Last summer, the successes I saw in Yes’ Heaven and Earth album caused me to rethink the band's future in a big way. For the first time, it seriously seemed that the band could survive, possibly even move forward, without a single original member. I started to play “fantasy football” with some potential line-ups. Billy Sherwood would be a key player in this dream team, filling the shoes of the irreplaceable Chris Squire while Jon Davison, Yes’ current lead singer, would stay on. Davison’s contributions to Heaven and Earth capture the spirit of Yes in a convincing way and for him to similarly collaborate with Sherwood in the Yes name would, I think, produce amazing results. I had a lock on this creative core, but at first I was not as convinced about the other 3/5 of the band.
This led me to Circa:, a Sherwood project that was, at least initially, made up of musicians either in Yes or closely related to them. I watched many YouTube clips of the band and soon decided that guitarist Jimmy Haun would be a worthy successor to Peter Banks, Steve Howe, and, of course, Trevor Rabin.
HQ my wish list. The album gave me a little more insight as to what kind of boundaries the Yes name has. Circa:’s lineup on HQ is, arguably, another “Yes that never was,” and undoubtedly, the compositions and performances make this relationship clear. Billy Sherwood’s voice, however, though adequate, doesn’t evoke the kind of celestial expansiveness that is necessary to invoke Yes. And that’s fine. Circa: is not calling itself Yes. No touch, no foul. Give Davison a call if you want to go there.
Given this concession, however, with Sherwood’s contributions woven into Yes’ history and Tony Kaye freed from the synthetic production styles of the Rabin era, there is a whole lot of Yes going on. Jimmy Haun’s vast array of sounds and melodic prowess name him clearly as the man for the job. Circa drives this point home with the guitar interlude “Haun Solo,” a nod-of-the-head to the Yes tradition of Steve Howe features. Additionally, drummer Jay Schellen attacks the drums tastefully and aggressively in the same way that Alan White did when he was forging his own distinctive identity in Yes. His pedigree with Asia, a band with close ties to Yes, makes him even more compelling as a potential member. In fact, after living with HQ for awhile now, I think that the members of Circa: as they are realized on this particular recording, with the addition of Jon Davison, would be a fine nu-Yes, but with one exception.
Kaye is in excellent form on HQ and contributes a significant amount of “Yes-ness” to the project, but it defeats the purpose of proposing a next-gen Yes with a first-gen member. In my previous lineup, I put Oliver Wakeman on keys, mainly because I don’t think that he got a fair shake as Yes’ keyboard player in that great expanse of lost creative time between Magnification and Fly From Here. I still think he would be interesting in the role, and he would be relatively easy for the fans to accept, but it also seems a little too easy. Let’s be forthright: is he really a keyboard innovator, or is he just a good keyboardist blessed with a familiar last name? The problem is the very long shadow of his father.
Say what you like about Rick Wakeman’s distinctive brand of keyboard gymnastics, but I have always found his approach to be beautiful, electrifying, and, in its own way, totally genuine. He is, in my opinion, perhaps the finest rock keyboardist in history, and any other musician that has ever had the role of keyboardist in Yes has had to unjustifiably deal with that comparison from the fanbase.
But finding inventive keyboard players in the age of sequencing and triggering is not so easy. Again, the Kscope Sampler I was checking out earlier last month provided an answer. The track Os Lunatum by Russian duo iamthemorning featured an explosive performance from Gleb Kolyadin’s that brought Wakeman to mind.
Belighted on my wish list, and it thankfully showed up on my birthday. As a whole, it is a refreshingly original and compelling release, and not just from the standpoint of Kolyadin’s highly dexterous technique. It conjures a broad variety of unique moods that recall the best of progressive rock while remaining quite novel. A superficial listen will reveal that Kolyadin plays piano pretty exclusively on Belighted, and the attentive fan will rightfully demand to hear his synthesizer chops before making the leap to naming him Wakeman’s successor. Fair enough, but I will argue that although Wakeman is also known for his innovations in the synthesizer world, his conservatory- trained piano technique as always laid at the very core of his playing. Kolyadin clearly shares this background with him, as well as a passion for innovation that would add a lot to an entirely new Yes configuration.
So perhaps my current dream-team, for those that have been following, would be Davison, Sherwood, Haun, Kolyadin, and Schellen. Again, this is only for fun, and not meant to take anything away from the work of the current Yes lineup. But if anyone were to put together a petition with these five names on it for future planning purposes, I would sign. I think that they could make an album that would be at least as good as the late period success The Ladder, which was, in my opinion, great. On the other hand, a 21st century Fragile, with "solo" spots for all the new players to assert their roles, would be interesting. In either case, we would certainly be better off than with no Yes at all.