EntertheLemming

Iain
JMA Collaborator · Jazz Reviewer
Registered more than 2 years ago · Last visit 7 months ago

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All Reviews/Ratings

228 reviews/ratings
FRANK ZAPPA - The Grand Wazoo (The Mothers) Jazz Related Rock | review permalink
KING CRIMSON - Larks' Tongues In Aspic Jazz Related Rock | review permalink
KING CRIMSON - Starless And Bible Black Jazz Related Rock | review permalink
THE NICE - Nice (aka Everything As Nice As Mother Makes It ) Jazz Related Rock | review permalink
THE NICE - Elegy Jazz Related Rock | review permalink
EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER - Brain Salad Surgery Jazz Related Rock | review permalink
JIMMY SMITH - Bashin' The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith Jazz Related Blues
JIMMY SMITH - Any Number Can Win (aka The Sermon) Jazz Related Blues
JIMMY SMITH - The Cat Jazz Related Blues
JIMMY SMITH - Jimmy And Wes:The Dynamic Duo Jazz Related Blues
THELONIOUS MONK - Brilliant Corners Hard Bop
THELONIOUS MONK - The Best Of Thelonious Monk (aka The Essential) Bop
DAVE BRUBECK - The New Brubeck Quartet Live At Montreux Cool Jazz
KENNY BURRELL - A Night at the Vanguard (aka Man At Work) Bop
MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA - The Inner Mounting Flame Classic Fusion
BILLY COBHAM - Spectrum Classic Fusion
GERRY MULLIGAN - The Age of Steam Cool Jazz
KING CRIMSON - Red Jazz Related Rock | review permalink
KING CRIMSON - The Great Deceiver (Live 1973 - 1974) Jazz Related Rock
THE NICE - Five Bridges Third Stream | review permalink

See all reviews/ratings

Jazz Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Jazz Related Rock 121 3.28
2 Classic Fusion 20 3.27
3 Third Stream 14 2.96
4 Hard Bop 12 3.46
5 Soul Jazz 11 3.59
6 Jazz Related Soundtracks 8 3.19
7 Jazz Related Blues 8 4.38
8 Bop 7 4.29
9 Jazz Related Improv/Composition 5 2.70
10 Post Bop 4 3.38
11 Nu Jazz 3 3.33
12 Cool Jazz 3 4.33
13 Avant-Garde Jazz 2 3.50
14 Big Band 2 4.00
15 Swing 2 4.00
16 World Fusion 2 3.25
17 (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion 1 2.00
18 Progressive Big Band 1 4.00
19 Stride Piano 1 4.00
20 Vocal Jazz 1 4.00

Latest Albums Reviews

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART Trout Mask Replica

Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock
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Well I assure you sir, this thing sucks (Don Van Vliet on selling a vacuum cleaner to Aldous Huxley)

Of the many albums that sit gathering dust, undisturbed in the rack yet are routinely adored by their house proud owners, it is perhaps Trout Mask Replica that best represents the disingenuous litmus test for hipster candidates of 'high' office everywhere. What's odd about its assimilation into the pantheon of 'maverick genius' constructions is that it's not even a rock album at all but rather, a free jazz inspired stream of consciousness 'f.u.c.k the lot of you' diatribe that has more in common with a Cecil Taylor arranged 'To Have Done with the Judgement of god' by Antonin Artaud than an unrequited love letter to any Howling Wolf. That's hardly a picnic with your childhood sweetheart and s.h.i.t.s.u puppy of course but it's still unnerving how far removed from the predictable lumpen plod of rawk (psychedelic, blues or otherwise) this album deviates at its furthest outreaches.

