Most people do know how great the albums by Magenta from Wales are. On their albums they come up with fantastic progressive rock songs played on their electronic instruments. Sometimes recalling the golden years of Yes or Renaissance back in the seventies. But only a few people do know that the same band can entertain an audience on mainly acoustic instruments as well. The proof can be found on the release which came out as Magenta & Friends and titled Acapela 2016 & 2017. It contains 2 DVDs and 2 CDs. The full sets are posted on the DVDs, while the limitations of sound media meant that the CD versions were shortened to about 80 minutes. Therefore some tracks are missing on the audio discs. But this should not prevent you from buying this excellent release! Because it is a release certainly worth purchasing as I found out myself!
In recent years, the pre-Christmas performances of Magenta musicians at the Acapela Studios in the suburbs of Cardiff have become an annual tradition. The studio was created as a result of adopting an old chapel. The biggest attraction of these concerts is that in many ways they are unique, precisely prepared, semi-acoustic, and the band itself presents them differently than usual.
In addition to traditional concert sets with songs from various albums and from various stages of Magenta's career, the set lists of two concerts from 2016 and 2017 includes songs from Christina Booth's solo repertoire, songs performed from Chris Fry's instrumental album Composed and music from Robert Reed's solo projects - Sanctuary and Kompendium, incidentally never performed live.
Both performances in a cosy atmosphere begin with a set of solo songs, and then - in the second half of the concerts - Magenta goes to its full set, each time radically different. Not only that, in both concerts also many great guests take part, including: Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Camel, Red Bazar) contributing on flute, guitar, saxophone and vocals. There are the vocalists Steff Rhys Williams, Fran Murphy and Anngharad Brinn as well as oboist Karla Powell, cellist Claudine Cassidy and pianist Nigel Hopkins. And besides them, on a small stage, of course, the Magenta band itself: Christina Booth (vocals), Robert Reed (piano, guitars), Chris Fry (guitars), Dan Nelson (bass) and drummers Jiffy Griffiths (in 2016) and Steve Roberts (in 2017).
All recordings are of course presented in very good image and sound quality, are unique because they were made in an unusual, almost non-progressive rock, or rather classical way. The intimate nature of Magenta's music, provided by the Acapela room, exudes an unusual charm of intimacy. Whilst watching this concert on a large TV screen you can't resist the impression that you are sitting almost in the middle of the audience and in the immediate vicinity of the musicians. While at the same time a kind of restraint of performance and a sparing means of artistic expression. Although a lot of things seemed to be improvised here.
Of course it's strange at first to see the band perform with different instruments this time around. Reed left his electric keys at home. On the other hand, he can indulge himself on the concert grand piano and electric guitar. For the Magenta songs, the band draws extensively from the CDs released since 2001. Meaning no songs were covered from their debut Revolutions.Those compositions, taken from CDs released after their debut, also appear to be very good in these stripped-down versions. It is wonderful to hear how cello and oboe parts fill in the gaps that leave Reed's missing synths open. The cello and oboe can be heard continuously during both performances, which certainly contributes to the intimate atmosphere and the unplugged character. Sometimes you even imagine yourself at a chamber music concert. Or other times the large portions of keys are replaced by the grand piano only. The performances are not entirely acoustic, because Fry continuously touches his acoustic string friend, but also plugs in his electric device to give some tasteful solos for the best. This addition is also allowed, because without these nice full, sharp sounds the whole would still be a bit clinical and soft.
Besides the songs performed from Booth and Fry solo and Magenta of course it was most of all a real pleasure to hear songs from the Kompendium project. The three pieces stand out because of the playful medieval flute playing, the saxophone of Jones and the vocals of Steff Rhyss Williams. This is also a welcome change from the vocals of Booth, who sings as always brilliantly with a crystal clear voice.
All this means that this release can turn out to be a real gem in every album collection of all those Magenta fans out there. Magenta fans who have all their albums with the original studio versions on them in full band line-up. Hearing all those different musical versions of those well known Magenta tunes shows once again that there is more to offer without all those synthesizers and bass pedals. Variety makes the spice after all! Highly recommended!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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