Renaissance – “A Symphonic Journey”


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This review is going to be a little different.  Yes, this is a review for the new live DVD from legendary progressive rock band Renaissance.  Yes, I will talk about the DVD.  However, I also was given a chance to see the band live myself recently, and so I will talk a bit about that concert experience, as well.  “A Symphonic Journey” released on the 14th of September.

In late October, I received a message from my friend Geoffrey Langley.  I’ve been connected with him for years because of The Twenty Committee, a prog rock band of which he was a part (writers Justin and Stephen were part of this band, as well).  Anyways, Geoffrey is travelling with Renaissance as their second keyboardist, and has been since 2016.  He asked if I’d like to come see the show in Kent, Ohio on the 8th of November, and I was happy to accept and drag my brother along for the ride.

That night was fantastic, to say the least, and this live DVD has helped me relive the magic of that night.  The DVD itself includes performances from Annie Haslam on vocals, Mark Lambert on guitar and backing vocals, Rave Tesar and Geoffrey Langley on keyboards, Leo Traversa on bass, and Charles Descarfino on drums.  The concert I saw featured a different bassist and drummer, John Arbo and Frank Pagano, respectively. 

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Now, I was not overly familiar with the band.  I’d obviously heard of them and some of their music, but I had never really dug deeply into their discography.  The band’s music has aged really, really well. They were a progressive rock band from the time of the “greats”, so they have their own sound that cannot be labeled as influenced by this or that “giant” of prog.  Their combination of acoustic guitar, voluptuous bass, technical keys, and thundering drums are made only more contagious by Annie’s untamed voice.

Now, the DVD itself has beautiful packaging.  The production values are on the lower end of the spectrum, but still come across as professional and immersive.  The band produced this DVD independently, and I think they did a good job of it.  What sets it apart is the fact that this DVD was filmed with the aptly named Renaissance Chamber Orchestra at Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania.  The band is clearly in their element here, even having fun.  The sheer joy of playing their music is written all over their faces, and you get to see them with some great camera angles that, while lacking a bit of artistic vision, are simple and show the concert well.

Comparing the live show with the DVD, I have a few thoughts.  First, the orchestra really does add an artistic and glorious feeling to the music, but it also takes away from what Rave and Geoffrey are playing, and so I’m not sure which I like more.  Second, the live show had significantly better bass and drums.  John and Frank had just returned for the first time in a while, so Kent was their first show back with the band.  I was thrilled by the rhythm section and the absolutely blistering performances they offered.  The DVD has a great offering in this area, too, but just not as organic or hard-hitting.  Lastly, Annie was a chatterbox at the live show.  I don’t know if they cut most of that from the DVD or not, but Annie was hilarious and really made the live show an experience with her personality. 

For both the DVD and the concert, there are some more things to mention.  First off, Ann’s voice is remarkable, to say the least.  Like any human being, she has aged and there are some shaky or off-key moments, but not nearly what you would expect, and she still has a range that will give you chills.  Second, the keys are out of this world.  I was already familiar with Geoffrey’s beautiful style, and I really enjoyed seeing him play in this setting.  Now, Rave is basically a mathematician of melodies, a mad scientist of sorts.  This guy is obviously influenced by classical compositions, and his overall demeanor and prowess are truly stunning to watch and hear.  Seeing and hearing him play with Geoffrey was truly amazing, and they both produced fireworks.

The track list is quite refined, as well.  “Carpet of the Sun” sounds as warm as ever, and “A Song for All Seasons” will cause your heart to crawl up into your throat.  “A Symphony of Light” is emotional and nostalgic, and “Ashes Are Burning” is an epic finale, as expected.  My favorite song, however, is not featured on the DVD.  At the concert, the band played the illustrious and emotional “Ocean Gypsy”.  I was blown away by the sheer artistry and color on display during this song, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Haken’s “Aquarius”, for some reason.

Overall, the live experience is stellar, whether through the DVD or through the live concert.  I was seriously impressed with the performances, the overall sound and production, and the brilliant compositions on display.  Do yourself a favorite and discover or rediscover the color and light of Renaissance, especially if they are coming to your area soon.  Their next (and I think final) US date is taking place on Sunday, December 2nd at 7:00 PM at Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, NY.

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