THE NICE

Jazz Related Rock / Third Stream • United Kingdom
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THE NICE picture
One of the first art-rock bands to experiment with classical forms and fusion, the Nice was an early vehicle for the talents of keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson, who plundered Mozart, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky for his extended rock instrumental forays. The group began as the backing band for British soul singer P.P. Arnold and also featured guitarist David O'List, drummer Brian "Blinky" Davison, and bassist Lee Jackson. In October 1967, only two months after formation, the group split from Arnold, christened itself the Nice, and released a single called "The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack," which became the title track of their 1968 debut album. The Nice quickly built a reputation as an exciting, theatrical live band thanks to Emerson, who dressed in gold lame, hurled knives into his Hammond organ to produce strange sounds, and mimed masturbation onstage. Emerson's antics spawned controversy with Ars Longa Vita Brevis, which contained a cover read more...
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Nice The Best Of The Nice LP Immediate CO4890674 EX-/EX 1970s German pressing, R Nice The Best Of The Nice LP Immediate CO4890674 EX-/EX 1970s German pressing, R USD $14.60 Buy It Now 2 days
Phil Tate & The Windjammers – All The Nice Girls.... - LP Vinyl Record Phil Tate & The Windjammers – All The Nice Girls.... - LP Vinyl Record USD $6.34 Buy It Now 2 days
Live at the Fillmore East December 1969 by The Nice. Live at the Fillmore East December 1969 by The Nice. USD $11.34 Buy It Now 2 days
THE NICE - AMERICA 1968 IMMEDIATE 7 THE NICE - AMERICA 1968 IMMEDIATE 7" 45 NR MINT USD $16.49 Buy It Now 2 days
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THE NICE Discography

THE NICE albums / top albums

THE NICE The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack album cover 3.50 | 3 ratings
The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack
Jazz Related Rock 1967
THE NICE Ars Longa Vita Brevis album cover 3.00 | 2 ratings
Ars Longa Vita Brevis
Jazz Related Rock 1968
THE NICE Nice (aka Everything As Nice As Mother Makes It ) album cover 4.83 | 3 ratings
Nice (aka Everything As Nice As Mother Makes It )
Jazz Related Rock 1969

THE NICE EPs & splits

THE NICE live albums

THE NICE Five Bridges album cover 3.80 | 4 ratings
Five Bridges
Third Stream 1970
THE NICE Elegy album cover 4.67 | 3 ratings
Elegy
Jazz Related Rock 1970
THE NICE The Swedish Radio Sessions album cover 3.00 | 1 ratings
The Swedish Radio Sessions
Jazz Related Rock 2001
THE NICE Vivacitas - Live At Glasgow 2002 album cover 2.50 | 2 ratings
Vivacitas - Live At Glasgow 2002
Jazz Related Rock 2003
THE NICE Live At The Fillmore East December 1969 album cover 4.00 | 2 ratings
Live At The Fillmore East December 1969
Jazz Related Rock 2010

THE NICE demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

THE NICE re-issues & compilations

THE NICE Autumn '67 Spring '68 (aka Autumn to Spring) album cover 3.00 | 1 ratings
Autumn '67 Spring '68 (aka Autumn to Spring)
Jazz Related Rock 1972
THE NICE The Nice album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Nice
Jazz Related Rock 1976
THE NICE The Long Versions album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Long Versions
Jazz Related Rock 1999

THE NICE singles (0)

THE NICE movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)

THE NICE Reviews

THE NICE Live At The Fillmore East December 1969

Live album · 2010 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
EntertheLemming
- Bladder Control in North London -

According to Mrs L, the last time I was this excited was prior to my first and only visit to Highbury to see Arsenal play against West Ham circa 1988. By way of contrast to waiting for this lost prog gem to finally land in my hot furry lap however, I didn't on this occasion wet the bed. Much to my delight and surprise, (apart from the dry mattress) none of the performances contained herein are duplicated on any other previous releases, which confirms the world's leading Nice expert Martyn Hanson's claim that they were recorded at an earlier concert than the one excerpts appeared from on both 'the Nice' and 'Elegy'

The trio are captured in (mostly) pristine detail at the peak of their powers on a set-list that finally does justice to the breadth of stylistic bases this incredibly versatile band could negotiate without ever reaching for the RETURN key.

