Artista 1979 / Esoteric 2014
Heavenly marriage of classical and pop music finds its initial, innocent manifestation.
An unlikely and most unpretentious combination of players who didn’t have such high notions as many a progger – mostly non-classically trained and prone to showing off – SKY came out of the blue when art-rock had hit its nadir. Australian guitarist John Williams, a Segovia student, had Tristan Fry, the LONDON SINFONIETTA founder and a popular session drummer, and Herbie Flowers, a renowned bassist, on his 1971’s “Changes” LP, yet after the success of 1978’s “Travelling” where the three were joined by former CURVED AIR organist Francis Monkman, they landed on a band idea, and materialized it with another Oz axeman, Kevin Peek. The result turned out to be neither a bombastic enterprise, nor a chamber operation but an easy, albeit sophisticated, alloy of the instrumentalists’ natural inclinations – with a nod to its times, especially here, on the quintet’s debut.
The ensemble’s statement of intent, “Where Opposites Meet,” is kept for the album’s 19-minute finale, and that’s about the only piece on display with a baroque boogie at the fore of a rarefied, if shiny, and increasingly intense and exquisite tapestry. The rest of the compositions careen towards the lighter side of genre-crossing, and there’s an almost electronic pulse to opener “Westway” which weaves a vibrant acoustic lace around the bulging groove only to cut off before any grandioseness unfolds. The same understatement characterizes – despite a Mike Oldfield-like rock veneer – the tight, effervescent “Cannonball,” but Antonio Ruiz-Pipò’s “La Danza” finds the troupe in a fully-plugged rococo splendor, spiked by a harpsichord and propelled by sensual percussion.
Much calmer, though as elegant, the heart-tugging melody of “Carillon” flutters delicately reconnecting Williams’ strings and Monkman’s piano to their academic roots, before electric surge takes it to a higher ground only to dissolve in silence once again, while, tremulously spectral, SKY’s rendition of “Gymnopedle No. 1” paints popular Satie’s tune in watercolor and wraps a scintillating harmony around it. A bonus track “Dies Irae” packs heavier pomposity in its riffs, whereas a single version of “March To The Scaffold” sketches a Berlioz interpretation which would be fleshed out for “Sky 4,” yet it’s an companion DVD that gives this album a new contextual layer by showing how, for all their serious approach, SKY used to have fun performing their complex creations on TV – with Val Doonican as third guitarist for one number! – and on-stage. That’s why it’s so pleasurable.