Renaissance
Scheherazade and Other Stories


5.0
classic

Review

by ProgJect USER (31 Reviews)
January 23rd, 2011 | 626 replies


Release Date: 1975 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A trip to the fair... but nobody was there.

Renaissance were an important British progressive band that released a series of melodic, tightly executed symphonic progressive albums, mixed with elements of folk rock and lush classical overtones, throughout the 70’s. Above all, they stand out in their judicious use of a full orchestra (the London Symphony Orchestra) since their album Ashes are Burning, which marks the start of their golden era. Playing with a full symphony orchestra backing up is a feat many have tried, but few have succeeded in. Rivalling with artists such as ELP, Rick Wakeman, The Alan Parsons Project and The Moody Blues, Renaissance are easily the most convincing incorporators of a classical orchestra in rock music, and they arguably remain unmatched to date.

Of all their albums, Scheherazade and Other Stories is generally considered their finest hour. They had been building toward this climax with their two previous albums, Ashes are Burning and Turn of the Cards, which have lots in common stylistically with Scheherazade. More mature and self-confident, they all showed the willingness to try new things. Renaissance has great orchestral structures, many remarkable intuitions and passionate classical arrangements. The adding of a full orchestra adds a lush sound, unique atmospheres, and allows more depth, but at a risk of over-producing a too-slick a product, which is not the case here; Unlike ELP, Renaissance had the uncanny ability to take the very complex compositional ideas and render them perfectly listenable and accessible. Merging rock music and a classical orchestra usually sounds like the rock band is playing in one room and the orchestra is playing in another, but with Renaissance, this unholy alliance works very well.

Mainly composed by songwriter/guitarist Michael Dunford, the music is driven first and foremost by John Tout’s classically-inspired piano playing, who lays down plenty of magical tapestries. Annie Haslam is spectacular throughout, as she not only uses her angelic voice to sing the lyrics, but also as an instrument to vocalize melodies and harmonies. Annie’s crystal-clear, pitch-perfect and incredibly emotional voice truly is the heart of Renaissance’s music. Her full five octave’s soprano voice fits perfectly with their orchestral brand of symphonic prog. Don’t expect a shimmering, earth-shattering kind of early 70’s progressive. Here, most of the music is very lightweight, perhaps too mellow and gentle to some.

On top of that, the only electric instrument is the bass. The extensive orchestration makes up for the absence of an electric guitar, Dunford sticking strictly to acoustic. John Tout uses keyboards at a minimum and very sparsely, mostly using piano to great effect. It really set Renaissance apart from most other prog bands that at the time used synthesizers extensively. There are plenty of arranged symphonic parts with additional strings, and there’s nowhere you’ll find soloing or jamming sections. Showing off is not important, unless it benefits the song. Another important key factor to the band was the incredible bass skills of Jon Camp, whose silky-smooth, acrobatic Rickenbacker lines gave the band a unique voice, especially considering there was no lead guitar. Camp’s virtuoso performance offers up plenty of melodic, lead bass lines and complex patterns, * la Chris Squire but less indulgent. Though drummer Terry Sullivan never takes the forefront in any of the material here, his drumming joins Camp’s bass to give a strong platform for the others to shine.

The album starts off with A Trip To the Fair. With its dramatic neo-classical piano intro played with grand finesse, it transports you to another time and place, and sets the mood for the rest of the album. This is one of John Tout´s finest performances on the piano. The Vultures Fly High is a short but effective rocker with, as per usual, a catchy melody. It mainly should be enjoyed as a brief, pleasant interlude between the magically captivating opener and the evocative Ocean Gypsy. The latter is a sombre symphonic ballad with atmospheric piano/synthesizers, filled with haunting piano passages and melancholic singing. It also contains a very Genesis-like middle section. Bolstered by numerous flourishes from the London Symphony Orchestra and based on one of the characters of the novel A Thousand and One Nights (also the inspiration for classical composer Rimski-Korsakov), Song of Scheherazade is an excellent exercise in blending orchestra with rock. Scheherazade is the heroine of the 1001 Nights. Though it may give a cursory nod to classical composer Korsakov, it is not based on his work, being entirely the invention of the band, arising from Michael Dunford's fascination with the story. The song assumes the leading role in the album, and in many ways, it’s the pinnacle of Renaissance’s entire musical career.

At that period and more than ever, John Tout was the driving force that led the creative power of Renaissance to go beyond their boundaries and succeed at creating unique and wonderful music. No doubt, the orchestral arrangements play the role of perfect accomplice for the band’s outstanding endeavours. While overambitious to some ears, things never get too pompous anywhere in Scheherazade and Other Stories: the sense of elegance and clean melodic sensitivity that had consistently characterized Renaissance’s musical palette has been translated here into sheer exquisiteness throughout the album.



Recent reviews by this author
The Moody Blues In Search of the Lost ChordLe Orme Uomo di Pezza
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user ratings (214)
Chart.
4.4
superb
other reviews of this album
smaugman (5)
Renaissance refines their sound and creates their best album, and one of my personal favorites....



Comments:Add a Comment 
ProgJect
January 23rd 2011


37 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

ProgJect thanks you for reading and hopes you will take its expertise on all things progressive seriously.

Nagrarok
January 23rd 2011


8598 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This sounds really interesting so I'll be trying to get my hands on Ashes are Burning, Turn of the Cards and this.

