Jazz Music Reviews from EntertheLemming


Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.88 | 12 ratings
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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
Cover art 2.46 | 5 ratings
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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.


Live album · 2010 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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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.


Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.03 | 12 ratings
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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'


Album · 1994 · Jazz Related Soundtracks
Cover art 2.04 | 3 ratings
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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.

GILGAMESH Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into

Album · 1978 · Fusion
Cover art 2.88 | 11 ratings
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- A Chomp at Canterbury -

Historians speculate that Gilgamesh may have been a Sumerian king who reigned circa 2700 BC and entered the realm of legend by virtue of erecting a huge city wall to protect his subjects from external threats. I like to think that the citizens of Nippur would have been eternally grateful to their prescient monarch for being fortified against invading armies, pestilence, Jehovah's Witnesses, insurance salesmen and wandering gangs of Canterbury minstrels with long hair, synthesizers, a fondness for pipe tobacco and interminable jazzy noodling.

(Bring out yer deaf)

Were Progressive Rock to be brought to account for some of the earshot wounds inflicted on a listening public, the cells would surely be bulging under the intake of those criminals from the soft white underbelly of Fusion. For every upstanding and law abiding Gong, National Health, Billy Cobham, Mahavishnu, Fermata and Colosseum there are legions of their sinister darker brethren still at large and wanted for a litany of war crimes against aesthetic sensibility e.g. Chick Corea, Return to Forever, Pat Metheney, the Crusaders, Al Di Meola, Santana and Herbie Hancock (the latter's 80's 'rap' sheet would even bring a blush to Snoop's canine cheeks)

It goes without saying that you cannot bluff your way through a genre as demanding as the fusion critter as the only entry qualifications I can detect are a shed-load of chops and a thimble full of memorable hooks. Which brings us to the 2nd album by Gilgamesh from 1978 (or if you prefer m'lud, Exhibit A) The nod to the delightful Laurel and Hardy as evidenced by the title is particularly ironic, as there is scarcely a prat-fall, chuckle or fine tune to be had throughout the entire po-faced and grievously earnest 39 minutes. I have to say this must be some of the blandest and most anodyne music I have heard in a long, long while and makes the likes of Kenso and Passport seem positively visceral and borderline industrial in comparison. It's entirely one paced and seamlessly uniform from start to finish e.g. practically every track doggedly conforms to the same design: a couple of minutes of tastefully understated noodling at circa 85 bpm followed by a unison passage disguised as a completely tangential theme (of sorts) before the lads continue on their unwavering and unhurried way. The playing is faultless but why does 'tasteful' often result in the paradox of no discernible flavour? Give me 'tasteless' any day of the week, I might even remember that, as I cannot for the life of me recall a single melodic fragment from this entire piece of 'off-white' wallpaper muzak.

Some of the textures are attractive with Alan Gowen's airy Fender Rhodes, Hugh Hopper's sumptuous bass and a beautifully recorded kit sound from Trevor Tomkins, but Phil Lee's 'faux' jazz guitar tone is bereft of even a smidgen of personality or warmth. Similarly, the synth sounds employed by Gowen are strictly Camembert Electric.

By way of mitigation, it is probably Lee who provides the best track on the album, in the guise of his delicate solo acoustic guitar vehicle 'Waiting'. 'Underwater Song' does feature a dazzlingly inventive drum intro from Tomkins but his cohorts reward this fleeting gap in the clouds with yet another gentle rinsing of Canterbury drizzle. 'Foel'd Again' is redolent of some of the eastern european folk modes employed in the music of Bartok and Janacek but at under two minutes it never gets the chance to be anything other than merely tantalising.

Although I love Hatfield and the North, early Soft(er) Machine, Khan and Kevin Ayers, I really couldn't recommend 'Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into' to anyone apart from a far right of centre, hard-line, hard-nosed Fusion/Canterbury completist. (or an insomniac)


Album · 2009 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.96 | 3 ratings
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- And Then There Were Four -

So, if this instrumental four-piece had hired a singer, would they have been called Pentagon? Whatever, I was gob-smacked to unearth this obscurity in my local Brisbane store as Australian retailers tend to view Prog with the same reluctance as basic hygiene and grammar:

'Can I hear a bit of this?'

'No yeah, sweet...it's all good dude' (gestures for me to don headphones that appear to have been dipped in a bowl of elephant's earwax and betray a thick blanket of leprous dandruff)

'What's this track called again?'

'Erm....like..Snowstorm or summat...' (Proceeds to indulge in an impromptu snack from the contents of his nostril larder)

'You're kidding!'

'Ya wannit or not mate?'

