Many Voices Make For Light Work

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Jon Anderson (Photo by Deborah Anderson)

There is something to be said for not rushing creativity. With 1,000 Hands: Chapter One, Jon Anderson has taken that concept to another level, given the fact that the six of the 11 tracks date back to sessions started at a studio in Big Bear, CA, back in 1990. The tracks for what became Anderson’s 15th album were originally started as a collaboration with Brian Chatton, a longtime friend who was also a keyboardist in the vocalist’s first pre-Yes band, The Warriors. When this project was initially being worked on, Anderson was still in Yes, which was preparing to embark on a tour. The tapes ended up languishing on a shelf in the frontman’s garage until producer Michael Franklin reached out in 2016 to inquire about finishing this collection of songs.

“When Michael called and said he’d love to finish the album, he asked if we could get together at his studio in Orlando,” Anderson recalled. “We had to make eight big boxes of tapes and put them into the computer after that. They only play once, because after that, they’ll shred. It was a tricky thing to do, but as luck would have it, we had six really beautiful songs that came out great. All I said to Michael was that it was originally to be called Uzlot, which means ‘a lot of us’ and the idea was to get as many musicians together as you could to perform. I was thinking half a dozen. Anyway, 20-some musicians later, it just kept adding up.”

The collaborators on 1,000 Hands truly came out to what seemed like a musical cast of thousands. Among the contributors are storied sidemen (Carmine Appice, Stuart Hamm), ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra members (Billy Cobham, Jerry Goodman, John-Luc Ponty), jazz royalty (the late Larry Coryell, Chick Corea), six-string axe slingers (Rick Derringer, Steve Morse, Pat Travers) and Yes bandmates (the late Chris Squire, Alan White, Steve Howe).

Also lending their talents are Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, vocal group Zap Mama, the Tower of Power horn section and actor/human sound effects machine Michael Winslow of Police Academy fame. The result is a cavalcade of styles ranging from the polyrhythmic wonder of “WDMCF” and frothy Caribbean lilt of “First Born Leaders” to the stacked harmonies that define “Ramalama” and the bouncy, horn-soaked pop of “Makes Me Happy.” Not surprisingly, all this creative energy inspired the album’s name.

“That’s where the title 1,000 Hands comes from, all of the brilliant musicians who played a part in making the record,” Anderson explained. “Michael acted like something of a casting director, bringing so many great players. It was really exciting to hear the record open up and become what I always envisioned.”

While Anderson hasn’t sung with Yes for nearly a decade, save for the group’s 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, the links remain deep with his old band. So much so that while the contributions by White and Squire date back to 1990, Howe’s inclusion was as recent as January of this year.

“We had this idea for a song called ‘Now,’ which was about three verses. To me, it was too much to begin with. So I decided to have one verse in the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end of the album,” Anderson said. “At the end of the album, there was this one piece of music and I think Michael said we should get Steve to play on it. And while I hadn’t really been in touch with him for a few years, I just emailed Steve and asked if he’d be interested to play on this piece and he said yes. He sent over such great guitar work that I couldn’t help but sing on it.”

Given the amount of touring Anderson has done over the past five decades, he’s still enamored of life on the road. He promises concert-goers will get to experience that connection that’s made Yes fans one of the more loyal followings in rock and roll.

“People can expect a celebration of what I am. I’ll do some Olias [of Sunhillow] songs. Some Yes, of course, the new album and a couple of surprises along the way. I have full control of what I’m going to do,” he said. “Yes fans are everywhere, no matter where you go. That’s what I found out when I do my solo shows. I’d rather have 200 or 300 people know who I am rather than 1,000 people wonder if I’m any good. I connect with them because they understand who I am and what I do.”

As someone whose musical thirst has found him collaborating with artists ranging from New Age masters like Kitaro and Vangelis to Slovak visual artist Peter Machajdik and Swedish guitarist/songwriter Roine Stolt, Anderson is eager to continue down his unorthodox musical path with help from Franklin.

“I’ve been going back and exploring Bulgarian singers. I talked to Michael Franklin about doing some chorale work and how it would be great to get some choirs to join in an ensemble fashion. We could get them to come in and do that kind of harmonic thing rather than just come in and sing. We could do something special with a chorale and expand the idea over the next couple of years and that would be the next chapter,” he said. “I jokingly say, the best music is yet to come. I think I’ve made some great music over the past 10 years. To continue doing that is to fulfill an agreement I made with myself to do just that.”

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