And therein maybe lies the key: Most rock fans including your reviewer get rather uncomfortable when their steady diet of cyclic rhythms and anticipated releases from harmonic tension are not resolved in a timely fashion. Listening to such music is tantamount to a delicately balanced guessing game. If I guess correctly what's coming next too often, I'll get bored and lose interest: If I cannot discern any anticipated patterns I'll dismiss the music as too chaotic or random as too few of my guesses are correct. That's probably why I heartily loathe Cecil Taylor, John Zorn, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, et al as such aesthetic considerations are completely irrelevant to their art. This says more about my limitations as a listener and failing to understand the stimulus to hand but all the same, I want to like this malarkey but erm....am unable. We're also habitually guilty of confusing texture with content e.g. there might be a sax on Brown Sugar but that doesn't make it any closer to Jazz than Rock. The textures at play on Trout Mask Replica have lured many an unwary critic into believing that the electric slide guitars, amped bass and drums menu is consistent with a delta blues themed psychadelicatessen and are invariably frustrated when the Captain and his troops steadfastly decline to serve up such a dish. The only place where texture and content are in accord is perhaps on Hair Pie Bake 1 where Beefheart's solitary soprano sax is redolent of the sort of uncharted musical landscapes of Anthony Braxton. It also explains why so few echoes of Beefheart are present in the music of his avowed wannabees, disciples and acolytes from within the republican realm of rawk like the Residents, Devo, Pere Ubu, Tom Waits, the Fall, PIL etc. The cynical among us would hazard that this is just egregious name-dropping which also lassos Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and anyone else who was considered a bit 'out there' but has crucially just died into the R'OK Corral.

The best Captain Beefheart impersonation I have ever heard is probably from Edgar Broughton circa Sing Brother Sing in 1970 but here's the rub, the unwitting approximation by a completly sh*t faced English actor Oliver Reed on Michael Aspel's chat show from 1984 comes a pretty close second. You are cordially invited to check out the 'You Tube' footage at your leisure. Tread very carefully when using 'derangement of the senses is the gateway to wisdom' as an educational paradigm kiddies. (The playgrounds of the US are littered with casualties on a daily basis)

Don Van Vliet's lyrics are at best, inscrutable surrealistic glossolalia and at worst, when they even approach bad beat poetry, crassly and glibly asinine:

Dachau blues, Dachau blues those poor Jews Still cryin' 'bout the burnin' back in World War Two's One mad man six million lose Down in Dachau blues, down in Dachau blues

We know that the good Captain enrolled as an art major in his youth but dropped out after less than 12 months. Draw your own conclusions if you will but thwarted artists with distinctive facial hair have never done the world many favours.

It seems that like Mark E. Smith of the Fall, the Captain ran his erstwhile Magic band circa 1969 similar to a dark satanic mill owner where dissent was treated with ridicule, physical violence and privation in no particular order. The published testimonies of band members appear to attest to the rather unpalatable conclusion that their Don was an uber controlling c.u.n.t of Mansonesque proportions. Revisionist apologists for this alleged behaviour start to sound like those clueless soccer pundits defending a leg breaking tackle who posit that 'without his underlying psychopathic and sadistic nature his talent would have been thwarted by mediocrities' Try telling that to the lads when they've been neither paid or fed for their unaccredited efforts and have to play a man down after their captain's red card for hacking down his own team. (Apologies for milking the footie metaphors there a tad)

I've also never understood why Zappa's mix is so heavily weighted in favour of Beefheart's vocal as most of these conspire to practically drown out the music and only serve to make prolonged listening a considerable chore. That's a shame as all told, there is much innovation and prescience buried in the bowels of this frankly appalling production to warrant a deeper appreciation of the creative input of the assembled Magic band.

There is some speculative evidence to suggest that the Captain refused to record his vocals using traditional headphones and therefore his delivery is commensurately out of sync with a backing he could only hear via the latency of speaker bleed. Being out of time deliberately would at least require some effort methinks? Anointed if you do, anointed if you don't. (He can't lose)

Long story short: This album isn't really a 'best fit' for any particular genre oriented appreciation site. It is too far removed from the prevailing evaluation criteria and is one of the few purported 'rock' albums deserving of being placed firmly in the 'other' basket.

