Steve Winwood climbs onto a small balcony and peers through the curtain at the keyboard of London’s Royal Albert Hall organ. The only time he’s ever seen this beast played, he says, was when the Mothers of Invention did “Louie Louie” on it. When was that now, ‘66? '67? Nobody quite remembers. “And when did you last play here, Steve?” asks someone else. He looks upward and squints at the flying saucers in the Albert’s roof, as if trying to find a date to fit the image. But no. He doesn’t remember that either. He laughs, amused at his own vagueness. But Michael Shrieve, we can be sure, is recalling his personal glories as he struts around the empty auditorium on this warm, mid-week afternoon. Remembering, perhaps, how they danced in the boxes during his solo in “Soul Sacrifice”, when Santana played their first British concert as part of CBS’s Sounds of the Seventies presentation, six years ago. Lots of water under the bridge since then. Massive commercial success; a period of flirtation with jazz; and half-hearted attempts to become a Sri Chinmoy convert resulting in a new name, Maltreya Michael Shrieve. Appearances can be deceptive, admittedly, but Shrieve today looks like a man who has come full circle; everything about him suggests he’s ready to rock again. During the tail-end of his Eastern studies period early last year, complete with cropped hair and discreet moustache he radiated humility, but one would guess that now, newly-permed and tightly denimed, he’s itching for a little success again. He barrels over to where our third VIP, Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta is stationed, waiting to pose for photographs. They share a joke. Now they know how many drums it takes to fill the Albert Hall. Lots more pictures. Shrieve strikes a Leonard Bernstein post on the conductor’s podium, arms raised to signify an imaginary crescendo. Flashbulbs pop. Yamashta claims, rather unconvincingly, that the hates having his picture taken. Winwood is obliging, but uninterested in the proceedings. The very protractedness of it all, however, increases the serious nature of the occasion. Two hours in the Albert Hall, with two managers and a press officer, just for a picture session? Clearly, Island Records mean business this time - as, indeed, they must, for no expense is being spared to ensure that Yamashta’s “Go” is a resounding success. “Go” in this context has nothing to do with Waddington’s board games or beat novels by John Clellon Holmes. It’s the title of Yamashta’s latest epic work, a concept album, an abstract play, a ballet and a stage show all rolled into one. The successor to the excellent “Man from the East” and the rather inferior “Raindog”, “Go” is trying very hard to be all things all people, threatening to become, to use one of Cornelius Cardew’s more colourful phrases, a king-size multi-media electronic freak-out. Three ring circuses aren’t in it. “Go” combines Stomu Yamashta, Mike Shrieve, Steve Winwood, guitarists Al Dimeola, Bernie Holland, and Pat Thrall, ex Tangerine Dream synthesizer player Klaus Schulze, bassist Rosko Gee, conga players, an orchestra conducted by Paul Buckmaster, Thunder Thighs, a kung fu fight sequence, two gymnasts, two acrobats, a juggler, four dancers, a tiger, a swan, strobes, two banks of TV screens, National Aeronautics and Space Administration movies, multi-beam back projections onto two cinema screens … In the studio, as the new album is played back in complete form for the first time, it all begins to make more sense. Shrieve is in Nietzschean rhapsodies from the outset as a bright Satie-like melody rises from the speakers closely followed by masses of orchestral strings over string synthesizer, ponderous drums and Steve Winwood … singing like a blueswailing angel. The sound of his voice carries the emotional impact of a highly expressive horn player, but here the words, presumably a key insight into the theatrical mysteries of “Go”, are unclear. The lyrics, apparently, were written by a mutual friend of parties concerned - one Mike Quartermain. “Mike had the lyrics all prepared in poetry form,” recalls Winwood, “and that’s not always the easiest way of writing a song, so some things I took straight, while other things I mutilated to suit the shape of my voice. But, really, it’s all Mike’s writing; the basic idea behind the meaning of the lyrics is his. Stomu talked the play concept over with Mike, and then he came through with the lyrics.” At his juncture, I reserve judgment on the highly symbolic, apparently philosophical content of “Go” at least until May 29 at the Albert Hall, when, perhaps, new light will be shed upon a couplet like “where the ghost gives up its mind / you can catch the thread of time.” Yamashta, Shrieve, and Winwood clearly understand, but this scribe remains bemused even after thorough scrutiny of the script. Eventually, Yamashta decides that it doesn’t matter how the work is interpreted. People can appreciate it on any level they want. “When you have dancers interpreting the music, you shouldn’t need a narrator explaining exactly what is happening. That’s a joke. Like the Tubular Bells thing.” Yamashta makes a passable stab at a Viv Stanshall impression. “ 'And now, Tubular … Bells! BOINNNNG!’ ….. I mean, can you believe it?” Shrieve claps his hands. His collaboration with Yamashta, as long-serving MM readers may recall, should have taken place last year. But Shrieve got entangled in the birth throes of a new band, Automatic Man, whose guitarist, Pat Thrall, also plays on the “Go” album. And meanwhile, Yamashta met Winwood, and proceeded to lock himself away with the entire Traffic, Blind Faith, Spencer Davis, and Santana back catalogue, determined that Mike and Steve were to be featured instrumentalists in his magnum opus. The announcement that Winwood was to be in the band for the RAH gig and album came as a shock to Shrieve, who counts the man among his favorite singers. Now he’s beginning to look upon “Go” as a kind of crash course in personal exorcism. “This project ties up a lot of loose ends for me. Like, Stevie Winwood had always been one of my heroes; I always hoped that I’d get a chance to work with him some day. And Stomu, well, as you know, I’ve always wanted to do a gig with him ever since I first saw his photo. Paul Buckmaster is somebody that I’ve only just recently become really aware of, and having a chance to collaborate with him is just unbelievable. So it seems that this album is like bringing together my past, and when I’m through with it, I’ll finally be able to go off and do my own thing.” Buckmaster was actually Yamashta’s second choice for arranger. Originally he wanted to get jazzman Mike Gibbs, but Gibbs, because of his teaching work (he’s composer-in-residence at Boston’s Berkeley School of Music) couldn’t make it. Nobody’s complaining about Buckmaster anyhow. Apparently Yamashta sang the parts to him, and Paul got it all down right off, actually extending the composer’s ideas in a couple of instances. Some of the arrangements are exceedingly heavy - much more severe than anything Buckmaster’s ever done with Elton John, say. A long sequence which opens the second side, for example, sounds like Mahler with a synthesizer, and is quite terrifying in its intensity. Shrieve scowls to hear it. “Boy, don’t take acid when you’re listening to this one,” he says to nobody in particular. This sequence bounces abruptly and unexpectedly into some fine funk, a thing called “Ghost Machine” with more metaphysical lyrics which Winwood manages to make sound entirely unaffected, as much so as “Dimples” even. These kinds of musical volte-faces occur throughout the work, usually taking the listener very much by surprise. At this stage of the game, it’s difficult to see how Klaus Schulze’s long synthesizer pieces relate to the album’s song content. Yamashta has no worries, however. “This album is really only a soundtrack. Y'know, just part of a complete experience. You will understand, I’m sure, when you see the whole show. Some of the parts are written to go with plenty of visual action.” – Steve Lake……….
This is the album through which Stomu Yamash'ta finally gained international recognition, not least because of Winwood’s presence, after Traffic’s slow demise. Although there are 14 tracks (7 aside), the album is meant to be one single work, because the vinyl shows no space between the tracks. The album’s artwork is derived off the East Wind/Freedom artwork, this Yamash'ta project (the wrote all but one of the “songs”) was a high profile, necessitating a full orchestra but Winwood has an all-important role on keys and vocals as well as writing the finale. Among the other stars are Michael Shrieve (ex-Santana and you can hear a bit of this influence at times on this album) and not mentioned on the album cover (or picture), Al DiMeola and Klaus Schulze. Slowly rising from naught, first with space whispers, soon transformed into a beautiful melancholic symphonic movement, Solitude is a logical introduction to the first sung passage Nature, where Winwood’s voice is probably at it’s best. The first side is a succession of structured songs linked with instrumental passages, be they calm or more heroic/dramatic. While the strings can approach the cheesy, some of the songs can be Santana-esque (courtesy of DiMeola & Shrieve) with a funky touch (much more prominent a feature on next year’s Go Too album), the whole thing works quite well.
