Scheherazade And Other Stories
Among the truly important progressive rock albums on the 70s, Renaissance’s Scheherazade And Other Stories is a high watermark of songwriting, production and playing. This album features arguably the best-known lineup of the band (Annie Haslam on vocals, John Tout on piano, Jon Camp on bass, Michael Dunford on guitar and Terence Sullivan on drums), and showcases a lush and lengthy set of four songs to create a bright and fresh sound collage — which has been sonically enhanced on the 2014 Audio Fidelity hybrid SACD reissue.
SACD technology was made to bring the high production value and musicianship of a band like Renaissance to the fore. On Scheherazade And Other Stories, the players favored acoustic instruments and orchestral arrangements (with help from the London Symphony Orchestra) — providing a rich template of sound possibilities. The 11-minute “Trip To The Fair” — inspired by Haslam’s romance with Roy Wood of The Move and Electric Light Orchestra — opens with Tout on piano and Camp on bass, dueting quick runs and staccato drilling (Haslam peppers in some haunting “ahhs” as well). A harpsichord floats under the singer when the verses begin. We are into a signature quick tempo work-out with Terence Sullivan’s drums keeping a subtle yet effective beat under it all. "The Vultures Fly High" is a short mover, led by Tout’s pulsating piano and layered vocals in the chorus. The nuances of Sullivan’s cymbal tinkling are pristine on the remaster. "Ocean Gypsy" sees the full use of the low strings of the orchestra and presents one those catchy choruses you simply cannot get out of your head.
The highlight of Scheherazade And Other Stories is the nine movement, 25-minute "Song Of Scheherazade." Tout’s expressive piano work aligns seamlessly with the London Symphony Orchestra, making the suite the most cinematic and expansive piece on the record. Haslam hits her highs on “The Young Prince And Princess As Told By Scheherazade,” floating over a rush of strings and horns.
There’s some single note atmospheric droplets of plinking xylophone starting. Elsewhere, horns battle softly over piano as Sullivan’s snapping snare and cymbal washes see us through “Fugue For The Sultan.” The dynamic structures of “The Festival” are informed by Dunford’s flicking wrist across his acoustic, while the whole ensemble rides out the story to the “Finale.” Recorded in May 1975 at the famed Abbey Road studios in London, and remastered for SACD by Kevin Gray, Scheherazade And Other Stories, a classical tale about the Sultan and the magical woman, Scheherazade, is a showcase for the vocal power of Annie Haslam and an esteemed relic from a time when artists had the imagination to step outside their comfort zones and push their potential to new heights of ambition and pretentiousness.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.