Telly Savalas once asked if and so are we on this update. A short word with infinite possibilities. Elton has more than delivered for us over the years so we've no complaints on what's gone before. But once upon a time he tantalised us with a project that if it had come to fruition could have given him a musical passport to a world he hasn't explored to a great deal but boy if he had we'd have encountered a planet of great depth and beauty.
Around 1980 he spoke about the possibility of an instrumental album. We've had some great appetisers over the years of his instrumental work, just recently one of the (very) few high points of The Diving Board were the Dream interludes. Unforgivably short they asked more questions than gave answers too. On stage when he clears the decks of accompaniment and mutes his vocal he gives a first hand showcase of his talents in that area. In the last few years those moments have been far and very few between. Recently though it has appeared again in an ever elongating fashion on the intro to Rocket Man. A welcome return and no mistake.
The releases at that time (1980/81) had Elton giving us some very diverse instrumental pieces. From the manic Choc Ice Goes Mental to the more functional Tactics we can only wonder as to what styles would have filled the gaps between such moods. Carla/Etude/Fanfare being more than a gap filler, it being a satellite of quality in which all other heavenly bodies would circumnavigate around.
Key to handling all this would have been James Newton Howard. And a careful touch he would have put on everything. His arranging and baton work with the orchestra is legendary and needs no further explanation here. His keyboard is truly remarkable too, Elton has cited him as a better piano player than himself if you please. His work on the electric keyboards is grand, expansive and full of broad colours. Listen to anything from the first few albums of the 80's and his input is so essential that if weren't present the music would have been undermined. Listen to his lines on Sartorial Eloquence and Elton's Song for instance and ask yourself would those songs benefit from their absence. Not in a million years. It gave a contemporary vibe to Elton's sound but never lost sight of the main origins of the music. The piano.
Elton on the 1979 tour began experimenting more with various electric piano's, the Yamaha and Fender Rhodes adding a terrific twist to his many stylish moves. Right through the 70's on disc he had flirted with different type of electric pianos, but by this time he had become more confident in the various traits they had to offer. The big voluminous beat of the Yamaha's chunky sound without sounding overtly loud was a terrific complimentary piece to his acoustic work. He could delve further into their nuances and extract grooves not yet discovered. James on Fender Rhodes adding that smooth touch reminiscent of Bill Evans' Left To Right (1970). With these tools at his disposal and more importantly a foil who could take the basic ideas and develop them into something even more exciting then the long lost instrumental album would have been sensational.
Just picture it...or even listen very closely...Elton rattling off some melodies off with an endless degree of possibilities. Intense moments giving way to uptempo life affirming expressions. James on hand to either put down a massive orchestral arrangement to heighten the impact or to simply turn on the tap that was the top of the range digital synths of the day and not forgetting the old analogue machines and adding some intricate yet essential lines. Making it both current and timeless in sound legacy. No rules, no limits, just compose and create. Two master's developing and living the music. Incredible to imagine the endless avenues that could have been explored.
The album could have been both experimental and familiar. The melding of synth and orchestra might have exhausted prog rock by the end of the 70's but there was still plenty more to be done in the field. The soundtrack to Tron (1981) hammering home that point. On The Fox we have orchestra phasing into synth. It's clean and considered but could have been be a microcosm of the overall concept of the album. Whether rhythm section and added guitar would have been required is open to discussion. But as we'll see later could have taken the album into even further uncharted waters.
Elton and James were ready made for this project. Listen to any of the 1980 tour shows and the incredible interplay that both keyboard wizards did on the jams to Saturday Night's Alright and Bite Your Lip and you'll hear two players who could tap into a groove and exploit it. If they were mining gold, it would have been quicker than a rush.
I'm going to leave you with something related and food for thought. With The Diving Board in mind...as I had mentioned it earlier...this act from Japan gives a taste of how instrumental music can both excite and delight. Hiromi's 'Trio Project' takes the jazz piano threesome and gives it great flair. Ably accompanied by Simon Phillips (The Who, Toto) on drums and the inventor of the six string bass guitar, Anthony Jackson. The three piece element...remember when somebody promised us an album of such delights but failed miserably to deliver anything remotely of the sort...is still alive and well. Some of those elements were rooted in Dream #3, it being one of those asked questions I mentioned earlier. This clip may give some answers...