Practically the entire 'Ars Longa Vita Brevis' suite is included, which I have never heard in the live environment before, plus 'Little Arabella', a 'band only' version of 'Five Bridges' and holy guacamole!, even the rollicking blues of 'War and Peace' from the début is dusted down for that final push over the top of the trenches.

It is frustrating that Davison and Jackson hardly merit a breath as one of the great rhythm sections in prog, but even a casual listen to this or the magnificent 'Refugee' album with Patrick Moraz provides ample evidence that they could more than cut it when unharnessed from the Emerson bandwagon. Blinky's avowed inspiration came from jazz and his playing betrays that lineage even on straight eighth note 'rawk' patterns as he brings a subtle but still perceptible swing to such habitually rigid fare. Brian played with an interactive feel and intuition for the nuances of musical dynamics that for all his technical spin doctoring pyrotechnics, Carl Palmer could never muster.

Lee Jackson's abilities are somewhat more modest in scope, but even within his fairly narrow orbit, his personality, humility and cackling bonhomie shine like a beacon. He's one of the very few singers whose inaccuracies of pitch are just so damn loveable. You hire Lee for your band and no-one is ever gonna disappear up their exit holes on the solos. (The citizens of Newcastle deliver their nest eggs hard boiled but sunny side up)

Keith would have been just 25 years old when this gig was recorded and we are witness to a musician very firmly in that elusive 'zone' as described by the greatest athletes in their respective fields. In terms of designing a template that could be subsequently overlaid onto all 'Prog' as a measure of its credentials thereafter, you have the first proof read draft in your hands readers. Every performance of a Nice number was a completely unique critter and so finely honed were Keith's improvising skills at this point, I suspect he had very little firm idea what he would play on the solo sections on any given date. (So if you think you've heard all these tracks before, think again)

'Rondo, Intermezzo from Karelia Suite, America' and 'War and Peace' are all quite faithful to existing versions already available, so I'll dispense with describing same (but do pay heed to my caveat that Keith's solos on the foregoing certainly make them new and worthy additions to any Nice fan's collection)

Little Arabella - This withering put-down of yer archetypal 60's flower child is delivered with a finger snapping jazz wink that conjures up a paler Jimmy Smith vamping beneath Jackson's mordant teasing. Keith always had stubborn fantasies of being a vocalist and he sings the bridge section here decently enough but like I mentioned before, just getting the notes right emotes precisely squat in my neck of the woods. The central improvised section is much harder edged than the studio version and what was playful pastiche gradually mutates into urgent jazz fuelled rock as Emerson racks the intensity higher and higher on a sulphurous extemporisation.

She Belongs to Me - This is a good example of one of the soloing techniques Emerson has exploited to enduring effect over the years. In an interview from the early 80's he described a ploy of attempting to get from one famous musical quotation to the next as a guiding route for his improvisations (and the more unrelated the landmarks were, the better) In this case he treads an unlikely musical pathway from The Big Country via some Bach and finally what can only be described as spy music written by Bartok after some suspicious mushrooms appeared in the latter's goulash. Who needs synths when you have electrifying spring reverb explosions or can pluck the innards of the organ to recreate the timbre of baritone Brontosaurus dyspepsia that dominates the ghostly atonal ambient section ?. Apart from the sung portions of this Dylan song the remainder was entirely improvised every night and vouches for Emerson's faith in the abilities of his colleagues to guess correctly where on earth (or beyond) the number would end up.

Country Pie - I ain't knocking Dylan here but as on 'She Belongs to Me', this is what 'progressive' really means (notwithstanding the latter's textual complexity) i.e. a rather gauche folk nursery rhyme is melded seamlessly to one of Bach's Brandenburgers over a visceral and elastic rock groove with the result being a 'Prog on a Bun Triple Whopper' without a trace of excess fat or cheese to be seen anywhere.

Five Bridges - Shorn of the introductory orchestral 'Fantasia' the opening Piano sounds like it was played from the dressing room under a sheet of tarpaulin so muddy and boggy are its strains. These audible piano artefacts suggest there was a 'Houston we have a problem' scenario in their FOH midst, hence it's exclusion from most of this album. 'Chorale' is one of the most beautiful pieces Keith ever penned and like much of this band's output illustrates a grudging respect for the past wedded to a daring irreverence for dragging the former by the 'ruff' of its neck into alien contemporary apparel. Keith plays the high level fugue a la Jacques Loussier but much of the fiendishly demanding counterpoint requiring of complete independence between hands is gobbled up by the aforementioned voracious ivory gremlins alas. The rousing finale does not have the delightful jazzy brass of the original but Emerson more than makes up for this omission with a coruscating organ solo to end a very energetic and endearing adaptation of this orchestral suite.