Not wishing to prolong this dubious hi-fidelity experience any longer than was necessary, I only got to hear half the first track, and so impressed was I by this critter, splashed my filthy Lemming lucre on the even filthier counter. Done deal (bro)

Tetragon's previous release 'Nature' was a good but rather unfocused amalgam of alternately classically inspired prog and jazzy noodles. According to the sleeve notes that Garden of Delights have compiled for 'Stretch', this appears to be the unreleased follow up which for reasons best known to the band's erstwhile label Soma, never saw the light of day until 38 years later.

Snowstorm - Probably the most fully developed composition on the album as evidenced by the tightly bound unison playing that prefaces a robust main theme. Yep, some fiendish chops are browning nicely hereabouts but I get the nagging feeling that the melodic outline carries more than an aroma of something Beggars Opera served up on their first album? Regardless, the instrumental textures and disciplined dialogue between organ, guitar, bass and drums might conjure up reference points like the Nice, Collegium Musicum, Finch, Beggars Opera and Colosseum. Significantly there is very little horizontal activity here that could be construed as jazz related, (despite the vertical harmonic flavours and scale choices, this has the unyielding grunt and forward motion of unadulterated 'rawk'.

Listen Here - One of the most accurate homages to Brian Auger that I've heard in a long while. Schaper dials up an uncannily Augerish tone on the Hammond on a tune written by Eddie Harris. Unfortunately it ain't no 'Freedom Jazz Dance' but a rather cramped two chord jam which Tetragon to their credit, do disguise sufficiently and with ingenious cunning to carry off as being imbued with more substance than it really merits. Entertaining certainly by virtue of the playing and wealth of ideas culled from such a meagre source but only twice as much fun as a one chord jam all said and done.

The Light - Probably Jaehner's most enduring performance on the record. Up to now his guitar had been a wearyingly thin fuzzy compendium of rock postures but after presumably seeing 'The Light', he spices up his tone with creative use of wah-wah, octave soloing and explores a more lyrical aspect to his playing to telling effect. Notice the same wah-wah effect harnessed for Schaeper's organ which appropriates a swelling string pad and just goes to show that with sufficient imagination you don't really need every single Moog gizmo at your fingertips to create arresting new sounds. Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles to innovation is innovation itself. There are a lot of very strong ideas on this track and considerable detail to be enjoyed in the careful development and building of excitement as the number unfolds.

Hovering Stones - The angular and rapid-fire unison riff is redolent of 'Tarkus' (but then to be fair to the lads, pluck some notes at random and repeat same in a circular fashion at a high tempo and it's 'not' gonna sound like ELP's epic?) Despite this enticing opening it soon lapses into another distinctly ordinary two chord jam before (rather self-consciously I suspect) they dive into a completely unrelated idea at a quicker tempo. My Uncle Bill who worked in the used car business always told me: Never buy a vehicle that has been compiled from two separate wrecks.

Dragon Song - The album closes on a very distinct high courtesy of a swaggering romp through a John McLaughlin tune (of which I have never heard the original) It could be deemed rather repetitive in places but given the sheer irresistible license of the groovy riff employed, those nay-sayers in our midst are cordially invited to imbibe toxins of their own choosing. Brian Auger's Oblivion Express come readily to mind here as Dragon Song inhabits a similar territory to the latter's more inspired work.

'Stretch' will appeal to those who enjoyed the previous 'Nature' (but is rationed of the jazzier candy of the former) plus the bands I alluded to above. Well worth hunting down for lovers of the Hammond everywhere, irrespective of what genre of music butters your corn 'baby'.

PS Note to self: Buy Prog albums on-line in future and pass off using 'groovy' in a review as ironic.

KEITH EMERSON Boys Club : Live From California

Live album · 2009 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.91 | 2 ratings
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- Californian Double-Garage Band -

Perhaps 'Emerson, Hughes & Bonilla' was never gonna set consumer pulses racing but 'Boy's Club?' The latter sounds like a failed teen group that even those credulous denizens of the mall dismiss as 'booey wack' The cover art captures the lads in 'sunglasses after dark mode' with Emerson in particular looking about as threatening as a disgruntled monastery auditor.

Mr Hughes vocal stylings certainly polarise the Lemming household, as Mrs L coos girlishly about how cute he is and swoons over what she hears as 'soulful macho swagger' whereas I deem his tonsilry as technically flawless but hopelessly mannered and affected.(As someone who cannot sing a note and resembles the produce of a live fish bait store, my jealously will be pitifully transparent) Just to compound my own prejudices I note that vocalists whose singing I loathe such as LaBrie and Hughes have American accents while Paul Rodgers, Chris Farlowe and Ian Gillan whose rawk affectations I like have discernible British accents. I'll let you do the FLAMING maths.