KING CRIMSON Live At The Orpheum

Live album · 2015 · Jazz Related Rock
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A Scarcity of Standing Room

One of the great consolations afforded by the Crim's vast eclectic output is that even at their most willfully impenetrable, piously abstruse or drippily soporific, they are seldom predictable and at the very least their abject chaff is some of the most harvestable chaff available. Discipline Global Mobile's ever growing silos of repatriated bootlegs and official live recordings are testimony to our voracious appetite for what can be some extremely indigestible fodder. Kudos are therefore due to 'this Fripp' winning a seemingly losing battle against the institutionalised exploitation of musicians and their lack of protection from copyright piracy that he has waged for nigh on 40 years. By his own account, Bob has described this as a dispiriting and ruinously expensive fight against the legal obfuscation of his previous management and the complicity of a judiciary swayed by precedents set by industry practices that have never been sufficiently challenged or subjected to any form of rigorous scrutiny. Similar to those exorcists who have expelled demons and prevailed, all will testify that every victory is accompanied by the death of yet another little portion of their human soul. Bob Fripp has never done 'safe', his courtiers are never allowed to 'tread water' and despite his measured urbane mildness and inscrutable candor his sworn enemies have always been mediocrity and conservatism.

Why then has he granted royal assent to the release of 41 minutes of the most anodyne and tame Crimson to have hit the shelves since erm...In the Wake of Poseidon? (another pale imitation of a former glory in their discography)

There's a danger here in falling into the trap of judging this record by what it does NOT contain i.e. as if it were a clumsily truncated souvenir of a much lengthier statement of intent that featured performances of Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part I, The Light of Day and the title track from A Scarcity of Miracles, VROOM, Level Five, Pictures of a City and what is becoming the increasingly revisionary encore 21st Century Schizoid Man

I'm at a loss as to the reasons for such zealous editing unless there were fidelity issues with the available recordings, but that being the case, wouldn't they have been able to reassemble the entire performance from other shows on the itinerary? Either way, it's a very 'white bread' choice of material that gazes longingly in the rear view mirror while straying perilously close to stalling in the middle of the road. Second guessing the Frippmeister is invariably futile but I suspect that what has been dubbed the 'Seven-Headed Beast of Crim' will prove to be about as feral as Mr & Mrs Fripp's agoraphobic pet white rabbit 'Willyfred'

First of all, new boy Jakko Jakszyk is a demonstrably fine guitarist and decent singer who cut his teeth in the '21st Century Schizoid Band' but if you wanted fresh young blood to forge the way ahead consistent with a progressive mandate, would you recruit from a Crimson tribute band? (that's like asking a historian to read your palm) His voice is hopelessly unsuited to the otherwise excellent One More Red Nightmare where he's about as convincing as a chunky beggar who commutes to work. On the up-side, his vocals and guitar on Starless are excellent and merely serve to confirm that perhaps his tonsilry is more comfortable within the ballad realm.

What's always struck me as rather indefensible is the rough ride that the outgoing Adrian Belew was routinely shown by large swathes of the Crimson fanbase. What other member of a 1st Division Prog band was still perceived as the 'new boy' 20 years after the fact? For me, his vocal, guitar and compositional abilities dwarf those of Jakszyk but I seriously doubt that the jury will still be out on the latter 20 years hence. Maybe Uncle Bob just wanted a lower profile front-man?

Similarly, one of the conclusions begging to be drawn from this line-up (inferred or otherwise) is provided by the flute and sax contributions of Mel Collins who featured originally on four of the numbers included here. Notwithstanding Mel's impeccable credentials and unswerving good taste, at 67 years old, this seasoned session luvvy is never gonna be charged with Lese-majeste. Check out his solos however on Construktion of Light which shed some unprecedented erm..light on that rather unjustly neglected new millennium Crim issue.

