Album Review: Anderson/Stolt – Invention of Knowledge

I approached the new album from Jon Anderson and Roine Stolt with a certain degree of trepidation.   Not because I don’t have great admiration for the two principals in this project.  Jon Anderson was for years the voice (and remains to me the only true voice) of Yes, a band that can be argued personifies better than any other captures the essence of progressive rock.  Yes was part of my youth’s soundtrack, and I enjoy them to this day.  For his part, Stolt is the primary member of the Flower Kings, a band that on occasion glimpses the glory of Yes itself.  In addition to that, Stolt is a key member of Transatlantic, one of the better supergroups progressive rock has had.

This gets to the first basis for my trepidation.  Supergroups are a concept that works in theory, but not always in practice.  For every great supergroup  (Cream), there is a mediocre one (Adrenaline Mob/GTR),  a truly disappointing one (The Firm) and a terrible one (Powerstation/Superheavy).  So when a new band appears featuring some of my favorite artists, I always purchase, but I don’t always listen more than once.

The second basis for uncertainty is Jon Anderson.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Jon (bless his soul).  I suspect that he’s a gem of a person (obviously some sort of multicolored crystal) as well as a brilliant musician.  But the cold hard truth is that his solo work has often been lacking in both production and content.  Add his recent health problems and advancing age (how many people have kept any semblance of their voice at the age of 71?) and I was genuinely concerned that I would hear nothing but a shadow of the voice that defined progressive rock for a generation.

Such thoughts went through my mind as I began listening to Invention of Knowledge, an album that features not only the titular band members but also prog luminaries, including: Jonas Reingold, Daniel Gildenloew, and Tom Brislin.  It didn’t take long for my fears to be replaced with a pleasant calm as the music began to play.

Invention of Knowledge is made up of four long-form song compositions, the shortest clocking in at 11:13, and the entire album flows from beginning to end in a way that suggests that it was intended to be digested as a whole.  Lyrically, Jon gets away with singing words that really only Jon can get away with singing.  “We are truth made in Heaven, we are glorious!” would be preachy or even maudlin coming from just about anyone else, but for some reason, Jon seems so… earnest, and somehow it made me want to just agree with him.  But more importantly, Jon’s voice was unmistakably Jon.  Yes, one can note that 71 year old Jon sounds different than 31 year old Jon, but frankly, not very.  He wrote melodies that fit comfortably in his range and one could quite forget that this is a recent effort and not one written in his ‘prime’.

For his part, Roine’s guitar work, long underappreciated, truly shines.  He has always had a distinctive sound, and it’s unmistakable that he is the dude playing on this album, but every so often, he includes some of the unusually syncopated notes that were are of the defining characteristics of Steve Howe.   I thought it was a nice touch.

While not a flawless album (it seems sometimes to meander just a tad), it evokes both classic Yes and the Flower Kings in a way that shows that the two bands are of the same cloth, and for this listener, it was good to hear from an old friend again.

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