Jon Lord – ‘Windows’ (earMUSIC) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Wednesday, 10 May 2017 04:30

Cover Jon Lord WindowsThere can be no doubt that the late Jon Lord was one of the most ground breaking musicians of his generation. Not only was he the stalwart keyboard player with first Deep Purple and then Whitesnake for nigh on more than a quarter of century – inspiring a legion of copycats with his trademark Hammond-organ led style of playing – but he was also an immensely talented composer in his own right, and was one of the first musicians to break down the boundaries between the classical form in which he was trained and the hard rock mien in which he made his name, doing so as far back as 1969 with Deep Purple’s supremely ambitious (at the time) ‘Concerto For Group And Orchestra’.

 

Throughout his career, he continued to blur the boundaries. Even when Purple were at the height of their success, Lord was still pursuing his ambition to be taken seriously as a classical performer as well as a rock musician. In 1970, just as the band were breaking through, the BBC commissioned Lord to reprise ‘Concerto….’: the result would ultimately lead to ‘Gemini Suite’, his first solo album, with Ian Paice and Roger Glover coming along for the ride and the soul singer Yvonne Elliman replacing Ian Gillan on vocals. ‘Gemini…’ was performed live three times, twice in Munich, and saw the orchestra conducted by one Eberhard Schoener, himself well known for his readiness to take risks. Lord and Schoener struck it off, and decided to collaborate… The result was Lord’s second solo album, ‘Windows’, recorded live with the Orchestra of the Munich Chamber Opera: by this stage, of course, Deep Purple were on the verge of imploding, and no one knew what was around the corner for everyone concerned, but the keyboardist managed to persuade David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes to contribute to the project, as well as his friends and long-time collaborators Tony Ashton, Ray Fenwick and Pete York.

 

Now, almost five years after the maestro’s death, and 41 years after its initial release – and one which firmly divided opinion at the time (at least according to my research) – the recording has been resurrected, refurbished and (following a similar treatment for ‘Gemini Suite’ late last year and one planned for1975’s ‘Sarabande’ in due course) re-released as part of a deserved exploration of this aspect of Lord’s career.

 

The recording, as it was then, is divided into two parts. The first is Lord’s realization of an unfinished fugue by JS Bach, the master composer when it came to the creation of music for the organ, which remained Lord’s instrument of choice throughout his career (none of that synthesizer nonsense for him). At the time, Bach based the piece on a scale using the notes represented by his own name: together, with Schoener, Lord took that basic premise and extrapolated upon it to complete a unique new piece of music, which combines the original classical framework of the piece with (at the time) contemporary jazz and rock interpretations. Surprisingly, the organ is very much in the background for much of the piece, with the band interacting harmoniously with the orchestra, with the lead violin taking over the majority of what would potentially have been the guitar parts if the likes of Blackmore had been involved. It’s an interesting piece, and if you listen to a lot of classical music (which I try to, when I can) you’ll really appreciate the organic fit the Lord and Schoener achieve.

 

The second part of the performance is that of Lord’s own composition, the three-movement ‘Window’, a defiantly experimental piece which combines rock, jazz, blues, orchestration and a form of chain poetry called ‘Renga’ (developed in the Far East in the 14th century, when a group of poets would lock themselves in a room and each write a verse until the poem was finished). And it’s definitely a feel you get from this piece, especially in the first movement (which bears the same name), where Fenwick kicks off with a guitar mien before Lord’s organ comes in from the back, before the lush female vocals add their interpretation and then Coverdale harmonizes with Fenwick’s jazzy guitar fugue. What follows is an extremely experimental “jam” between the organ, guitar and male and female vocals, which showcases Lord’s ability and willingness to go his own way, and get away with it.

 

The second movement, by its very name, is a hark back to Lord’s earlier ‘Gemini’ project: initially exploring Stockhausen/Varese territory for the briefest of moments, it moves into a fairly pastoral symphonic passage, before Hughes eases in with a subdued vocal melody. Then a massive percussion crash, a swirl of the organ, a crescendo of guitar and in comes Coverdale, with an aching blues motif which works its way around the cascading kettledrums and Lord’s genteel motif, celebrating the crossover between the genres. I had heard the latter segment of this movement before, but not actually realized its context.

 

The final movement, ‘Alla Marcia Allegro’, is heralded a martial drum theme, the orchestra’s own percussion section combining beautifully with Pete York’s snappy kit work, before the horn section pick up the motif, which is then transferred first to the strings and then the female vocal harmonies. Lord and Ashton then combine to bring in a vibrant little soul groove, backed by Fenwick’s guitar and a superb scat vocal combo from Coverdale and Hughes, before everything eases right back into a virtual silence out of which emerges that percussive combination which allows York the almost obligatory Seventies-style drum solo. Then in comes the piano again… and then the drums… and then the strings… and then the organ… and then the whole fucking lot as the piece moves to its rousing finale.

 

It’s a beautifully crafted piece by a consummate talent who deserves to be recognized by many supposed know-alls in the rock community as so much more than a hired hand who made a few appearances on a certain TV programme and then got fired ‘cos he didn’t suit the image…. This proves just what a consummate genius Jon Lord was. And it has to be said that the remastering job, undertaken at Abbey Road, is exemplary and really draws out every aspect of the performance, both by the individual musicians and the collective. This may appeal, largely, only to Lord purists, but if it does then it is a more than worthy addition to their collection.

 

‘Windows’ is out now.

 

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