There are three drummers on this album but scant evidence to justify their inclusion. (Does Robert harbor designs to eventually have his entire touring band seated in the manner of a Rock orchestra?) For those sad hirsute plankton in our midst, you are advised that Pat Mastelotto is mixed on the left, Gavin Harrison on the right and Bill Rieflin in the centre. The only track where a twelve limbed percussion critter is audibly present is on Construktion of Light where they do weave an attractive composite rhythm apportioned across the stereo spectrum.

The inclusion of Sailors Tale is a treat as I think it a vastly undervalued track in the Crim's output. Levin's visceral and guttural bass adds an even more pressing urgency to the propulsive groove and Bob conspires to replicate his sublime thrashing detuned strumming 'solo' (albeit in shortened form). The Letters is every bit as as overwrought and unwittingly comedic as that of the studio original. Sinfield's cod Gothic approximation of Lord Byron selling fish from a big frilly shirt has not aged well in the interim.

Unfortunately what new material is on display offers very little clues as to what the future holds for King Crimson: Banshee Legs Bell Hassle and Walk On, Monk Morph Chamber Music are but two wispy and perishable ambient scooby snacks the likes of which we have heard countless times before. I went to see the Crimson ProjeKCt (sic) last year in Brisbane, Australia which boasted a paltry TWO drummers and have to report that the entire ensemble of Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelloto, Julie Slick, Tobias Ralph and Markus Reuter in their various permutations, provided more evidence of progressive intent and innovation that anything on Live at the Orpheum The foregoing is not sufficient cause for abdication just yet, but with every passing year, Toyah Willcox is starting to approach the mantle of a post-Punk Wallis Simpson.

You have to wonder who this release is aimed at as I fear there is too little novelty to stir the hard-nose Crimhead from his lair which leaves the tenuous 'Crimson virgin' demographic. If you belong to the latter then you are getting a well played and well recorded bite sized selection of no-brainer material culled from the years 1971 to 2000. From that perspective this album starts to make sense and might come to resemble USA from 1975 which perhaps served as a little appetiser for the considerably more expansive (and expensive) the Great Deceiver box set. We can but wait to see what type of main course will follow the aperitif represented by Live at the Orpheum

Robert Fripp is 68 years old and as far as being dragged through the digestive tract of a music industry's irritable bowel goes, has paid his dues several time over. If he wishes to see out his time as a performer by playing an unimpeachable back catalogue with his mates to critical and audience acclaim, who am I do deny him this thoroughly merited succour?

Just don't expect me to ask you to read my palm Bob.

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER High Voltage Festival

Live album · 2010 · Jazz Related Rock
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Varicose Vein Salad Surgical Stockings

"We rehearsed for five weeks, which I could never understand why we needed to rehearse that long, Upon hearing the recordings, maybe five weeks was not long enough. It wasn't to the standard that I liked and I didn't think it sounded that good" (Carl Palmer)

They sound like a hungover pub band bluffing it under the delusion that only friends and family are in attendance. On the evidence of this superannuated bumper pay day that the trio repaid with their greatest hits karaoke, it saddens me to report that ELP are no longer even the best ELP tribute band around. Many of their missed entries and cues conspire to sound rushed and tardy, too early and too late which makes for a very nervy listening experience for this self-confessed ELP fanboy. Bum notes proliferate throughout making parts of Take a Pebble and Fanfare for the Common Man stray perilously close to self-parody. (I could swear Emerson is wearing mittens during Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 2) Musicians of this calibre however, cannot be uniformly abject for 90 minutes (which is exactly how long a soccer match lasts but it probably feels longer seeing as how we're watching Chelsea's pensioners, one of whom is certainly worthy of a red card or failing that, a red face Greg...) The FOH mixing boffins were clearly unable to tame the sonic gremlins that spoil much of this performance: the drums at the outset sound alternately like Tupperware surdos or timpanic watering cans. The Barbarian they portray here would probably break into your apartment, dust the place, tidy up the rooms and leave behind some baked fruit scones. Similarly, the extant Tarkus critter has been lobotomised into some sort of de-fanged proggie moggie who answers to the name of 'Frisky'. Lake's bass on Knife Edge approaches 'twangy brittle' rather than the required 'guttural brooding' although in mitigation, the aforementioned knob twiddlers have managed to perform some much needed running repairs to the appalling sound quality in the interim. On the up side, there appears a genuinely innovative moment re the unconventional piano intro to Lake's habitually guitar led From the Beginning which explores the implied jazz flavour of his 9th chord vamp quite beautifully. The synth patch used on Keith's outro solo is alas, a disaster, coming across like a busking Rolf Harris armed with Casio's flagship stylophone. Touch and Go lives up to it's associations with a completely fumbled/dropped ball intro from Keith that seems plain vanilla senile (How does this one go again lads? high dotage/dosage?) but settles down thereafter into a reasonably robust reading of what is probably the only classic post 80's ELP number by any permutation of those initials. I'm trying hard to accentuate what few positives there are but why is everything on here just so damn half-baked, wimpy and soulless?