Afterburner - Verbatim 'Baba O'Riley' synth intro albeit via Bonilla's palm muted picking which leads into an unpromising pub chugalong over which is stated a theme which might feel more at home in a fusion context. The central section smacks of arbitrary chords played in unison as if the difficulty of the undertaking was an end in itself.(Counting is not a spectator sport) That Bonilla is a very accomplished guitarist is a complete no-brainer but here he dives headlong into the murky waters of Widdley Creek oblivious to the paddle lying abandoned on the bank. This type of plank spanking communicates precisely zero, it's speed typing of memos that the recipients are clearly too lazy to read. Three Hundred notes a second? awesome dude! Two words a minute: This sucks.

Long Journey Home - A very spacey and atmospheric instrumental with Emerson's pensive and droning synth pads lending sympathetic support to Bonilla's eastern inflected bowed guitar put through the 'Ravi Shankar Yodelling in the Grand Canyon' reverb fx preset on his digital rack. As an intro to 'Hoedown' it does work but as a composition in it's own right? Nah.

Hoedown - Another very spirited romp through the ol' ELP staple and although the unison playing from Emo and Bonilla is undoubtedly skilful it doesn't lend anything new to what is becoming a rather dottery and absent minded standard. The 'hand on belt buckle' bluegrass breakdown in the middle is good fun and Bonilla displays a wit and humour to his playing that was conspicuous by its absence up to now. The wah wah transition back to the main theme could have been exploited more methinks, but all things considered, this ain't too shabby at all.(and Hughes hasn't even cleared his throat yet. Was he stuck in a cab en route to the gig?)

A Whiter Shade of Pale - No alas, but to be fair Glen does display uncharacteristic restraint on this Procul Harum classic by his reading of the tune faithfully to the spirit of the original. Perhaps my worst fears are groundless? Interestingly, the band adopt a fresh approach here, and resist the temptation to revisit the liturgical feel of the original via the organ. Instead, the Bach quote is carried by Bonilla's plangent guitar and Emerson restricts himself to subdued and understated synth pads and some sparing piano flourishes as the song builds.There are scores of wretched covers of this song but this is one of the best (listen to wee Annie Lennox version for an instance of rigor mortis 'prior' to death)

White Noise - Possibly one of the only instances of a tune that actually manages to advance the boogie genre into uncharted territory. Bonillas's imaginative composition displays everything in abundance that his playing on 'Afterburner' lacked i.e. subtlety, wit, irony and innovation. Emerson actually decided to hook up with Marc after hearing the latter perform this number in a Californian watering hole. Keith's knuckle busting piano solo is a veritable eargasm for this listener (but then I'm a shameless Emo fanboy)

Cover Me - Utterly pedestrian US rawk grunt which with hideous irony, serves as a vehicle for Hughes to rev up his 'Mustang Sally' soul holler thang y'all. His overuse of melisma is grievously irritating when he stretches a single word or phrase so that it practically encompasses a whole scale. This device can be very effective if used to enhance or improvise on a given melody,(soul singers do this effortlessly) but like Bonilla on 'Afterburner', this is a lack of original ideas cloaked by technique. Imagine a pale Wilson Pickett auditioning for Dream Theater (sic) and try to get a good night's sleep thereafter.

Nutrocker - Quotes delightfully from 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies' on the intro but the pungent harmonies chosen by Emo and Bonilla lend this quaint piece an unexpected mordant edge. Thereafter we are treated to a damn nifty classical knees up round the ol' joanna and the whole band radiate fun, fun, fun in spades. Keith's solo is again a belter and the entire arrangement displays a healthy irreverence for both the original source and the player's own egos. As your correspondent is too short sighted/drunk to read the sleeve notes properly, I suspect the second guitar solo is that of Mike Wallace and the electric piano/clavinet excursion belongs to Ed Roth? It's 'Nutrocker' Jim, but not as we know it.

Tarkus - Emerson is on record as stating this the definitive version of his famous composition. As much as I like this rendition, I don't share completely his unqualified endorsement, but who am I to argue with the original composer's intentions? Although a vastly evolved creature from ELP's feisty puppy from 1971, it shares a similar feel and scope to that of the version on the live 'Vivacitas' album. Hughes however, completely undermines the song sections with an unwitting comedic effect not dissimilar to an 'Emerson, Gaye & Palmer' parody. Can white men sing the blues? Who cares?, Can white men who sing like black men sing prog? (Nah) Shame really as the arrangement and playing is excellent and Bonilla's sinuous aggressive lead gives the piece an even more sinister feel than before. A quick word in praise of Joe Travers drumming, which is 'in the pocket' no fancy dan malarkey when the material dictates such and interactively supportive when far greater complexity is called for. He is clearly an extremely versatile and musical drummer with a sense of humour (i.e. he hits his cowbell occasionally)

Dreams - This can't be an original?, I mean it's just too damn loose limbed and languid for these chop meisters but wait, hold up... must be an Allman Brothers cover? Regardless, it features a rip snorting Emerson solo on organ and some electric piano tinkling from Roth (I think?) After 6 minutes of this delightful devilment we degenerate soon thereafter into a very long and numbing 'Dirge for Stuck Rock Band and Fish Salesman with Elephantiasis of the Larynx'. Even if Glen Hughes sang through a drinking straw he would suck all the air out of the room. Truly a soul singer for the soulless.

