Although composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist, Hans-Jurgen Fuchs has been recording with his wife, Ines since the end of the last century (yes it was that long ago now!), bringing out four albums, his main focus has been on solo work over the last decade issuing 3 studio albums since 2012, including the excellent Station Songs (see review) in 2018. This collection therefore is something of a stocktake, an accessible resume of a decade's recordings and a confident hat-tip to the future.
It is also something of a curiosity, topped with an icing of major achievement. A live recording issued in 2020 from a concert recorded in that year. (Remember those dear reader?). So for that at least raise a glass to Mr Fuchs! Some context is in order. This concert was recorded at the school where Fuchs works as a music teacher and is otherwise known for writing musicals for performance by school drama projects across Germany. All of which presumably, hopefully, funds his prog rock habit. I just have to pause to underline how unbelievably cool this is. I hope I haven't given the idea that Fuchs is an amateur school-band composer. He is ridiculously talented and has assembled a marvellous line-up of musicians playing in the school hall to an enthusiastic audience. Initially the intention was to make some recordings available on social media, but it was apparent that there was sufficient quality in the material produced to merit a full release.
From the beginning it is apparent just why. Songs which may have previously betrayed Fuchs' day job composing for theatre take on a life of their own in the context of the live rock band. For me the opening was like meeting an old friend in new guise as the charming The Invisible Man which also opened Station Songs is given added urgency and captures the live music adrenalin. The first half of the recording consists of four tracks from Station Songs. Certainly one of Fuchs' main heroes and influences Tony Banks is recognisable on the opening track, but the compositions and musicianship in evidence on this recording ensure that the music on display in this collection stand on their own merit. The second half is intriguing, a retrospective of older material with a new track Here In my Void, consciously set as the jewel in the setlist crown. This contemplation of which roads lead to happiness and contentment was performed live for the first (and only, so far?) time at this concert. At heart is Fuchs' keyboard and synthesizer part inspired by Nils Frahm, but each musician is given the space to express themselves individually, underlining the abundance of talent in the assembled musicians. This creates a multi textured experience while also signposting future directions. By contrast, These Golden Fields is four minutes of joyous delight. The set concludes as it opened, with another extended track. When You Close Your Eyes is an epic curtain closer. There is a tangible sense that the musicians wished they could keep on playing, and that the audience, and this listener were of the same mind.
It's true that there are some issues with the sound, it must have been a challenge. But to my mind, if you want to listen to music in super high, 'I can hear the engineer sipping tea,' type quality, then live recordings are probably not for you. As it is, One Lively Decade captures just that as well as recording a special evening. Something to be treasured if you were there. Something to be enjoyed if you miss live music and the joy of musicians creating in a concert hall environment. Above all, if you haven't made the acquaintance of Hans-Jurgen Fuchs before, this is the perfect opportunity. He is certainly worthy of a wider audience.
**** Andrew Cottrell
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