(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
In 1976, after the success of Relayer and a subsequent world tour, all of the members of Yes were persuaded to record solo albums. Most fans will point to either Jon Anderson’s Olias Of Sunhillow or Chris Squire’s Fish Out Of Water as the best of the lot. While I agree that these are excellent albums, my favorite from the bunch would probably be keyboardist Patrick Moraz’s contribution, simply called i. My opinion isn’t shared by most folks and I’ve heard this described as a full album’s worth of the “Cha cha cha, cha cha!” section of “Soundchaser”. While that may be a rather unfair criticism, there’s quite possibly a hint of truth to it. Let’s examine the album a little closer first.
The Story Of i is a concept album based on a story conceived by Patrick. The tale centers around a large building in a shape very similar to the letter i, as seen on the cover drawing. The story can be interpreted as a journey of self-discovery and a guide to over coming obstacles in life. The songs on the album loosely follow the story; there’s no real narrative but there is a plot and a definite flow to the album other than the fact that all of the tracks run together to form one continuous piece of music per side.
The opening track “Impact” begins with some nice spacey polymoog work and it’s not long before the percussionists of Rio De Janeiro join in. Moraz first worked with this percussion ensemble in the Brazilian ballet and his experience inspired him to invite them to perform on this and a few of his other albums. Their festive contribution plays a big part here and it would be my guess this is why most people have a problem with the album, but I really enjoy it and feel that combined with the excellent piano and synth parts, the percussion creates a very unique atmosphere that has yet to be duplicated by any prog or fusion group. The funky bass of Jeff Berlin is introduced here as well. His playing on the entire album seems much more relaxed than anything else he’s ever done.
From there we head right into “Warmer Hands” which starts out with lots more from the percussion ensemble with the added drum work of Alphonse Mouzon, who plays the drum kit for the first side of the album. There are a few chanting parts and then the lead vocals of John McBurnie are introduced. While John doesn’t exactly possess the greatest singing voice, I think it’s rather interesting and doesn’t really disturb the mood of the disc. After a repeated chorus of “Cold hearts and colder days – Wait for the storm” we head directly into “The Storm”, a short but chaotic piece that has no synthesizers but does contain an electrified slinky, amplified bubbles and 20 tympanis! Yea, this track was named correctly.
“Cachaca (Baião)” named for a drink made from distilled sugarcane, continues the festive atmosphere. This is a dance number featuring some nice marimba and agogo bells in the percussion section. There’s a waltz part near the end that leads into the track “Intermezzo”. This is one of my favorite sections on the album, containing a baroque melody with dual female vocals provided by Vivienne McAuliffe. On the left side her vocals are in French while on the right the same words are sung in English. This only lasts for a brief period and gives way to an upbeat section with piano and tap-dancing castanets. The whole band really rocks out during the last part. The song is only 2:49 but a lot is packed into that sort amount.
There’s a battle between lead guitar played by Ray Gomez and Pat’s mimimoog at the beginning of “Indoors” which turns into a very intense fusion piece. The song is broken up into two parts, “Interaction” and “Imps Dance”. Towards the end, it gets very symphonic and spacey and segues nicely into the last tack of the side. “Best Years of Our Lives” is a beautiful love song with a very big orchestration and some very nice piano parts. It’s a very nice way to end the first side of the album.
“Descent” opens up side two with some blazing synth work and the introduction of drummer Andy Newmark who, in keeping with the symmetry theme, plays the drum kit for the entire second side. After a nice build-up the pace of the track gradually slows downs (hence the title) and gives way to the funeral march of “IncantationàProcession”. This is an eerie slow piece with weird tribal percussion and electronic melody. Towards the end of the track there’s a short “Macumba” chant that leads back into the main march chant.
The tempo begins to speed up and this leads into to the song “Dancing Now”. While this tune does have some interesting funky pop moments it also contains some pretty corny lyrics. I could have done without the “I’m Fred Astaire and I really don’t care cause I’m dancing now” part. The song ends on a deep dark piano note leading into “Impressions (The Dream)”. This track is entirely Moraz, a very dynamic symphonic piano solo and an intro to the pop ballad “Like a Child In Disguise”. This is a really nice piece despite a short Bee Gees tribute by McBurnie. As a side note, after playing on this and Moraz’s second album Out In The Sun, McBurnie would go on to form a group called Vapour Trails. The band’s self-titled debut album was rather lackluster compared to the Moraz LPs though and they disbanded shortly after releasing it.
“Rise and Fall” begins the ending of the album, with re-entries of many of the themes. There’s some more really great lead guitar by Ray Gomez. When I originally started to write this review, I thought he wasn’t used that much on the album but when I listened closely he has some very interesting parts. Everyone puts on a great performance musically on this track and I was sort of surprised that I hadn’t noticed how great this piece was years earlier. The album ends with “Symphony in the Space” an appropriately named track with some very lush mellotron and synthesizer passages. A mellow way to end the proceedings, the music just floats dreamily off into the air.
If you’ve made it this far you can probably tell that there’s a lot to be discovered on this album. Although I was fairly generous in describing the tracks, there’s still a lot that I left out. On the original LP, there are exhaustive liner notes that include the complete story, a personnel list including a breakdown of all the instruments played by Moraz and lyrics to each song. There’s even an inner sleeve, which contains diagrams and notes handwritten by Pat himself. Unfortunately not much of this original packaging is included on the CD release. There is however a nice biography written by Tiz Hay that chronicles the mans career up until the mid-90s.
Due to the heavy concentration of Latin percussion and the upbeat nature of the music, The Story Of i sometimes gets branded as a disco album, nothing could be further from the truth though. This is not boring and one-dimensional but expressive and dynamic. Patrick’s talents as a keyboardist and composer shine through on this album. He doesn’t shy away from experimentation and he utilizes many tools at his disposal that others would probably shy away from. If you haven’t yet discovered this gem, I suggest you investigate it further. You might be in for a real treat.