Middle of a Dream - A studio track featuring some unadorned poignant piano from Emerson that carries a whiff of Satie's 'Gymnopedies' before retreating to reveal a groove redolent of 'The Way It Is' by Bruce Hornsby. Nothing there to run to the nuclear bunker for just yet and even Hughes behaves himself on a catchy rock/pop tune that at the very least displays this unlikely ensemble of musicians may have carved themselves a lucrative niche in such a market had the collaboration endured.

I was dreading reviewing this to be honest as it pains me to have to bash anything that contains the work of my idol Emerson but I am glad to report it's way, way better than I envisaged.This is a very entertaining live album that is worth some of your time regardless of what particular flavour of rock tickles your palette. Therein however lies the dilemma that 'Boys Club' would face had their association lasted: Lovers of prog metal and guitar shredding in general will adore and hate some of this in equal measure. Similarly, symphonic/classical rock enthusiasts and jazzers will alternatively drool then spit at the contents. Yep, they are forever trapped between two stools (is that what 'lounge metal' means?)


Album · 1981 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.92 | 3 ratings
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- Play that funky music white boy -

During a time which Emerson later described as that of 'zero pressure' in the aftermath of ELP's burial on 'Love Beach', our keyboard hero stayed on in the Bahamas to top up his tan, hide from Lester Bangs and 'soak up' some of the local hospitality. Inside those precious few little windows he had in his already busy itinerary, Keith also found time to dash off a solo album at a local recording studio to which he had unlimited access in return for helping the owners modernise the facility.

The mood here is understandably relaxed, as there was no hot breath on the back of the Emerson neck from inquisitive and anxious record companies to cramp his style and the result is a collection of 'hobbyist' tunes which pay homage to his earliest inspiration i.e boogie-woogie, jazz, classical and blues.

Hello Sailor Intro - The limitations of the recording studio are evident here immediately and the sound quality is only on a par with a semi-pro establishment. Despite that, the album has a very pleasing lo-fi grunt about it which seems to suit the aged choice of materials covered. Considering the sterility of so many 80's recordings, the grainy earthiness of 'Honky' is a pleasure avalanche in comparison. The plaintive and stately guitar on this short mood setter is provided by the session engineer Mott who segues us into the next track with a very effective pattern of guitar harmonics a la Rush's Lifeson.

Bach Before the Mast - If Jacques Loussier was ever in the habit of going to fancy dress parties dressed as a pirate, getting hammered on rum and being asked to "give us a tune on the old joanna matey" then this is just what might have resulted. There are some sadistic contrapuntal demands in this George Malcolm piano fugue that beggars belief but Emerson rises to the challenge and puts in a magnificent performance by choosing (wisely) to postpone the introduction of any jazz or blues licks until the resultant finale.

Hello Sailor Finale - This one will certainly be picked up on any auditing proghead's radar and is perhaps the most overtly progressive track on the album. The aforementioned Mott contributes some tasteful and economic lead guitar on a jazz fusion treatment of the earlier Malcolm baroque material. This is a very busy and skilled arrangement which never sits idle for long but the rhythm section of Kendall Stubbs bass and Frank Scully's drums never allow the infectious groove to get lost for a second. Have sea shanties ever sounded this cool? In less astute hands this could have degenerated into the 'Pirates of Penzance' as envisaged by Chick Corea.

Salt Cay - I think this was the theme music written by Keith for an Italian TV show. The Korg beasties that he was using at around this time are well to the fore together with some greasy organ that lends the piece a bluesy Jimmy Smith feel. The ending theme stated on chirpy synth over an irresistible start/stop groove will stick resolutely inside your head for months to come. We meet here the local Junkanoo percussion indigenous to the Bahamas which permeates the mix subtly and unobtrusively, giving Emerson's music a hitherto unprecedented funky edge.

Green Ice - This was part of the rejected score that Emerson submitted for the movie of the same name, and considering that Bill Wyman's offering won the day, this track made the decision by the film producers an even easier one. It just sounds plain contrived from start to finish, with a cramped groove that never gets airborne and wheezes under a flimsy and disjointed structure. Did Keith receive the wrong script in the mail and write the cheesy chanted jungle vocals befitting a production starring Carmen Miranda in the role of a cross-dressing Tarzan?. Shame really, as his piano soloing is excellent on the jazz fusion sections while his collaborators continue to lend robust support despite the weakness of the underlying ideas.

