Beginning life as a musical project, The Tangent were initially a vehicle for the work of Andy Tillison, who’d recruited some exceptional musicians to play on what became the band’s 2003 debut album, The Music That Died Alone, including Roine Stolt, guitar (Flower Kings), Jonas Reingold, bass (Flower Kings, Steve Hackett) and David Jackson, sax (VdGG). Since then The Tangent have become a regular band, albeit with a revolving door of musicians, all gathered around the constant presence of Andy Tillison.
If VdGG are the ‘dark underbelly’ of prog rock, then The Tangent could be considered as the ‘dark horse’, always on the outside but never to be discounted in the final analysis. They’re a subtle mix of conflicting styles and influences, which are there for all to see, but including enough of their own chops not to be seen as purely derivative. They perform lengthy, often sprawling, pieces of music, which appeals to prog fans who like their music to have that ‘old school’ appeal… long songs and lots of key/time changes… but with a contemporary feel included.
Pyramids, Stars & Other Stories is being released as a special edition, double CD digipak, or as a gatefold 3 LP set – according to Tillison, ‘a triple ‘live’ LP is the stuff of bucket lists, I’ve dreamt of doing one since I was a kid’– and it’s the ‘live’ album Tangent fans have been wanting for some considerable time. The whole package is essentially a compilation of some of the ‘hard-to-get’ fan releases The Tangent have released down the years as ‘official bootlegs’, and finally being made commercially available. The album features three Tangent line-ups, from 2004 (Germany), 2011 (Southend) and 2017 (New Jersey). The music, which includes traces of jazz, prog, pop, etc, is sometimes intense, sumptuously melodic and occasionally sprawling as they do tend to perform pieces sometimes running to over twenty minutes, and while Tillison is happy to acknowledge the influence of seventies prog, he attempts to ensure his band retains a modern lyrical twist to their music by writing about contemporary issues, things he believes fans are affected by and can relate to – not, as he says, about ‘hobs and orcs’.
Disc one is the complete ‘Pyramid and Stars’ show from Germany, November 2004, which sees Andy Tillison speaking in Deutsch between songs, and features the original line-up which performed most of the tracks on the debut album, though Up Hill From Here isn’t included, plus also The Winning Game and the title track of their 2004 sophomore album, The World We Drive Through. With the stellar roll call of musicians involved, the performances are extraordinarily good, with some exemplary jazzy-tinged prog from what, for this reviewer, is The Tangent’s most musically proficient line-up, with Tillison holding his own alongside top prog musicians like Stolt, Lindberg and Jackson. The debut album is essentially three suites, The Music That died Alone, In Darkest Dreams and The Canterbury Sequence, which is more straight ahead light jazz than prog, with Tillison name-checking Caravan and Hatfield & The North, all of which feature some great guitar and keyboard work, with David Jackson’s flute particularly illuminating the title track.
The second disc sees the inclusion of tracks from venues in Southend 2011 and New Jersey, 2017 from across four studio albums, alongside tracks which had previously appeared only on fan issue albums, and for fans previously unable to obtain tracks such as Crisis In Mid Life and Perdue Dans Paris, they’re now available. Sale Of Two Souls features some wry observations about the aging process, with a nice lift from Steely Dan’s Do It Again at the end. The lengthy epic Titanic Calls Carpathia concerns a superliner hitting an iceberg and calling another ship for help, made possible in the developing age of communication… Comm. The New Jersey tracks, from the delightfully named ‘Hotel Cantaffordit tour’, opens with Spark In The Aether, quite possibly the shortest, most commercial track the band has ever released. This is followed by the twelve minute instrumental Dr Livingstone I Presume, which twists and turns in all directions but is ultimately a joyous piece of music, and concludes with Two Rope Swings – though what a US audience made of a story about Yorkshire kids making swings in a field behind their houses is unknown.
Throughout the three eras of the band represented here, which covers fifteen years, the writing is strong, the high quality of the music never varies and the level of technical musicianship is masterful, and while not even his greatest fan would say Tillison’s vocals are anything to get excited about, the rich variety of the music more than stands up on its own. This is an album capable of, and well deserving of, a much wider hearing than just being heard by Tangent fans.