"For me, it's just a pride thing Unless it's as good as what it can be, then I can't do it. I would have carried on if it had been as good as it was. I don't believe it was and I don't believe it would have ever gotten back to that standard". (Carl Palmer)

The piano improvisation through which Emerson negotiates from Take a Pebble to the Tarkus medley is brilliantly realised and the resultant Stones of Years is spared the indignity of degenerating into any anticipated 'Gallstones of Tears'. Things have perked up considerably hereabouts and Keith's organ solo is a veritable highlight of the set. Rather bizarrely, Greg deems it prudent to attenuate the feedback present on this number by erm, shouting 'feedback x 3' into the microphone as if this will somehow make it less noticeable? Worse than that, the now spherical blimp has the chutzpah to regale us with Mass without a trace of knowing irony. Although it's hardly a stand-out in their songbook, it's refreshing to hear a live version of Farewell to Arms from the criminally neglected Black Moon album. This has a quiet and understated dignity about it that survives Lake's habitually treacly 'spoken tag-line' bathos and the odd lapse into poorly digested Elgar betrayed by the arrangement. The grazing anti-warhorse that is Lucky Man benefits from a slyly ingenious piano intro which seems rather wasted on what has always been for me, a very insubstantial ballad. What weight it might possess is further undermined by it's author forgetting the lyrics to the first verse. Keith's gritty and ballsy organ certainly beefs things up considerably but once again, this is a brownie with delusions of being a three tiered wedding cake. To be fair to Prog's favourite law firm, (Emerson, Lake & Palmer est 1970 prop G. Lake esq) they offer a very spirited and in places, moving retread of Pictures at an Exhibition which follows the latter day truncated versions as contained on the likes of the Return of the Manticore. Here the band at least exemplify the hard won lesson that despite the stubborn excesses of their Prog lineage, 'less' is finally acknowledged as begetting a more satisfying and economic 'more'.

Much of the raggedness and inaccuracies that crept into Emerson's playing circa the early 90's were attributable to a trapped nerve condition that eventually required corrective surgery. Although the operation was considered a complete success it did have a debilitating effect on Keith's pianistic abilities thereafter. He had to pare down and relax his playing style somewhat compared to the shredding pyrotechnics of his 'gun-slinger' years. However, based on the evidence of the subsequent Keith Emerson Band studio album and Live in Moscow recordings with Marc Bonilla, his playing is unfailingly top notch on both so I'm at a loss as to why there are so many clinkers on High Voltage

By this point ELP didn't even have either 'Ham or Cheese' to offer their famished but faithful fanbase but we can at the very least finally answer that nagging question first posed in 1971: Are You Ready Eddy to pull those faders down? Yep, and turn out the lights when you leave the building thanks, this show ended 30 years ago.