Intro-juicing - Some people only sing when they're drunk, and others drink because we've heard them.

Big Horn Breakdown - Not sure who wrote the original but it might possibly have been Billy Taylor? The renowned Dick Morrisey (If, Alexis Corner etc) contributes a playful and jesting sax solo here and it is obvious that the whole ensemble are having loads of fun in the process. Once again the Junkanoo percussion arsenal lends this familiar style an interesting and innovative texture. Very few of the prog keyboard giants apart from Keith have ever tackled boogie-woogie convincingly and it should be evident by now that the required feel and phrasing are subtly elusive and take considerable dedication to master. Many other celebrated technicians make it sound like 'Status Quo for piano'.

Yancey Special - An instalment of Keith's acknowledged debt to the early masters of 'primitive piano' is repaid here on a joyous romp through a Meade Lux Lewis construction sourced from one of Jimmy Yancey's left hand boogie patterns. Yep, Emo could probably play this sort of thing in his sleep but nevertheless, his consummate feel and the infectious energy that radiates from all the players on this number is exactly what you hear from your speakers.

Rum a Ting - The Junkanoo percussion is featured prominently on a rhythm section intro before we head off into some more delightful jazz fusion territory boasting a memorable main theme and some eloquent dialogue between Emerson's percussive electric piano and the sinewy hired muscle that is Stubbs and Scully. The 'whooping' synth exclamation marks towards the end are a real goose bump raiser.

Chickcharnie - The bottom of the barrel would have represented the ceiling for Emerson on this 'disco' piano abomination utilising a melodic seed from the 'Nighthawks' soundtrack. Like having your ears syringed ('with' wax).

Jesus Loves Me - Oh lordy...has Emerson gone and done a Dylan on us? Relax, this is just a misguided but sincere attempt at transferring the joyous abandon of a Caribbean gospel church service to the recording studio. Aided and abetted by what sounds like the Bahamas Ladies (Male) Voice Choir, Keith makes a decent stab at it ('scuse the pun) but as spirited and energetic as all this is, his self consciousness at being in such unfamiliar territory is betrayed by an uncharacteristically aimless and ragged solo that drags on too long. A failed experiment but one I am glad he attempted as it shows an adventurous spirit still burns even on such a relatively conservative album as this one.

As 'JMA' have gone to the trouble of placing Keith's solo output quite appropriately in the 'Jazz Related Rock' category, I am always puzzled at the dismissive tenor of so many of the reviews of these albums. I do admit that his career outside ELP has been very patchy but we seem to be falling into the trap of appraising this music by what is 'does not' contain instead of what it does. Yes, there are no twenty minute bombastic, technical and conceptual pieces on this record. Would any of us throw the same barb at Peter Gabriel, Supertramp, Talk Talk, Procul Harum, the Moody Blues or (gulp) Radiohead ?

Thought not.

My Dad likes this album, and he hates everything (Nuff said)


Album · 1979 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.82 | 9 ratings
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- Whiney Women and Sacred Songs -

During my formative years at secondary school we coined an expression to denote all that we as 16 year olds considered really 'out there' in terms of incomprehensible and ripe for the 'too hard' basket.

'That's a bit Frippin Eno mate' we used to exclaim.

I think Robert Fripp was domiciled in New York at this time during a lengthy Crimson hiatus, and would have certainly had cause to meet and collaborate with many illustrious musicians from both the 'old' and 'new' waves. There are numerous instances of session work he undertook with, amongst others, the Roches, Blondie, the Stranglers, Darryl Hall, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie.

We must take care to remember that the musical landscape in 1979 was unrecognisable from what it is now and the influence of 'punk' in America was very different to that in the UK.

In the latter, it was principally a social and political phenomenon while in the former it was principally an artistic and aesthetic phenomenon.

'You Burn Me Up I'm a Cigarette' - I heard this on the radio before I bought the album and thought it was just another punk song from 1979. Give the lads some kudos here, this IS a real shock and the lyrics are Fripp's.

'Musical elation is my only consolation'

'Breathless' - Jazz rock garnished with a pungent Frippian seasoning which lends this otherwise rather perfunctory chop fest in weird time signatures its Crimsonesque flavour

'Disengage' - features the golden tonsils of one Peter Hamill who hollers with his usual gusto over a bludgeoning metallic dirge of no appreciable merit

'North Star' - This is more like it...Deceptively simple song beautifully sung by (Darryl Hall?) and featuring a variant of the 'chiming bell' guitar sound on the strummed chords - (see 'Lament' by King Crimson)

'Chicago' - Peter Hamill once more steps unto the breach to save the day, by transforming this relatively mundane blues plodder into something infinitely more surreal and sinister. Chilling. It ain't what you do etc

'Mary' - Decent enough tune but rather undermined by the very laboured 'faux naive' performance of (Terre Roche?) Whoever it is, I particularly loathe US female 'artists' who are this 'method school' precious about everything that comes out their mouths (Spleen anyone?)