Jethro42
January 23rd 2011


15943 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Renaissance is a very unique, one of a kind and successful prog rock band that stood the test of time well. They masterfully fusioned neo-classical, folk and symphonic rock genres, supplemented with the heavenly voice of Annie Haslam, my favorite female singer ever. Ashes are Burning, Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade are their big three. So just do like my colleague Nagrarok; Give them a shot and enjoy!

Thanks a bunch for your habitual magic touch on the review, Nag!

jrowa001
January 23rd 2011


8752 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

great album

Nagrarok
January 23rd 2011


8598 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Annie Haslam, my favorite female singer ever




Kate is #2 then?

Jethro42
January 23rd 2011


15943 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Damn Nag, you know you take me by surprise there haha. Both singers actually know how to sing their heart out incredibly well, and their high pitch capabilities are out of this world. Annie just fits soooo well into Renaissance style and because of that symbiose, she deserves my first vote, sorry to my dear Kate Bush who is pretty damn close for sure.

astrel
January 23rd 2011


2615 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Just streamed the first track. I am definitely getting this album.

Jethro42
January 23rd 2011


15943 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Glad to see you liking it, astrel. Renaissance will mainly appeal to anyone who likes early Yes (I saw that you do), Genesis, PFM, Moody Blues and Strawbs. Have fun!

greg84
Emeritus
January 23rd 2011


7608 Comments


Great! One more album I should add to my list.

Digging: Slipknot - We Are Not Your Kind

mallen-
January 23rd 2011


1241 Comments


Great work guys

Nagrarok
January 23rd 2011


8598 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I like the new new username better Mike - even though it is a Knott-ripoff.



And thanks of course.

mallen-
January 23rd 2011


1241 Comments


It was my second choice really because my old forum profile is mallen with nothing at the end. This was the only thing I could think of without numbers at the end.

Jethro42
January 23rd 2011


15943 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Great! One more album I should add to my list.


You might enjoy the band, dude. If you like this song, you will like Renaissance;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YoBq4NsWcI

Thanks Mike. If I was you, I'd give Renaissance a whirl.

mmmh...How about ''Jethro-''...







vanderb0b
January 23rd 2011


3473 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Awesome review, album itself is pretty excellent too.

Nagrarok
January 23rd 2011


8598 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

A 4 from me, the title closer brings the epicness.

Jethro42
January 23rd 2011


15943 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks a bunch vanderb0b, dude. I knew that you'd love Renaissance, since you're a classical pianist yourself.



A 4 from me, the title closer brings the epicness


Whoa man, your 'progressive ear' is pretty well developped since that 24 minutes' suite needs more often than not several listens to be completely digested.

I forgot to mention that bassman John Camp does the lead vocals for Betrayal.

Annnd your new avatar is...not Tony Iommi neither Ritchie Blackmore...mhhhh

Zettel
January 23rd 2011


661 Comments


Wow. You really love prog, it shows. You know it, but you both are doing a great work trying to bring the genre to the spotlight. From all the rock genres, I think prog-rock is the closest to the richness and complexity of classical music, although most of the time I find it --the genre-- overbloated. It is hard to explain but I'm constantly put off by some works and bands.

Certainly there is top quality stuff, but it demands a lot from the listener. I am tempted to listen to this, because it sounds so interesting. I will find the time.

Nagrarok
January 24th 2011


8598 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Annnd your new avatar is...not Tony Iommi neither Ritchie Blackmore...mhhhh




Jethro, you dissapoint me in not recognizing one of the most recognizable frontmen in rock 'n roll. Another hint, perhaps?



Wow. You really love prog, it shows. You know it, but you both are doing a great work trying to bring the genre to the spotlight. From all the rock genres, I think prog-rock is the closest to the richness and complexity of classical music, although most of the time I find it --the genre-- overbloated. It is hard to explain but I'm constantly put off by some works and bands.



Certainly there is top quality stuff, but it demands a lot from the listener. I am tempted to listen to this, because it sounds so interesting. I will find the time




Thanks man, it's much appreciated. I get everything you say here, some bands are very overbloated or just overly ambitious, which can be very off-putting (even though I still like some of them), but there are also the likes of Renaissance right here (also Camel comes to mind), that write very structured and accessible songs.

Jethro42
January 24th 2011


15943 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I think prog-rock is the closest to the richness and complexity of classical music...


You're right, the progressive rock arrangements often incorporate elements drawn from classical and a wide gamut of sub-genres, invariably pushing the boundaries by going beyond the standard rock, so it's not surprising that some prog acts are more or less hard to digest.





Certainly there is top quality stuff, but it demands a lot from the listener.


I think the faster you enter the progressive rock realm, the easier your ear gets trained. Thanks for your kind words and your enthusiasm, Zettel. Please let us know what you think of Renaissance.



Jethro, you dissapoint me in not recognizing one of the most recognizable frontmen in rock 'n roll. Another hint, perhaps?


LEMMY! haha Thanks to both your recent ratings and Wikipedia because sadly all I actually know about Motorhead is their name. I guess I need to fix it :/





Nagrarok
January 24th 2011


8598 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

LEMMY! haha Thanks to both your recent ratings and Wikipedia because sadly all I actually know about Motorhead is their name. I guess I need to fix it :/




Their classic streak is Overkill, Bomber & Ace of Spades. Every man needs some Motorhead.



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