The flipside gets even better, with the same spacey Schulze intro, later on a slightly dissonant movement including the orchestra and again later a wild funk track Time Is Here with the orchestra playing the rhythm. Only the closing track is not fitting as well (it’s written by Winwood) and it sounds more like Traffic (Factory/Eagle era)
If you’re not afraid of a little extra cheese on your turntable’s stylus, Go is one outstanding album that should really be heard by everyone and certainly progheads around the world…..by Sean Trane ……………
This was the first Stomu Yamash'ta album I listened to. As the music started I was immediately enchated by it. Gorgeous, slow and symphonic playing, and the excellent vocals of Steve Winwood that soon entered, was the cherry on the top. The album cover - not surprisingly - names the stellar cast accompanying Stomu who plays percussion and keyboards: Winwood (keyboards, vocals), Al DiMeola (guitars), Michael Shrieve (drums) and Klaus Schulze (synths). The complete list of players is a whole lot longer. Oh, I see that this particular cover seen here doesn’t mention DiMeola and Schulze. Anyway, these names make one expect a lot from this music - and seemingly there is the risk of a disappointment. Neither I was intact for slight disappointment when listening to the latter half of the album, where there are more portions of soul/funk. Winwood of course is very much at home with these genres too, and the whole band moves skillfully from one style to another, but I personally would have enjoyed the album more without the most straightforward beat sections (and sadly the Go Sessions edition plays Parts One and Two as single tracks of 20- 21 minutes long, which means I can’t edit worst parts out on my own CD).
But for the most part, this is a wonderful concept album with soaring, spacey melodies and beautiful sound. Friends of the more symphonic wing of the Fusion genre will surely enjoy this, and especially if you consider Steve Winwood (of TRAFFIC fame) as a great vocalist. The listening experience flows nicely from synth-centred symphonic and spacey instrumental sections to the ones with vocals, ranging from ballads to funkier style. Almost 5-star stuff….by Matti ………….
Every time I listen to Side 1 of this collaborative work, I wonder why it is not regarded as a lost progressive classic, but the answer might lie somewhere on the shapeless and insipid grooves of Side 2. While Yamash'ta is known more as a jazz/fusion artist, most of this is space rock, at times mellow and wonderful, at times slightly funky and equally wonderful, but too often lacking in development or character. I would not be surprised if 90% of the effort was dispensed on Side 1, because the compositions, arrangements, melodies, directed jams, and vocals are all top notch, not to mention the sequencing of the material. There are several climaxes and several retrenchments. The blending of instrumental interludes and vocal tracks is executed to perfection, such that this sounds like a side long suite. As “Solitude” gives way to “Nature”, Paul Buckmaster’s orchestral arrangements are a revelation. Then it’s Winwood’s first appearance, accompanied my piano, rhythm section and more of Buckmaster. This might be what FOCUS would sound like in their quieter moments if they added strings.
“Air Over” and “Crossing the Line” make another lovely couple, the space sounds of the first slowly giving way to a timeless and mysterious tune. Yamash'ta’s ethnic influences seem close to the surface here. The performance of Winwood in “Crossing the Line” is up there with his best, and light years beyond what he would attain stardom for a few years later. The orchestra remains in force to maintain continuity. I’m not sure who delivers the lead guitar solo, but if it is Al Dimeola he shows a remarkable adaptability to the mood of the disk, as it sounds nothing like his typical style.
