(22 July 2010) The last all new music recorded and released by the British progressive rock band Renaissance was their 2000 Tuscany album. The album was spearheaded by Michael Dunford and Annie Haslam and reunited the duo with John Tout and Terry Sullivan. Other artists were brought in to round out the lineup and fill the role formerly occupied by Jon Camp. A double live album made during their subsequent Japanese Tour entitled In The Land of the Rising Sun was also quietly released on a Japanese label and is also available on three other labels today.
Although work on Michael Dunford's Scheherazade West End Musical began not long after the release of Renaissance's Scheherazade and Other Stories, workshops of the individual songs involving students at the Royal Academy of Music peaked in the early 1990s. Stephanie Adlington sang for Dunford in some of these workshops as did other students from the Academy. Adlington went on to work with Dunford to record The Other Woman and Ocean Gypsy. Recordings made with contributions from other students at the Academy sadly never saw the light of day but rounded out a promotional package created to support the Musical.
A website created by the Musical Discoveries team working with producer Stuart Wood, investor Jim Wood and Michael Dunford to promote the musical eventually led to the recording of a six track Promotional Edition with the two songs "Remember Me" and the memorable "In The Stillness of the Room" performed by Annie Haslam.
Interest in the project led to a week long showcase in late 1997 featuring Poppy Tierney in the role of Scheherazade. The showcase included "Remember Me," a reworked version of "In The Stillness of the Room" and an all new rendition of the Renaissance classics "Northern Lights" and "A Love So Pure." The success of the showcase led to a slight reworking of The Book with some of the musical's songs being removed, others being rewritten and new songs being added. Hit songs from the 2000 version include "The Land of Never Ending Light" (to the tune of "Northern Lights") and "You Are My World." Surprisingly, "In The Stillness of the Room" was axed. While promotional editions of the Musical's entire soundtrack at various writing stages were provided to the project's staff, the majority of Dunford's songs for the musical to this day remain unreleased. Sadly, tensions in the Middle East, especially following 9/11, minimized interest in taking the musical to the final production stage.
The lineup for The Mystic and The Muse EP includes Annie Haslam (vocals); Michael Dunford (acoustic guitars and vocals); Rave Tesar (keyboards and vocals); David J Keyes (bass and vocals); Tom Brislin (keyboards and vocals); Frank Pagano (drums, percussion and vocals). Arrangements for the title track are by Rave Tesar and Andy Spiller, for "Immortal Beyond" are by Rave Tesar and Richard Brown, and for "Tonight" are by Renaissance. The EP was recorded, mixed and mastered by Rave Tesar.
The Mystic and The Music introduces an all new Renaissance track and new Renaissance versions of two songs derived from Dunford's musical. The extended instrumental passage of the epic title track draws its inspiration from "Dance of the Masks" from the Musical and the Promotional Edition. The second and stunning vocal part of the song also has allusions to portions of the musical but is more classic Renaissance in its construction. Sweeping orchestral instrumentals clearly underpin the band's progressive roots.
The concise track "Immortal Beloved" has a familiar melody but is all new for the EP. Listeners will certainly recognize similarities to the sound of Annie's solo projects. Choral vocal harmonies add a lovely texture to the rich arrangements. The final track on the EP is a reworked version of the Musical's "In The Stillness of the Room." Clearly having moved beyond the recording Annie did with Michael for the Promotional Edition to support the musical, arrangments, lyrics and vocals have been sharpened for the EP. There is a strong West End sound to the recording but it works well alongside the other two songs on the EP.
It is wonderful that Renaissance is recording new material again. The three-track EP, provided in a cardboard sleeve sporting the "classic" renaissance logo, has equally whet the appetites of long time and new fans. The EP is available from the Renaissance Touring website or their live performances. Interested readers can also stream the songs from the EP here. The question nagging at Renaissance's audiences worldwide is how many of the Musical's songs will surface in the band's new album due for completion late this year or early next.