COLOSSEUM/COLOSSEUM II The Grass Is Greener

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
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The Best Restaurant in Rome (If You're a Lion)

This stateside only release from 1970 has come to resemble something of a curio in the Colosseum discography. It was rushed out with rather indecent haste just a few months after the successful Valentyne Suite (presumably under the pretext of James Litherland having being replaced in the interim by Clem Clempson) Anyways, given that it features the new singer and guitarist on alternate versions of previously released numbers, plus some new and old material, it still hangs together surprisingly well as a stand alone document and not some expedient ploy designed to plunge our short arms into deep pockets. Litherland's departure is a mixed blessing for your reviewer as I prefer his guitar work but favour Clempson's lower vocal range. Tensions had been running high in the band for some time prior to Litherland being asked to leave and he cites soloist's egos, over elaborate arrangements, and a dearth of 'in the pocket groove' from drummer Hiseman as all being contributing factors to his estrangement from his colleagues. More pointedly perhaps was him discovering quite by chance that his band mates were being paid considerably more than he was as the singer, guitarist and composer. How ironic therefore that the man they nicknamed 'Butty' (after the Mancunian slang for a sandwich) was toast after claiming he received too little bread (Man)

Jumping Off the Sun - This unique song was written by the rather tragic figure of one Mike Taylor, an incredibly original and talented jazz pianist who ended up drowned in the River Thames at just 30 years old, purportedly under his own hand. It's one of the most unusual and unnerving compositions I've heard in a long while and seems in places almost to defy the trumping gravitational pull of tension and its release we crave for in diatonic music. Even the chorus type 'hook' betrays a maverick agenda by landing on a lacerating discord. There are weird jutting cadences, sly metric jesting and unresolved harmonies at play here that apart from maybe Syd Barrett and Thelonious Monk, have no precedent I can cite.

Lost Angeles - It's fascinating to hear this early run-through of a number that was given its definitive reading on the stirring Live version from '71. Greenslade's murky organ occupies a less prominent role here but his gossamer chiming vibes are captured beautifully and Heckstall-Smith interjects some bluesy strands of noirish sax to cinematic effect. Hiseman is an incredibly accomplished and technical drummer but despite Litherland's claim that his playing lost much of its visceral pulse hereabouts, I find his contributions to be unfailingly supportive of the musical materials to hand. Although Clempson is not on a par with the masterful Chris Farlowe he does a decent job and at the very least we are spared his coma inducing solo from '71 that is so odiously predictable, overlong and cliche filled it was used in torture experiments conducted from behind the iron curtain designed to break western spies during the Cold War.

Elegy - An odd name for such a funky little monkey y'all? This is James Litherland singing and his highly strung tonsils are a perfect match for material like this (it should be, he wrote it) By some weird perverse reason best known to the mental health profession I always envisage this is what Sly and the Family Stone gettin' oreo on us would sound like? Identical to the track that appears on the Valentyne Suite.

Butty's Blues - Another Litherland piece which would be a rather ordinary 12 bar but for the highly imaginative and refreshingly original take on da blooz courtesy of Neil Ardley's brilliant arrangement. Neil was the musical director of the New Jazz Orchestra from 1964 to 1970 which employed some of the best young musicians in London including Ian Carr, Jon Hiseman, Jack Bruce, Tony Reeves, Barbara Thompson, Dave Gelly, Mike Gibbs, Don Rendell, and Trevor Tomkins et al. A veritable who's who of fledgling UK fusion circa the mid 60's. They recorded at least one album I know of called Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe which is well worth tracking down and, despite the gauche double entendre in the title, is not filled with stoned hippy jazz w.a.n.k and also contains two compositions by the aforementioned Mike Taylor.

Rope Ladder to the Moon - Almost a sister song to Taylor's Jumping off the Sun and one of Jack Bruce's finest creations which to this day, I haven't the foggiest idea what he's banging on about. It hardly matters so just enjoy this oriental inflected slice of angular 60's kitsch for what it is. Not quite as assured as the road tested version on Live from 1971 but that's to be expected with what was new material of course. Clempson struggles with some of the higher notes but on this occasion such flaws imbue his delivery with an endearing vulnerability.