This would almost be enough, but “Man of Leo” and “Stellar” form a third pairing to die for. The edge is harder and we are in more funky territory. Still it works as a contrast with the ethereal start to the album, and the full band collaboration in the instrumental “Stellar” is as good as it gets in that rare prog-R&B sub genre.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, side 2 is a major letdown, with a much less structured and authentic blend of space drivel and a few mostly conventional rock songs, the best of these being the TRAFFIC-like “Ghost Machine”.
My advice is Go directly to Side 1 and enjoy one of the tighter and more accomplished cooperative and ego-free productions of its time. I’d love to give 4 stars, but for half an album, I cannot go there…….by kenethlevine ………..
Stomu Yamashta up to this point had gained great respect for his compositional skills in various styles of music ranging from Soundtracks to Jazz to Classical to Rock. In 1976 he formed this group with a line up that reads like a who’s who of jazz and progressive rock musicians. Traffic’s Steve Winwood, Tangerine Dream’s Klaus Schulze, Michael Shrieve from Santana, Return to Forever’s Al DiMeola… This is almost like a jazz progger’s dream team! The mood is a little less jazzy and more space rock than expected, considering the players involved. Orchestration from Paul Buckmaster contributes to this aspect of the piece greatly. Originally two sides of vinyl listing songs separately but merged together, the album is a full-blown concept piece that is superbly performed.
Vocalist Steve Winwood is in fine form here, predating his later mega successful solo career. Al DiMeola’s guitar work is amazing as always. Michael Shrieve kicks some major drums all over the place and seems responsible along with DiMeola for the Latin-influenced Santana-like passages here and there. The keyboard players, Yamashta and Schulze, are the real stars here as the spacey nature of the piece is naturally driven by the synthesizers.
There are passages that play games with time signatures (a 4/4 gets arranged to a 3/8, 3/8, 2/8 triplet, very worthy of note) and it gets funky at times like good jazz-fusion of the period (ie: Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck). I have only one complaint about the way that the songs work into one another. Instead of finding a way to make the segues work from song to song, the band often just chooses to fade out and fade in the next song at the same time. This does not make it as cohesive a progressive rock epic as it could have been. I also understand a decision was made to make the second half of the piece the first part of the album. This may make better musical sense, but makes the story (such as it is) a lot harder to follow. They of course remedied this in concert, but to me it is a gaffe that is forever unrectifiable.
Let’s see… who to recommend this to… Jazz fans of course will want to hear DiMeola and Shrieve at the top of their game. Fans of spacey music like Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream will want to hear this certainly. Rock fans that enjoy Winwood’s gorgeous tenor will like this as well. Appeals to some or none, depending on your preference of music. It definitely appeals to me.
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on December 18th, 2011…………
Line-up / Musicians - Stomu Yamash'ta / percussion, timpani (3,10), synths (String, Minimoog, mini Korg), composer, arranger & co-producer - Steve Winwood / vocals, piano, organ (5-11), electric piano (6), guitar & synth (14), composer & arranger (14) - Michael Shrieve / drums
With: - Al Dimeola / lead guitar (5,6,10,11,13) - Pat Thrall / lead & rhythm guitars (3,4) - Chris West / rhythm guitar (1,11,13) - Junior Marvin / rhythm guitar (4-6,10,14) - Bernie Holland / rhythm guitar (10) - Klause Schulze / synths - Hisako Yamashta / violin & backing vocals (9) - Rosko Gee / bass - Lennox Langton / congas (11) - Brother James / congas (11,14) - Thunderthighs / backing vocals - Paul Buckmaster / orchestral arrangements (woodwind, brass & strings), co-producer
Songs / Tracks Listing 1. Solitude (2:57) 2. Nature (2:32) 3. Air Over (2:32) 4. Crossing The Line (4:46) 5. Man Of Leo (2:02) 6. Stellar (2:53) 7. Space Theme (3:12) 8. Space Requim (3:20) 9. Space Song (2:00) 10. Carnival (2:46) 11. Ghost Machine (2:06) 12. Surfspin (2:25) 13. Time Is Here (2:46) 14. Winner/Loser (4:10)