Hang on to a Dream - played entirely on organ, Emerson dials up a lovely liturgical tone for the verses but the song suffers when denuded of the exquisite waltzing piano of the original.

Ars Longa Vita Brevis - A tricky piece to do justice to considering that it was built from departed guitarist O'List's searing eastern inflected riff. However they make a very high spirited attempt and Keith accentuates the oriental flavour of the main theme on the organ by adding some extra spicy dissonance. Many of you will probably be bored rigid by Davison's drum solo but as I've confessed previously, I like drum solos (so kill me, I probably forfeit consciousness for such perverse crimes)

Due to the unfortunate piano hitches that rendered the beastie inoperable plus the fact that over 90 minutes of barbecued Hammond organ might be a dish too rich for even a Nice fanboy like me, I've shaved a star off in recognition of these shortcomings. Apart from that it's a live belter of the first order that no-one should be without if you want to trace the lineage of a genre we all profess to love dearly.

Although Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson and the Nice seem like strange bedfellows, they were in my estimation kindred spirits. All three understood that music was an indivisible 'whole' and that attempts to draw artificial boundaries between its league of nations was the antithesis of the trailblazing pioneering ethos. Once the nascent marketplace realised the leverage to be gained by a demarcation process kicking in, it foisted an engineered 'brand patriotism' on its consumers which would lead to the 'phony' wars that are still being waged from within the forums of music websites the world over.

'Who won the game then?'

(It turned out a boring nil -nil draw)

THE NICE Vivacitas - Live At Glasgow 2002

Live album · 2003 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
EntertheLemming
- Glass Jaw in Glasgow Foils Comeback Bout -

Scene One - the offices of Sanctuary Records late 2003

CEO: 'Right boys, how about we release a live album from the last tour?'

LEE JACKSON: 'Right on bonny lad!'

BRIAN DAVISON: 'Great idea! make it a double with us and Keith's band as well'

KEITH EMERSON:(looking round at his bandmates) 'Ok, what show should we use?'

LEE JACKSON: 'Well, ya know bonny lads, it takes a few performances for everyone to get the numbers 'played in' ya know, so one of the later gigs right, when we was loosened up proper an' all?'

BRIAN DAVISON: 'Fab and groovy! Why not throw in that interview we did with Chris Welch too?'

KEITH EMERSON: 'Yeah nice one Blinky, there were a few FOH mixing issues early on but these were fixed on subsequent shows, and I had gotten a few 'baby clangers' out of my fingers by then...'

BRIAN DAVISON: 'Right on!, I was shitting bricks on the first one cos I hadn't played a rock gig for years, and we was all a but stiff on that opening night man!'

CEO:'Thank you gentlemen, we are all agreed then? We will use the very first show recorded in Glasgow.'

LEE JACKSON: 'Am I facing the right way here?'

And so it came to pass that the reformed Nice plus Emerson's hand-picked touring band were captured in all their nerve wracked glory on the opening gig of a British tour.

God knows why Sanctuary went ahead and decided to release this performance to the waiting world, as it suffers from some glaring deficiencies that would have been ironed out further along the scheduled itinerary.

Emerson's playing is particularly sloppy on great portions of this, with rushed timing, late entries and 'baby clangers' spoiling the performances. The organ, piano and synth sounds are all spot on, but he must now, looking back, have wished his record company had let the band get warmed up properly before going anywhere near the 'record' button.

Even under perfect conditions, Jackson's vocals would be described as 'gritty' but are reduced here on 'Hang on to a Dream' to something approaching 'sandpaper on the soul' and despite Lee's passionate and sincere delivery of this great song, Hardin's lyrics sound like they are delivered via the digestive tract of a small furry mammal.

The riff to Van Halen's 'Jump' is shoehorned into 'She Belongs to Me' and not surprisingly, sticks out like a sore thumb in a Simpsons episode.

Why?

Similarly, there is a completely inappropriate synth dance loop triggered during the (shambolic) intro to 'Karelia Suite' where to add insult to injury, Keith misses his entry cue entirely.

