Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Renaissance - Scheherazade and Other Stories (1975)
Another gem in the sub-genre of symphonic progressive rock, this album is most notable for the suite "Song of Scheherazade." The suite is definitely the magnum opus of the album and one of the highlights of the Renaissance discography. Backed up by the London Symphony Orchestra, it seems appropriate to draw parallels between this album and the Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed. The orchestra is not at the forefront of the suite, as it sticks to mostly background material, but it does add a lot of character to the song. In the beginning where the brass seems to harken the beginning of an epic story to the climax at the end of the suite, the orchestra covers various styles from a variety of influences. A personal favorite is in one of the opening sections where the listener heres the male vocalist for the first time. Interestingly it is in an Arab maqam (mode) called the Bayati, or what in the Western world we would refer to as the double harmonic scale. Scheherazade is the storyteller in the literary work Arabian Nights and it was guitarist Michael Dunford's obsession with the work that led to the suite. Thus, it is not surprising of the lyrical mention of sultans and the use of non-Western scales. Besides "Song of Scheherazade," which is hands-down the most ambitious part of the album, tracks like "Trip to the Fair" are interesting for their use of unusual instruments such as a music box. I once heard that the music box was made solely for this song, but I don't have a definitive source to back up this statement. Even if this album doesn't necessarily use the orchestra to its full potential, it is hard to be disappointed with the core group. Annie Haslam's soprano is always impressive especially in the upper register parts in "Song of Scheherazade." Where I may view Days of Future Passed as a great concept album bringing together rock and classical, I tend to view this album as the group Renaissance playing separately from the London Symphony Orchestra. That is to say that the orchestra is creating a mood that the group is playing within. Simply for the concept of "Song of Scheherazade" and the product embracing both Middle Eastern and Western concepts this is album is worth a listen.