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Monday, 20 October 2014

Renaissance 'Symphony Of Light' Tour Will Debut, Conclude In Connecticut

In a recent chat with Annie Haslam, the multi-tiered soprano now leading the classical prog-rock ensemble Renaissance, I mentioned how in 1977, I was dragged along by high school pals Trish and Salli to see the band at Waterbury’s Palace Theater.

After playing me a recording of arguably their most accessible hit, “Carpet of the Sun,” I was intrigued enough to go, and it turned into one of those life-enhancing experiences music lovers crave and covet.
I suppose to their most ardent fans, there is a sense of ownership — a feeling like you’ve discovered a little personal treasure chest you can go to and open when you’re suffering through a momentary musical recession.
And I suppose to their first and second-generation fans who became hopelessly hooked on the band’s refreshingly hook-free and blissfully executed arrangements, the return of Renaissance to American concert stages in 2009 was nothing short of a miracle.
Like that magical night in the acoustically superior Palace, my latest Renaissance concert experience on the band’s last tour was an equally inspiring carpet ride through stories of “Scheherazade,” “Mother Russia,” the “Ocean Gypsy,” and the incendiary “Ashes Are Burning.”
New material from the writing team of Haslam and the late Michael Dunford like “The Mystic and The Muse,” and teasers from Renaissance’s new release Symphony of Light remained stylistically familiar, with the added energy of new blood in the form of long-time touring players, Rave Tesar on keyboards; David J. Keyes on bass guitar and vocals; Frank Pagano on drums and vocals; and Tom Brislin on keyboards.
The sudden passing of Dunford in November 2012 came as a horrible shock to the band’s newly revived and most recent crop of followers. So it's impossible to imagine how Haslam, who shared the stage and a lifelong friendship with Dunford, was able to face a future performing or writing without him.
But after some time to grieve and regroup, Haslam and Renaissance did just that.
Enlisting guitarist Ryche Chlanda, the band was back. And they chose Connecticut’s more rustic and equally wonderful sounding Infinity Hall in Norfolk for their first American date.
I respected how Haslam strode onto the stage with her curly half-smile - momentarily fading as she looked toward where Dunford used to stand at center stage - then caught herself, turning her attention to the opening number, “Carpet of the Sun.”
And as Murphy’s Law  would have it, the opening few notes misfired when Chlada's guitar went silent. But instead of melting down, Haslam let out a hearty laugh, momentarily looking skyward as if to be sure Dunford was watching, before proceeding to to re-boot and re-started the show.
In an interview with her three days later, Haslam wasn't as upset about the opening night stumble as she was about a fundamental change in the band’s live sound as a result of the switch between Dunford’s more warm Martin acoustic guitars, and Chlada’s preference for the more raspy-sounding Taylor brand instruments.
And she vowed to fix it come hell or high water.
Lo and behold, the next US tour, which also made a stop at Infinity Hall, showcased a much better integration of Chlada’s guitars — very closely replicating Dunford’s instrumentation. And it appeared that, post-Dunford, there was still plenty of life left in Renaissance.
Haslam was still in fine form, eliciting chills when she would occasionally pop one of those stratospheric vocal passages, and a refreshed chemistry with their newest member seemed to be gelling. Hints of new, Dunford co-written compositions were revealed from the 2013 release Grandine il Vento, now re-titled Symphony of Light , which also features additional Haslam-Dunford tracks as well as “Renaissance Man,” written by Haslam and keyboardist Tesar in honor of their fallen friend and bandmate.
For many years, Haslam has also enjoyed a parallel creative lifestyle, rising to a respectable position as a painter, even taking commissions on occasion. Her art graces tiny canvases she exhibits and sells at each Renaissance concert and through anniehaslam.com, and her and colorful work is dispalyed on the new album cover.
It will also, she hinted, be integrated into an outfit she plans to wear during the band’s upcoming tour which opens October 23 at The Ridgefield Playhouse, and wraps up half a state away at Hartford’s shiny new Infinity Hall on November 5.
During our pre-tour chat, Haslam still talked a lot about Dunford, as well as the challenges of taking over the leading role in the ever changing but still creatively vibrant world of Renaissance.
Newtown Bee: So it must take incredible strength and commitment to get up there and do a show every night, or entertain the future of Renaissance without Michael Dunford — although based on the newest album, the band sounds as good as ever, maybe better.
Annie Haslam: Michael passed away in 2012, but he did co-write this new album with me. I don’t know if you knew the story, but in 2012 it was obvious we weren’t going to get a record deal being a heritage band. We learned about Kickstarter from a Tom Brislin, a brilliant player who was in Renaissance for a short period of time with Michael and me, and who conducted the Yes Symphonic Tour. Michael and I discussed it – I think at first we were a little embarrassed, you know, asking for money. It was an odd feeling, but if we didn’t do it we weren’t going to last very long without putting new music out. So we decided to go the Kickstarter route and it was the best thing we had ever done.

Read on...

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