October 16, 2009
South Orange Performing Arts Center
South Orange, NJ

Review by Ralph Greco, Jr.

So, I have finally been vindicated — it is the 70s again…just as I've been saying all along. Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford led their new version of Renaissance — on their Fall 40th Anniversary Tour — through a two-hour show at the brand-new South Orange Performing Arts Center and teleported the audience back to the mid 70s with a near-perfect performance.

After Jann Klose dazzled the crowd with a short acoustic set, Renaissaice 2009 emerged. From the opener “Prologue,” the title track from the band's third album from 1972, Haslam flowed right into "Carpet Of the Sun," trilling at the high end while keyboardist Tom Brislin hit every little accent.

“Black Flame,” one of four songs played from 1974’s Turn Of The Cards album, is a multi-layered arrangement with Dunford's ever-present acoustic monitoring the pace, Rave Tesar’s intricate and tinkling piano work, and a subtle but effective Frank Pagano keeping the beat. Further highlights were “Midas Man” from 1977’s Novella, followed by the favorite “Northern Lights,” a floating “Ocean Gypsy” and a blistering “Mother Russia” to end the regular set.

The obvious encore was what we had hoped for, yet feared. “Ashes Are Burning” is the one Renaissance tune where Annie Haslam really employs her unique five-octave range. The band was in perfect lock-step for the petite blonde to get where she needed to, but t at mid-point, the solos took over. Tesar's piano playing was brilliant, though he offered many a brilliant moments on this night. Brislin's synth solo was lively and wailing (he played with Yes, so there's no denying his pedigree).

The most striking, however, was David J. Keye's bass solo. Beyond Haslam's vocals and the heavily orchestrated compositions, Renaissance is known for original bassist, composer and vocalist Jon Camp's exceptional abilities, meaning Keyes has some big shoes to fill indeed. He played fluidly the entire night, leading when he had to, but never losing the bottom end and never overplaying during those moments when he locked in with Tesar or even singing with Haslam (everyone sings expect Tesar). Keyes solo on “Ashes Are Burning” was pristine, soft, melodic and never self indulgent.

Haslam delivered the last few lines before she hit the big note and all hell broke loose. One tends to get goose bumps thinking how masterfully she can still hit those incredible “whoos” and “ahhs,” tapping into what has got to be the tippy-top end of her range. How this woman has retained her voice, and how she bounced back after surviving cancer to even want to perform and front this 2009 version of Renaissance is beyond belief. Anyone who catches Renaissance on their reunion tour this year will simply be amazed at what they see and hear!

After the show, dazed yet thrilled, I got into my Trans Am, pushed in my 8-track and drove home.

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