'Exposure' - Fripp completely forgets his 'playful bunny' act for the first time here and seems to think it clever to spell out the name of the song beneath the irritating screeching of some deranged wench in the foreground who presumably must be 'exorcising her inner demons' (Buy them a bike love and give us peace)

'NY3' - This COULD have been very good indeed, as the idea of splicing some real life dialogue of a family arguing with their pregnant daughter onto the hypnotic and angular guitar provided by Robert SHOULD have resulted in an unsettling and unnerving poignancy. However, we are left with something that comes across as manipulative, exploitative and voyeuristic. I am sure this was not Fripp's intent but the track represents something of a missed opportunity. Shame.

I May Not have Had Enough of Me etc - Once more, Hamill shines but the chick he duets with sucks. (No, I am not misogynistic...its just that none of the females featured here contribute anything worthwhile to this record in my humble opinion)

'Here Comes the Flood' - Probably the highlight of the album for me. Peter Gabriel summons forth a very plaintive and achingly vulnerable performance of one of his most beautiful songs. The Frippertronics loop that Robert conjures up on this is particularly apt and gives the piece a haunting backdrop upon which Gabriel's lament is perfectly framed.

Fretmeister Fripp's debut solo outing tries just a little bit too hard to sneak itself into the 'too hard' basket for its own good. There is much to admire here but less to enjoy. The personnel employed are all very highly regarded in their own fields (even the 'precious' chicks) and the playing is faultless throughout.

But as we all know, great technique and reputations do not a great record make....

The bespectacled one fancies that his unremitting intellectualism will still hold firm even in the pursuit of 'fun' and 'play' which he asks us to consider as the ultimate aim of the more commercial approach adopted here on 'Exposure'.

He protests too much.

Much of the unevenness of this record must have been caused by Fripp's failure to record his planned trilogy with Darryl Hall (an odd choice of collaborator to be sure) so it was probably inevitable that the truncated version we now have takes on the qualities of a rather disjointed compilation album.

Although my mind is not necessarily closed to the mystical teachings of Bennett and Gurdjieff, I find Fripp's patronage of a now redundant apocalyptic world view both smug and increasingly tiresome. He cannot resist splicing various snippets of supposedly profound dialogue from supposedly wise men throughout the album, and the effect is that of a headmaster joining with the kids in laughing at the monkeys in the zoo (but all the while reciting the species Latin name and population statistics)

With the 20-20 hindsight of having listened to most (but not all) of Robert's subsequent solo excursions, I have to say that in spite of Exposure's many faults, it does represent his most stimulating and satisfying work in this field to date.

Frankly I find the 'soundscapes' less appealing than listening to someone vacuum their lounge and the work recorded with David Sylvian is pretentious in the extreme.

One day, real soon, Bob will unleash on us the solo album we know that he is more than capable of delivering.

Just don't bet on it involving carbon based lifeforms.


Live album · 1993 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.95 | 2 ratings
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- Synchronised Drowning Becomes an Olympic Event -

Although this suffers from the stigma of 'contractual obligation' album notoriety in most quarters, there is plenty on 'Works Live' that is unjustly overlooked by many ELP afficiandos and perhaps deserving of some re-appraisal. The album started life as a single only release called 'In Concert' but was later expanded by the inclusion of more material from the Montreal Olympic Stadium concert with the hand picked (and ruinously expensive) ELP Orchestra. Keith Emerson has stated that the band did not consider this additional material to be of a sufficiently high sound quality to be included on the original record. He even just mailed the finished album to the record company on completion of his production duties, and this will give you some idea what sort of ebb ELP had sunk to at this time.

Their paymasters at the time, Atlantic Records, had no such qualms about these shortcomings and cobbled together this 'bigger/faster/brighter/louder/more expensive' version with which to empty our threadbare pockets and swell their already bulging coffers.

'Introductory Fanfare' - Rather a stilted and cheesy little curtain raiser penned by Palmer and Emerson to get us on our way which is pleasant enough until an MC who makes Ashley Holt seem comparatively 'urban' intones the 'ladies & gentlemen' tagline. Reach for the bucket....

'Peter Gunn' - ELP do a great job with Henry Mancini's 60's spy music which is all the more remarkable without the obligatory twangy electric guitar of the original. Keith's brass sounds are suitably tacky via the Yamaha GX1 and although hardly a grand musical opus, it is great fun and played with just the right amount of tongue in cheek bravura. For those of you with sufficiently strong stomachs, there is a 'dance/house' version of this track by someone/thing called Bassment Jaxx which proves if nothing else, that even God has a slops tray.