Bolero - My old geography teacher perhaps put it best when he described my crammed essay on soil erosion as 'long winded graffitti that would shame even a condemned building'. Yep, Ravel is subjugated to the indignity of being rendered 'diggable' by those who should have been rendered senseless with a shovel. Clempson's flimsy Davy O'List impersonation in the middle is unbearable, unforgivable, inexcusable and credible reason enough to dispense entirely with electricity.

The Machine Demands a Sacrifice - Memorable chorus hook certainly and Greenslade's organ solo is well worth the wait but this is two good ideas stretched to breaking point.

The Grass Is Greener - I've always adored this section from the Valentyne Suite and it appears to be pretty faithful to the album version, albeit it's Clempson, not Litherland on guitar. Dave Greenslade's subtle but always commanding Hammond is a salutary lesson in how to steer a vessel without recourse to a gangplank. Once again alas, Clempson's creaking blues rock excesses are completely oblivious to the economy mirrored by Heckstall-Smith's indelible main theme and so keelhauling the insolent cur would be the only humane verdict all told.

There is some anecdotal evidence that had Colosseum been touring on the east coast of the USA in 1969 they would have been invited to perform at Woodstock. What this would have done for their subsequent career trajectory is at best speculative and at worst disingenuous. Forgive me for using a football analogy here but it's the most apt way I can think of to describe the demise of yet another delightful but doomed ensemble: Colosseum are perhaps comparable to the Dutch national football team i.e. they have thrilled audiences with their wonderful skill and technical mastery over many a lesser opponent but have won precisely zero, nada, squat with regards to trophies. Eleven brilliant players is not a 'team'

KEITH EMERSON Iron Man Vol 1

Album · 1994 · Jazz Related Soundtracks
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- When Rustic Hinges need Lubrication (Iron Man reads Keith Emerson Comics) -

Although I could be wrong (it wouldn't be the first time) I think this CD is only available from the official Keith Emerson website as I have to date, never seen a copy in any retail stores.

If the sleeve notes are to be believed, this project was forged at a meeting in 1994 between Marvel Comics illustrator supremo Stan Lee and probably the worst knife and flame throwing musician in history, Keith Emerson. At its conclusion both parties agreed that the music traditionally used for children's comic book animations was banal in the extreme and what better opportunity was there to give the kids a subliminal musical appreciation primer than get Mr E to levitate the soundtrack to film score extravaganza proportions ? What finer candidate could there be than the man who lit the bomb in 'bombastic?'

A marriage made in heaven it would seem, but as King Henry VIII whispered quietly to one of Anne Boleyn's linen handmaidens:

- No, don't bother with two pillows, we won't need that many tomorrow trust me -

'Iron Man Main Title Theme' - Keith gets us off to a lively start with a swaggering and nagging march tune stated on heroic signature synth brass underpinned by a punning groove exploiting some resonating metallic percussion. I can even see the screen credits scrolling in front of my minds eye. The old biker's sabbatical in the film industry during the 80's is reaping rich dividends here.

'And the Sea Shall Give Up It's Dead' - Starts with a very eerie high pitched dissonant cluster chord (Yep this must be the leitmotif of the 'baddie' - Wagner goes digital). However the momentum of this intriguing opening is soon lost as the piece lapses into a rather half-hearted but knowingly twee 'cheese lounge' tangent before Emerson, for reasons best known to himself, quotes 'Street War' fleetingly from 'In the Hot Seat'. Things do perk up thereafter with some sporadic and delightful orchestral writing and several disguised and modulated allusions to the opening track's sublime theme. There is also a hint of both 'Glorietta' and 'Romeo & Juliet' in places here and the whole construction although certainly ever changing and atmospheric does betray a rather haphazard arrangement. Keith also completely overdoes the punning metallic clanging percussion arsenal to wearying effect. This type of short episodic writing is certainly appropriate for animation work but I fear it would take until 'Godzilla Wars' in 2004 before Emerson would perfect this particular discipline fully. (Which reminds me, I need to add that album to his discography)

