One Track Mind: ANT-BEE, featuring Peter Banks, "Endless Journey" (2011)

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“Endless Journey,” a thrilling little space-rock number by ANT-BEE, begins appropriately enough: With a countdown and then a rocket launch. The unmistakable tone of Peter Banks’ guitar floats by next — and it’s a transfixing moment, above and beyond the other spooky sounds that follow, from a trickling keyboard to these otherworldly humpback whale calls.

Banks, guitarist with Yes over its first two albums in the late 1960s (Yes and Time and a Word), recorded his parts some time ago as ANT-BEE, led by drummer and producer Billy James, continued work on the just-released Electronic Church Muzik — its long-awaited followup to 1994’s Lunar Muzik. More recently, Banks has suffered through a series of health problems that diverted a planned U.S. tour in which early Yes songs were reportedly to be performed by Banks and the band Ambrosia.

His relationship with James (drummer on Steve Vai’s ’93 debut Flex-able) includes their co-written book Beyond and Before, a comprehensive retelling of Yes’ early years, and you can sense that symbiosis on this standout track.

It’s funny, though. “Endless Journey” is not necessarily representative of this new ANT-BEE project, which more often follows the avant-garde template created by Frank Zappa — and elsewhere includes both “Living,” originally on Alice Cooper’s 1969 album Pretties for You; and Todd Rundgren’s 1974 cut “Don’t You Ever Learn” featuring Napoleon Murphy Brock on lead vocals. Too, those looking for the extraordinary flights of daring that Banks displayed on Yes’ cover of the Beatles’ “Every Little Thing” from its 1969 debut, or the brilliant “Lifetime” from Flash’s overlooked 1972 gem In the Can, won’t find those kind of pyrotechnics, either.

And, really, there’s more to ANT-BEE than Peter Banks. Boy, is there: James’ group is actually a floating amalgam that also includes members of Zappa’s original Mothers of Invention band (Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Buzz Gardner, James “Motorhead” Sherwood and the late Jimmy Carl Black appear elsewhere), Rundgren’s Utopia (Moogy Klingman), Alice Cooper’s original group (Michael Bruce) and Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band (Zoot Horn Rollo and Rockette Morton) as well as Brock, who also played with Zappa in 1970s, among others.

Still, for me, the thrill was hearing Banks again, an increasingly rare thing. After leaving Yes, he’s perhaps best known for his work in the early 1970s with Flash, which also initially featured fellow Yes alum Tony Kaye. In ’73, Banks played with the jazz-rock band called Zox and the Radar Boys that included future Genesis frontman Phil Collins. That same year, he released an initial solo effort, 1973’s Two Sides of Peter Banks (with Collins, King Crimson/Asia bassist John Wetton and Genesis/GTR guitarist Steve Hackett), before a two decade break into the 1990s. Banks also appears on “The Guff” here.

“Endless Journey,” though, quickly became my favorite cut on a recording of crunchy and then atmospheric, and then ultimately weird-ass intrigue. Banks explores broad, emotionally challenging soundscapes, and he sounds nothing like that guy from Yes — and that’s a good thing. Hell, it’s a great thing. With so many figures from the “classic rock” period trying so desperately hard to sound “classic,” it’s a veritable whoosh of fresh air.

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The new Barking Moondog Records release Electronic Church Muzik is ANT-BEE’s fourth recording following 1988’s Pure Electric Honey, an EP in ’92 and then Lunar Muzik. The album is also available from www.BarkingMoondog.com. For more information, go to www.ant-bee.com.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • Pete Banks also appears on the new album by dB-Infusion, entitled Muso & Proud. He guests on one track, while other guests include Soft Machine’s John Etheridge and ELO’s Hugh McDowell.

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