Why?

The inclusion of 'The Cry of Eugene' is a real treasure, as it has always been one of my favourite tracks from the 1st album, and receives a full and sympathetic arrangement befitting the original. Dave Kilmister really shines here, and he displays a real insight and empathy with what is required to replicate the original spirit of the Nice for a modern audience.

This guitarist appears to be one of the very few (along with Marc Bonilla) that Emerson deems worthy of sharing time with. During the course of the concert, Kilmister turns his hand to blues, jazz, rock and classical with seamless ease and it is no wonder that Roger Waters plucked him for his touring band from Emerson recently.

'Little Arabella' also gets a new lick of paint here and the band sound like they are having loads of fun on this enduring pastiche of tongue in cheek jazz. The organ sound here is spine tinglingly good and despite not replicating the intentionally cheesy 'Errol Garner' strains of the original, showcases one of Emo's better contributions.

Rather incongruous 'flanging' effect is applied on the vocal though....

'America' has long outstayed its welcome in the Nice/ELP repertoire but to their credit, they have at least attempted to veer away from a previously predictable live formula with the inclusion of the original pipe organ intro and an extended jazzy piano middle section.

Like so much of this record, the music is really good once they get going, (and the 'butterflies in the tummy' are safely ensnared in the net.)

There are also some mix related anomalies encountered, with Kilmister's inspired 'Sabre Dance' being practically inaudible and various other instances when instruments either disappear entirely in 'mid lick' or blare out at inopportune moments when refinement is what is desired etc

As I noted in my review of 'Five Bridges' the song 'Country Pie' still remains a firm fave in my Nice pantheon of greats and Lee, Blinky and Keith still exude plenty of excitement and fire more than 30 years hence.

(At sufficient volume you can't hear creaking bones)

It should be noted that these concerts started off as a promotional exercise for Emerson's solo piano album 'Emerson plays Emerson' and the inclusion of Davison and Jackson was Keith's solution to the problem of replicating the 'bass and drums' pieces on that particular record.

From that point on, the entourage just seemed to snowball to include his young hand picked charges now called 'the Keith Emerson band'

Williams and Riley are both very accomplished young players who have studied their chosen discipline at various educational establishments in the UK. However, despite their flawless credentials and having 'ticked all the right boxes' strike me as being 'proggers by numbers' i.e. they can play the notes perfectly as they appear in front of them, but cannot even begin to guess 'how' they got there.

The band rendition of 'Tarkus' is very well played but does not veer much from the album version and just like 'America' I personally could live without ever hearing another version of this creaking classic again. Full marks for the energy and enthusiasm though, on what is, even 30 years on, a fiendishly difficult piece to play.

The remaining tracks are all enjoyable, but certainly don't constitute anything you have heard before played any better.

'Hoedown' gets dusted down again and like a pensioner after one facelift too many is starting to resemble the 'Burt Reynolds' of classical adaptations.

'Fanfare for the Common Man' - see 'Burt Reynolds'

'Honky Tonk' - Featuring 'Dick Emery' on harmonica. Keith, you are a bona fide rock star, you know damn fine from backstage debauches what a 'mouth organ' should be used for.

'Blade of Grass/A Cajun Ally' - beautifully played solo piano performances from Keith showcasing his aforementioned piano album. Even if you have the studio versions these are worth hearing as Emo live always provides a few delightful twists and turns to his original conceptions.

The interview with music journalist Chris Welch is good fun and Emerson, Jackson and Davison all sound relaxed and in high spirits but once you have heard this once it is unlikely you will wish to repeat the experience.

I think if you are wanting to 'get into' the Nice for the first time this is not the best place to start.

You would be better getting hold of one of the plethora of compilations that are around containing their most accessible work as a starting point.

I was so looking forward to this album and the fact that the venue was Glasgow (my home town) just added to the anticipation.

Therefore this is a great disappointment, not an unequivocal turkey to be sure, but I can only repeat my wish that the 'great and the good' at Sanctuary visit a gun shop in their local mall and do the decent thing.

Ars Longa Vita Brevis

RIP Brian Davison

THE NICE Five Bridges

Live album · 1970 · Third Stream
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
EntertheLemming
- Burning Bridges -

For me this album represents a pivotal moment in the rise of Keith Emerson as a serious composer and the inevitable demise of the Nice as a band.