'I Am Ultimo, Thy Deliverer' - Some brooding and restive string synth writing opens this track and at least half this section has a more satisfying development and structure than the one before. The percussion is much more restrained and carries more weight as a result. The rapidity and insistence of the staccato passages are cleverly balanced against the legato pad and string sounds with the overall effect being that of a fully realised dynamic orchestral score. At 6 min 50ish however, we deviate into a straight rock groove but like all the many ideas that proliferate on this record, nothing sticks around for long or even prefaces its arrival. Circa 9 mins in we meet some martial snare and a jazzy interlude but again this is never sustained into a lasting theme. At 11 minutes we bump into a flustered Bela Bartok, bamboozled by his pungent Hungarian modes being employed for a fantasy cartoon. Yep, things really do DRAG from here on in and I cannot help but get the impression that this has degenerated into technician Will Alexander with stopwatch in hand, dialling up a new preset and challenging the maestro to:

- Play something that fits that sound then smarty leather pants! -

Just prior to the quarter hour elapsing we get a very clumsy lurch into Chick Corea jazz rock territory, and as brilliant as the solo and groove are, they just do not stem naturally from what came before. The fact that the drum sounds employed are via sequenced samples or a hardware unit does not help the creation of a credible percussion performance throughout the album alas.

'Data In Chaos Out' - Quotes cheekily from Holst at least twice on the intro I think? and seemingly emboldened by his subterfuge going undetected risks a snatch of both 'God Save the Queen' and 'Mars the Bringer of War' further in. You are a very naughty man Mr Emerson. Segues into an unusual, for Keith at any rate, pastoral and folky medieval plainsong a la Gryphon before appearing to quote his own left hand ostinato on 'Piano Concerto 3rd Movement'. (We'll let the last one pass certainly) Significantly there is a synth patch Keith uses liberally which mimics moving 'around the dial' on an old fashioned wireless and this may give some rationale as to the truncated brevity of the writing employed here to imitate the effect of stumbling upon short excerpts of random broadcasts? Keith however is plainly guilty on 'Data In Chaos Out' of that cardinal sin of many keyboard players who have distorted guitar sounds under their fingers via a sampler/synth i.e. if you don't think and play like a guitarist you're gonna sound like the Venus de Milo holding a Strat (pretty unconvincing)

'Silence My Companion, Death My Destination' - Play the first 20 seconds of this to your annoying and stubbornly white urban bro' next door and watch his acne encrusted features fall when you exclaim with indecent and crowing glee:

- 'Gotcha.... it's old prog fart numero uno!!' -

Piano appears for the first time here and despite the wonderful and tantalizing glimpses of Emerson's playing we again never get a chance for the underlying ideas to present themselves properly due to the disjointed nature of the arrangement which resembles a cut-up narrative that would have made even William Burroughs proud. Once again the main theme provides some sort of respite and it certainly has a strength and resilience that so much of this messy album does not. Emerson dallies with dance techniques at various junctures with mostly unconvincing results i.e. he layers house beats under urban sax motifs and bleepy analogue percussion and just manages to lose whatever skin tone he may have possessed before he started. Yep, unfortunately after about 15 minutes, as if on cue, Keith has run out of ideas and merely goes round his favourite synth presets again giving us a wretched home demo appropriation of 'Tank' for our pains of forbearance. Uncannily, 'Street Wars' makes yet another appearance and like a wasp in the middle of winter, proves to be a particularly unwelcome guest.

'Iron Man, Theme Alternate' - Very strong musical ideas relegated to just 1 minute in duration. So much of the quality on this recording is in inverse proportion to its running time.

So there you have it, a very disappointing pot pourri of soundtrack related sketches and preset digital synth cul de sacs I'm afraid. Perhaps if I had seen the visuals that are to accompany this music I may feel differently but if you are going to release a stand alone CD of music, it really should measure up of its own accord. Those proggers who are HEAVILY into synth sounds for their own sake might be in hog heaven with this album but as for the remainder, only the terminally obsessed (like moi) should indulge.

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