of waltz before it’s given a big band sort of swing. In the spirit of things, Master of Ceremonies is back for the Part 1 Finale to introduce the Smith-conducted orchestra sections and their polyphonic uplift, and whereas Hannah Peel’s appearance in the guise of Mary Casio could have disturbed this universal order, there’s no chaos, as her cosmic synthesizer solo, improvised near the suite’s end, is so delicate. Be it the Khachaturian-influenced stomp of “Caveman” or the “Peace” elegy, the muscular empowerment of “Tubular Bells” is amazing, casting an entirely new light on the classic.
As a result, what could be an echo of halcyon days has become a thunderous reappraisal of the timeless creation.