This is perfectly exemplified by the (mostly) successful and highly ambitious suite that comprises the whole of side one. The 'rockier' and shorter band-only material that make up the remainder illustrate some of the technical limitations of his buddies that Emerson was labouring under at that time.

Given the keyboard player's vaunted ambition, it was very unlikely that either Jackson or Davison would have the requisite 'chops' to cope with the subsequent ELP adventure.

'The Five Bridges Suite' probably succeeds because Emerson correctly identified the group and orchestra as mutually antagonistic, and consequently used this to his advantage i.e orchestra and group play the sections sequentially and seldom in unison. Conductor Josef Eger manages to coax a spirited performance from the London Sinfonia and Emerson's music runs adroitly the whole gamut of rock, blues, jazz and classical. There is also, rest assured, his usual helping of Hammond inflicted torture with which to infuriate the 'penguins' from behind their music stands and at one deafening point in the proceedings we can only surmise that Keith had declared a 'fatwa' on stubborn earwax.

The piano fugue is particularly good and the same harmonic material is used to exquisite effect on a 'chorale' section featuring a heart-felt vocal from Lee Jackson about his formative years in Newcastle. The lyrics are often bitter-sweet and we cannot help but conclude that Jackson's relationship with his home-town is a complex affair:

'It's no good shouting about dirty air when there's nothing much else to breathe, it's no good shouting from 9 to 5 if don't have the guts to leave'

Two classical adaptations open up side two (remember vinyl?) being Sibelius 'Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite', which is so much better than the insipid studio version, and a rather perfunctory sprint through Tchaikovsky's 'Pathetique'. There is a tendency for the band and Orchestra to cancel each other out during the unison sections here but otherwise they are enjoyable and ground breaking attempts to merge what was hitherto considered an area where 'never the twain shall meet' .

'Country Pie/Brandenburger' is one of my all time favourite Nice tracks which illustrates that uncanny knack Emerson has for marrying disparate elements that in isolation, are less than mouth-watering. Here he welds an inconsequential little Dylan tune to Bach's stately 6th Brandenburger and the whole is way, way more than the sum of its parts. Jackson's rather limited range is not compromised by this tune and the bass and drum interplay, together with Emerson's incendiary organ performance is unrivalled in the band's output.

The last track 'One of Those People' is often dismissed as throwaway filler, but I think it vastly underrated and brings the (original) album to a very satisfying and upbeat conclusion. We also meet here, and not for the last time, Emerson's enduring wish to have his voice electronically manipulated to resemble a Klingon livestock auctioneer. (see the 'computer/robot' voice from 'Brain Salad Surgery')

The resistance Emerson (and his buddy Jon Lord) met when trying to merge rock and classical was reactionary in the extreme, and we cannot help but conclude with some irony, that those denizens of the 'rawk' world who pay lip service to libertarianism, experimentation and anti-establishment values can be, without fear of contradiction, some of the most conservative people on the planet.

THE NICE Elegy

Live album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
EntertheLemming
- Free to a good and loving home, please adopt these abandoned Spacehoppers in the Sahara -

Although admittedly a posthumous release, I was very surprised at the rather dismissive tenor of most of the reviews of this album to date. Hopefully this record will be reappraised soon as being a release worthy of anyone's consideration as I feel it does enhance an already rich legacy left behind by this very fine and innovative band. (So what if Charisma wanted to ride the slipstream of the lucrative ELP juggernaut?)

'Hang On To a Dream' - I may be wrong, but I think the two live cuts featured on 'Elegy' were from the same Fillmore East concert recorded by the Nice for their self titled 3rd album? Here we get Tim Hardin's melancholic waltz tune expanded and inflated beyond anything the original composer would have ever dreamed of (or perhaps feared) The trio set forth on a very arresting and lengthy jazz jam at it's centre that contains some wonderful piano from Keith and tasteful support from Lee and Brian on bass and percussion respectively. We also meet here the technique of plucking the piano strings with a guitar plectrum from inside the soundboard which Emerson later exploited on 'Take a Pebble' with ELP. In the live environment the effect is that of a rather splendid psychedelic 'cimbalom/zither' which provides some startling contrast to the eloquent piano jazz so effortlessly realized beneath Keith's nimble digits. He also employs some Celeste with which to further broaden the tonal palette of textures and all things considered, this is perhaps one of my favourite acoustic dominated pieces by Emo ever.

