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I’ve always been partial to Yes from their most ambitious period. Tales from Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Drama, these represent to me the best rock has to offer.
Rock critics like to call this music pretentious, but “pretentious” only means something ambitious that failed. Something ambitious that succeeds is called “great”. Yes were great half the time and pretentious the other half. Their great stuff has a structural complexity that really hangs together in a symphonic sort of way. I’m specifically talking about the first two sides of Tales from Topographic Oceans. You have thematic contrast, development, synthesis, and a certain amount of fucking around too, but not too much. My young friend Melissa listened to this and said “Do these guys know about Mahler?”
The very end of The Gates of Delirium is one of the most imaginatively elaborated plagal cadences in all music. The chords spiral upwards around E flat, C minor, F minor, but if you listen to the persistent C in the bass you know it’s already arrived at where it’s going to end up.
Into the Lens is built around a trompe l’oeil rhythmic ostinato that somehow fits into the context of 4/4 as in 6/8.
The first thing of any substance I ever heard by Berio was his Concerto for 2 Pianos, on an RCA record that has never been released on CD. It remains a favourite, regardless. Sinfonia is very fine, likewise Coro. I haven’t heard enough of the Chemins or Sequenza series to make an overall call, but what I have heard was of high quality. A piece called Points on the Curve to Find, a sort of mini piano concerto, seems to bring a Reichian element into Berio’s style, and it works, too.
I’m not sure I’d call myself a fan. Some works I really love; others leave me cold. I’ve been listening to Berio for about 30 years. I don’t know which grabbed me first, the Folk Songs or the Sinfonia. I do know the LP pictured was one of my first Berio purchases, circa 1978. It’s a two LP box. I may not be a confirmed Berio fan but I’m definitely a confirmed Berberian fan. Being a Mahlerite my favourite Berio work is, of course, Sinfonia. I own Boulez and Chailly’s recordings.
A bit of Grateful Dead trivia. Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead’s amazing bass player, was a student of Berio’s at Mills College in the mid-60s. Berio was so impressed with Lesh’s skill as a composer, he invited him to be his apprentice in Italy. Lesh met Jerry Garcia shortly thereafter and he chose a different musical course … to the profound gratitude of Grateful Dead fans all over the world.
We’ll never know what the classical world lost but perhaps we hear a taste of what might have been during the Lesh-inspired second set Space segments during those interminable Grateful Dead shows.