John Wetton - Nomansland - 1999
Before beginning the review I must explore a thought: some years ago the artists never released studio albums every two or three years but on the contrary, they used to release an album (or even two) every year. Now things have changed and it is the other way around, I ignore if for lack of inspiration or for the demand of the market. In the case of John Wetton, since the release of "Arkangel", a number of albums have been published as a protagonist ("Live in Tokyo", "Sub rosa", "Hazy moment" or this "Nomansland"), or in a secondary role ("The Tokyo Tapes", "ProgFest 97"). The only thing that has been offered to the fan is the purchase of a CD without any new material, or just the inclusion of one or two unreleased compositions. As my work is not to discuss the commercial strategies of anybody, or to value this CD in a global view, I move directly to the comment of the music in this "Nomansland".
This CD was recorded in concert in Bydgoszcz and Cracovia (Poland) in one of the multiple tours that Wetton has been carrying out during the last three years. He is accompanied by Steve Christey (Jadis) to the drums, David Kilminster to the guitar, and Martín Orford (IQ, Jadis,...) to the keyboards and flute. A band that does not need of any presentation, and has an amazing musical capacity. In fact this is one of the best features of this CD, as neither Christey seeks to emulate Palmer, neither Orford to Jobson, neither Kilminster to Fripp. Each one has his own personality that they imprint in each one of the songs presented in this work.
The Guitar Concerto of Vivaldi opens the way to a very well thought selection of pieces. In detriment of more popular songs such as "Heat of the moment", "Only time will tell" or "Open your eyes", they have chosen to play from Asia the impressive "Soul Survivor", in a very faithful rendition of the original, in which Christey and Kilminster display their instrumental quality. Of U.K. we have a representation of their two studio works, the immortal and beautiful "Rendezvous 6:02", with an especially inspired Martin Orford, and "In the dead of night", faithful to the original version, but with a new life added by the band. Before concluding with these songs from U.K. I should mention "Tatras" a beautiful instrumental composition of Orford that precedes the first song of U.K. in the repertoire, and that should shut up any possible doubters of the capacity of Orford to play a song of Eddie Jobson. The scarce selection of Wetton solo pieces is surprising, as no track from "Battlelines" is played, and only the optimist and vigorous "The last thing on my mind" from "Arkangel", the impressive ballad (he is a real expert in ballads) "Emma" and "After all".
For King Crimson fans this CD will be a gift, as the contribution of pieces from the Crimson King is the bigger of the Set-list, with four tracks. "Book of saturday", one more version of the track, played with the professional attitude characteristic of Wetton; "Easy money", in a strong recreation with certain improvisations; "The night watch", my favorite song of King Crimson, with which Wetton excels in a semi-acoustic version that makes me shiver; and, as the core dish: a com-ple-te version of "Starless"!, yes, with the final section!. This version has to be analyzed in depth as if with the U.K. songs many looked carefully to Orford, in this case purists would be studying the work of Kilminster to the guitar. In "Starless", what can I tell you? Kilminster doesn't fall in the trap of trying to emulate Fripp, and transforms the song into his own way of playing, which says a lot about this good guitarist. "Starless" played by the John Wetton Band sounds like the John Wetton Band and that, even some can think I am a heretic, is in my view the most honest thing to do, and shows the personality of the musicians. To round up the CD, there is a couple of unpublished topics: "Bygosh!!", I believe the title has to do with the name of the Polish city, that is a semi-improvised introduction of "Easy Money" by the keyboards, with some impressive acoustic guitars over the keyboards, and "The Birth of Igor", a very calm and beautiful instrumental piece with acoustics, smooth keyboards and flutes.
With such a repertoire, the global valuation cannot be more positive. It is true that Wetton has released too many live CDs in the last years, but that should not make us undervalue the content of these albums. As I have indicated in the beginning, I do not pretend to criticize the demands of the market, as the music contained in each CD is what I value. And in this case, "Nomansland" has enough quality and the necessary elements to deserve four stars. Another thing is that I wish Wetton released a new studio album... cheer up, John!