'My Back Pages' - By all accounts Jackson was a certifiable Dylan 'nut' and persuaded Emerson to cover some of Mr Zimmerman's tunes during their brief but glorious career together. Other examples would include the sublime adaptations of 'Country Pie' and 'She Belongs to Me' of which only live renditions are available unfortunately. Given the meager harmonic materials afforded by Dylan's music, Keith must have approached these entreaties with some skepticism but he was able to embellish very simple chord progressions with a dizzying array of modulations and stylistic departures that surmounted the modest scope of the originals. The piano introduction is particularly inventive and showcases that Keith could get from A to Z by every conceivable route in the musical roadmap. Lee's vocal on this tune is one of his most assured, and he obviously relished the relative simplicity and modest range that the melody encompassed, in comparison to many of the more arduous vocal tasks Emerson had set him previously. I am normally a fan of Dylan's lyrics but on this particular song 'Big Nose' is guilty of burying same in a trough of knowingly cryptic and impenetrable conceit that communicates precisely zilch:

'Crimson flames tied through my ears Rollin' high and mighty traps Pounced with fire on flaming roads Using ideas as my maps We'll meet on edges, soon, said I, Proud 'neath heated brow'

The transition from piano to organ on the heavier improvisational section of the tune is enervating and the interplay between the three is 'Goosebumps R Us' thrilling as they sprint into the distance leaving Dylan's tune quite appropriately as a tiny speck on the distant horizon. There follows a very haunting passage of achingly poignant sustained organ chords before the Nice reprise the opening verse section of the song to a very inventive and satisfying bluesy tag-line ending:

' Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.'

A very underrated adaptation of a very overrated song which probably is deserving of a compositional credit in it's own right. This track was originally going to be included on the 'Five Bridges' album but was left off at the last minute.

'Third Movement, Pathetique' - As good as the orchestral version of this Tchaikovsky piece on 'Five Bridges' is, I actually prefer this trio only rendition, as it illustrates the massive leap in skills the Nice had developed in tackling classical works compared to their first rather tentative steps as heard on 'Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite' on the 2nd album. Towards the end Brian Davison punctuates the underlying groove with a delicious ride bell cymbal pattern that still sends a shiver of delight down my spine every time. Blinky was a very fine player and his performance on this track is all the evidence anyone should ever need as to his credentials of being one of the greatest jazz influenced rock drummers on a par with the more widely celebrated Ginger Baker et al.

'America' - Perhaps the 'mother' of all live versions of this Nice signature tune which contains some Hammond organ playing against which all others must surely shrink in yielding supplication. There is a ferocity and primal energy throughout this that will have the listener feeling quite drained at the conclusion. As a vehicle for improvisation, I suspect that Keith was attracted to the possibilities afforded by the hybrid 6/8 and 3/4 meter more than the melody itself and the band nail this relentless groove for all its worth during this incendiary performance. Employees of the Hammond Organ Co really should be escorted from the room before this starts as their flagship product is subject to the sort of sadistic torture that no diligent craftsman should ever witness. Emerson impales the creature, strips it of it's teeth and treats the umbilical innards as a sort of visceral banjo in places. At one comical moment Keith's perverse sense of humour is evidenced by his coaxing the vocabulary of 'Baby Clanger' from the kiddies TV show from the organ (which must be where I got the expression from in some my reviews?)

Those rather wince inducing comparisons at around this time of Emerson being the 'Hendrix of the organ' do have some foundation here but perhaps 'Hammond Taxidermist' may have been a more fitting analogy.

Don't let this guy anywhere near ANY of your furniture.

THE NICE Nice (aka Everything As Nice As Mother Makes It )

Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
EntertheLemming
- As Nice As Mother Makes It -

After two very robust but patchy albums the Nice adopted a slightly different approach to their third by exploiting a half live/half studio hybrid. They felt that this (on the advice of their new manger Tony Stratton Smith) would showcase the 'best of both worlds' as the studio precedents were not felt to do justice to their live performances.