'Tiger in a Spotlight' - A much leaner and earthier version of this tune which I much prefer to the rather boggy studio version that continually crops up on 'best of(s)' and compilations (Dunno?) Keith dials up a hybrid organ/piano timbre here on the GX1 which I have always loved to bits and the bass and drum dialogue between Lake and Palmer has a sinewy tautness that lends this simple shuffle blues a real excitement and energy. Both of Emerson's solos are a thrilling treat and display his continuing ability to assimilate the vocabulary and techniques of boogie piano into the electronic realm of rock.

'C'est la Vie' - I have never been a keen advocate of this gushingly wet Lake song but can report that this live rendition is at least a damn sight more robust that its studio equivalent on Works Volume 1. Keith displays his impressive versatility by playing a note perfect version of the session player's accordion solo (but No, he does not stab the squeezebox with knives in case you're wondering, or the author alas)

'Watching Over You' - This really should have been included on Greg's side of Works Vol 1 and although it's a very lightweight solo lullaby it still completely dwarfs most of the songs he did include on that record. Mr L was always at his most enjoyable when tackling simple acoustic songs like this.

'Maple Leaf Rag' - apart from the purpose of ingratiating themselves to a Canadian audience (Pourquoi?)

'The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits' - This is a sparkling little jewel in a rather sombre tiara, a band only version of the Orchestral adaptation of Prokofiev's music that appeared on Carl's slice of Works Vol 1. I certainly loved the latter but this is possibly even better and Emerson has done a fantastic job of arranging the very complex orchestral parts for just his two hands on Hammond and synth. There is some great playing by all the trio here on what is a fiendishly difficult piece to replicate. The organ sound throughout this album is mouth wateringly yummy and combines a real ballsy grunt with some crystalline detail.

'Fanfare for the Common Man' - This reeks of some clumsy tape splicing methinks, as there appears to be a very discernible tuning 'lurch' where one version mutates very clumsily into another? Given that the GX1 synth was an analogue creature prone to 'tuning drift' from temperature and humidity, there may have been instances when it suffered some 'excitable temperament' effects and you can hear evidence of this on this track. The playing as ever, is top notch and the inclusion of Freddie King's 'Hideaway' during the lengthy synth improvisation is a nice touch. There are however, far superior versions of this live ELP staple available elsewhere.

'Knife Edge' - ELP's perennial warhorse pulls up lame here due in no small measure to Greg's impossibly tinny and twangy bass line on this track. Why you would embark on a tune that relies on a deep and guttural bass tone by instead employing the timbre of an eight string soprano ukulele is beyond me. What was Lake thinking about? Shame really as the remainder is very good and the inclusion of the orchestra on the Bach Italian Concerto quotation towards the end is very powerful and effective.

'Show Me The Way to Go Home' - Certainly a fitting standard to cover on ELP's swansong, this is again good fun and the live version is considerably more gutsy and rockier that that on Works Volume 2. As you would expect, they usually closed the shows with this one which makes the next track's running order all the more galling.....

'Abaddon's Bolero' - I think they usually opened with this on the concerts with the orchestra during that ill fated tour. Can't say that either of the orchestrated versions from Keith or ELP even come close to matching the brio and excitement of the 'Trilogy' incarnation. Despite the multitude of gradually building layers of counterpoint (which Keith couldn't hope to replicate on his own), maybe this wasn't ever meant to be played by an orchestra in the first place? Keith listen, I know you're a stubborn bugger, but enough already. It ain't never gonna work....

'Pictures at an Exhibition' - Or 'Polaroids of Hemorrhoids' Comes across as a 7 course meal we are supposed to gulp down as it it were a microwaved TV dinner. Indigestion and/or diarrhoea invariably result from such fast foods and there is audible and pungent evidence of this to suggest band and orchestra were embroiled in an indecent scramble to see who would get to the toilet first during this sprint through 'Pictures'. Once again we encounter Lake's wretched 6 string bass tone which makes his parts sound like they are being performed by George Formby via a small transistor radio. Imagine Shakespear's 'Hamlet' played by Sylvester Stallone and condensed down to 'To be or what...?'

'Closer to Believing' - Similarly to 'C'est la Vie' this is a much better version than that heard on Works Volume 1 and we do get to hear what is a very good song once the overwrought arrangement has been suitably deflated to illuminate some of the finer detail. I just wish that Lake had given us a band only version of this tune, as it certainly has a melodic strength to warrant a much more sympathetic and robust accompaniment without the sentimental treacle.

'Piano Concerto #1 3rd Movement' - A real highlight of the set where Emerson's piano and the orchestra lock horns in an unflinching battle to see who is the last man standing. Although all the orchestral players are amplified, it was done by fixing a specially designed pickup to the acoustic instruments that would preserve the rich sonic palette and subtle nuances of timbre obtained from these sources at the much higher volumes they needed to be heard along with the electronic band. The results here are very authentic indeed and this is perhaps one of the few instances where orchestral sources sound 'untarnished' by amplification. It's just a pity that they didn't include the 1st and 2nd movements also and dispensed with some of the weaker material on 'Works Live' instead.

