THE NICE — Five Bridges (review)

THE NICE — Five Bridges album cover Live album · 1970 · Third Stream Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
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.
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