I have long argued that Yes’ perpetually changing lineup puts the band in the unique position to survive beyond the participation of its defining members. Holding tightly to this theory, I have had quite a bit of fun fantasizing about what that “Nu-Yes” might look like. With the installation of Jay Schellen as interim Yes drummer while Alan White recovers from a medical procedure, three-fifths of my “Nu-Yes” dream team has miraculously found its way to the stage. The creative potential of this line-up is intriguing, but part of me has to admit that it is a little weird. I have some sympathy for fans who think that Yes is evolving into their own cover band, a position that is reinforced by a simple fact:
They have not released any new music.
Simultaneously, former singer and founding member Jon Anderson, who parted ways with the band several years ago, has been passively maneuvering himself into position as the true location of contemporary Yes music. Many of his projects, however, have similarly focused on reinventing Yes’ back catalog, rather than creating new music in the Yes tradition. The exception, however, is Invention of Knowledge, his recently released collaboration with Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings, which, from a certain perspective, might be the best Yes album that has been released in quite a while.
Strictly speaking, and certainly from a legal standpoint, Invention of Knowledge is not a Yes album. It does, however, capture and expand on certain aspects of Yes music in a way that will please many fans. As far as personnel go, the album’s direct ties to the Yes family tree are relatively minimal, but its core personnel offer up an alternate “Nu-Yes” configuration that is, in some ways, a challenge to my own hypothetical group.
I have been a fan of Roine Stolt and the Flower Kings for decades, so naturally in my prog “fantasy football” exercises, I had considered Stolt as a potential successor to Yes guitarist Steve Howe. This was not necessarily because he is a Howe copycat, but because it seemed like he could bring to Yes what Howe brought to Yes, both as a player and a contributor, without surrendering his unique guitar voice. Due to his busy schedule with the Flower Kings, Transatlantic, and other seemingly endless prog projects, however, his inclusion seemed too unrealistic. Therefore, it is a joy to see him realize his potential as a contributor to the Yes sound. Stolt also brings a cadre of outstanding musicians from the Flower Kings collective, not the least of which is go-to prog bassist Jonas Reingold, who dances elegantly around inevitable comparisons to the late Chris Squire by playing in his own distinctive voice.
These musicians certainly have a palpable “Yes-ness” in their musical DNA and serve the music well, but the inclusion of Tom Brislin on keyboards really tethers Invention of Knowledge to the Yes family tree. Like Oliver Wakeman, Brislin was a Yes keyboardist that never really got the chance to contribute to the overall Yes canon other than playing already established parts. Invention of Knowledge gives him the opportunity to show what he could have done for the group during those lost years and perhaps even gives him the leverage to nudge Gleb Kolyadin out of my own hypothetical dream team.
I would call the album a great success that reveals more greatness with repeated listens, but despite this, I am not sure that I ascribe to the camp that wishes Anderson would return to Yes. He is an amazingly gifted vocalist that could literally sing anything and make it sound good, perhaps to his detriment. Yes is known for its complex and often cosmic aspects, but memorable songwriting has always been at the core of the band’s best work. Ever since Magnification, however, I increasingly sense that Anderson has come to prefer a freer, more improvised feel to his work that perhaps might not align with Yes’ ongoing intention to craft accessible melodies within complex structures.
Taken on its own, however, The Invention of Knowledge works because Stolt has a similarly wandering spirit and a work ethic that can bring broadly conceived ideas to their conclusion. I think that their conceptual common ground and collaborative relationship resulted in a more consistent album than Yes’ most recent effort and, as such, could be seen as a compelling challenge to the band’s authority to wield the name.
On the other hand, I am an advocate for the band’s current direction, but unlike some of Yes’ more myopic fans, I don’t think that excludes me from supporting Jon Anderson. Truth is, although I still stubbornly file my Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe disc between Big Generator and Union, I am not convinced that Invention of Knowledge is really the successor, or even a competitor, to Heaven and Earth. It aligns more closely with Jon Anderson’s solo repertoire and probably is more fairly considered as such. It is not hard to secretly indulge in the fantasy, however, that it might be the best Yes album that you will hear this year.