'Azrael Revisited' - This was one of the first songs that Emerson and Jackson collaborated on and interestingly, their exists an early version with Davy O'List playing the infectious riff on guitar which is well worth tracking down. This memorable two bar phrase is in 5/4 time but such is it's ingenuity you really don't notice the odd meter at all. Although the riff is shorn of some of its visceral power without the guitar, Keith's detuned honky tonk piano sound gives it a suitably haunted and 'aged' feel which fits the atmosphere on this much longer version perfectly. Lee Jackson is in fine irreverent form on an unusual verse melody which he delivers with a cackling and leering gusto. Emerson quotes quite liberally from Rachmaninov's prelude in C# minor on this track and it is worth pointing out that the composer wrote this piano piece after reading one of Edgar Allan Poe's stories about an unfortunate soul who is buried alive. (Truly a bedtime story suitable for insomniacs) The backing vocals become increasingly anguished and ragged as the song nears its conclusion after an extended and quite brilliant piano solo from Keith driven along by some Latin percussion from Brian Davison, before ending with a reverberant funeral motif on piano cut unnervingly short by a loud snare crack from the drummer (the banging down of the coffin lid?).

'Hang On To a Dream' - Tim Hardin's brief and beautiful song about a love lost is expanded considerably by the Nice with the addition of a choir and a jazzy piano interlude in the middle. This is a very stately and touching waltz that features one of Jackson's most heartfelt and sincere vocals. Lee's singing abilities certainly polarize opinion about the group but on particular material like this, his shortcomings lend a vulnerability and emotion to the music that the finest technical singers often cannot even approach.

'Diary of an Empty Day' - Based almost entirely on Lalo's Symphony Espagnole, this is one of the bands finest moments. Keith switches to his signature organ for the first time on this track and conjures a performance on a par with any of his greatest. The whole thing gallops along with an irresistible verve and Lee even adds some tongue in cheek Spanish guitar strummed chords towards the end. If there is a definitive lyric about being unable to write a lyric then this must be it. Jackson rather cleverly solves his writer's block by singing solely about how he cannot 'find words for this music' Taken to its logical extremes he posits what this approach might ultimately enable him to accomplish:

- I could write a book this way -

'For Example' - I am always struck by this track as being a defiant statement by the Nice about their insistence that all styles and forms of music should belong together and that separation is an evil engineered by marketing gurus/snobs/critics ? Here we run through a slideshow of blues, rock, jazz, baroque, Gregorian chant and Hendrix all seamlessly integrated to the point where you cannot even begin to see the join. The title further gives me the impression that such were Emerson's abilities at the time he could have chosen another 6 differing musical flavors and blended same to equal effect. Rather cheekily they get the horn players employed to inject quotations from 'Norwegian Wood' and 'America.' The Nice cover in 9 minutes what other bands take 9 years to even dream about.

'Rondo 69' - The second half of the album is taken up by performances recorded at the famous Fillmore East venue in the USA and as the band have testified on numerous occasions over the years, it is perhaps only in the live environment that we get even a hint of the breadth and scope that this remarkable trio could exhibit. Both Lee Jackson and the late Brian Davison have stated that they felt the studio recordings by the Nice only 'scratched the surface' of the possibilities afforded by the band. The playing and energy are electrifying and the faithful recording captures all the subtle detail and power on display. Tempos were considerably quicker live than that of the studio versions (which caused Davison to protest to the keyboard player at around this time) and Emerson prefaces the Brubeck tune with a lengthy quote from one of Bach's Italian concertos.

'She Belongs to Me' - Where a very flaccid tune from Dylan is supercharged with an injection of Nice Viagra to bring it up to the level of a 'one take' porn star. (Check out the original, yes the lyrics are great but the melody is secondary) The entire arrangement illustrates exemplary exploitation of pace, dynamics and timbre throughout and there are examples of one of Keith's favorite improvisation techniques, that of quotation, in this case 'The Big Country' and some Bach? Anyone who underestimates the versatility and potency of Jackson and Davison as a rhythm unit really need to listen to this number and think again. The ending section is exhilarating and captures a band at the very peak of their creative powers.

- You're just a walking antique etc -

Which serves as an accurate and damning evaluation of most of the musical artists that were revered as innovative and progressive by the masses at the time (including the lyrics author Dylan)

This is certainly my favorite Nice album by some considerable distance and we can only guess at what further heights they may have reached had they stayed together longer. It seems clear that Emerson became irreconcilably estranged from Lee and Brian not long after this but as to the overriding reasons being purely musical/technical or personal, we may never really know the answer.

As much as I loved the the subsequent ELP adventure, there is a softer and humbler part of Emerson's musical personality that never made the transition from one group to the other and it is perhaps for this that the Nice will be missed most.

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