'Tank' - I know a lot of ELP fans who wax lyrical about this version of 'Tank' but I can't say I share their unreserved passion for this rather perfunctory lope through an overripe chestnut. Again, this might be another instance of an Emerson composition that is insufficiently malleable to withstand being shoehorned into these jazzy slippers. (You shall NOT go to the ball)

Yep, it's very patchy with some really brilliant moments followed by large swathes of mediocrity and the odd lurking pile of poo. The track listing might lure some ELP newbies into buying this first, but they would be better to purchase either one of the many fine compilations that are around or start at the 1970 debut, reach Brain Salad Surgery then STOP. GO BACK. DETOUR AHEAD. GIVE WAY TO INFIRM DINOSAURS.

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER Pictures At An Exhibition

Live album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.06 | 8 ratings
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- Unravelling the Old Castle in Newcastle -

Live albums as good as this one have something of a 'fluky' element to them i.e. Many of the early 70's concerts given by ELP were at the mercy of the mercurial Moog and it's tuning mood swings. You can hear examples of this on the disappointing video version of this piece (recorded at the Lyceum in London) where there are unscheduled 'atonal' moments which spoil the otherwise magnificent music. Similarly, the 'Mar Y Sol' performance captured finally on the 'From the Beginning' boxed set, is somewhat sullied by Dr Robert's pet beast wilting in the Caribbean humidity.

No such niggles here though, as the band are captured on a great night, mercifully free of the aforementioned technical gremlins (Newcastle can be many things, but certainly not humid in November).

The sound is simply stunning, you are placed right there in the front row (c.f 'Welcome Back', where we appear to be seated in the car park) Emerson's Hammond has never sounded this feral on a live recording, being neither too distorted (the Nice live) or too squeaky clean (Royal Albert Hall) It's just a perfect balance and lets his playing illuminate a detail and depth all too often obscured by prodigious technique funnelled through a fuzzbox.

I read somewhere that the intro to Mussorgsky's work was played on a real pipe organ (did they have one at Newcastle City Hall?)

As we have come to expect, the contributions of both Emerson and Palmer are damn near flawless but perhaps the greatest surprise here is just how much of the creative workload is taken up by Lake, whose contributions over the passing years became less and less significant in the band's output. Perhaps the only real timekeeper in the group, his bass underpins beautifully the technical maelstrom whipped up by E & P, with distortion and wah-wah effects used judiciously to spice up the timbres in this heavily organ dominated piece. Lake's solo spot 'The Sage' is beautiful, and apart from being a lovely Spanish tinged ballad brilliantly sung, displays his highly skilled classical guitar technique. From this point on, there is no similar example of this type of virtuosity from fatboy in ELP's catalogue.

There is a very liberal quote from a Bill Evans tune during the exhilarating 'Blues Variation' but I cannot remember what the song is called ('Interplay' perhaps?) If there is a greater example of jazz/blues organ over a swinging shuffle beat in the history of rock, then I have yet to hear it.

'The Curse of Baba Yaga' represents something almost encroaching heavy metal (without the requisite guitars) and has an intensity and edge that slowly left their subsequent work. Some ELP fans relegate this track to filler and, although I recognise their trepidation about the 'head banging' aspect of it, am puzzled at their dismissal of a ferociously driven heavy rocker containing a spine cracking tritone in the main riff and some real visceral gusto from Lake.

(Ya want jam on it lads?)

Lake's vocal on the climactic ending of 'The Great Gate of Kiev' must be a highpoint in the band's career, a sweening and soaring full stop to a magnificent part of ELP's recorded history.

I have heard other rock artists attempt portions of this work and have to conclude that it is ELP's unfailing grasp of the techniques of symphonic arrangement and interactive counterpoint that gives their version such a huge sound. You can layer 30 synth patches together if you like via MIDI and make the bass and drums sound like they are played in the Taj Mahal, but it will still come nowhere near the sort of power and weight realised here with considerably more modest equipment.

(The whole is greater than the sum of its parts).

If there is a negative aspect to this wonderful record it may be interpretive i.e.

Emerson has often bemoaned the disrespectful nature of pop music's bowdlerization of the classical repertoire and saw himself as respectful to the original composer's intentions. Why then encore with B Bumble and the Stinger's 'Nutrocker?' - unless you want to shoot yourself squarely in the foot?

Notwithstanding the foregoing, ELP's version cooks up a storm and is yet another example of this supposedly cold and po-faced band having a huge amount of fun.

Although they did not deliberately set out to sell classical music to a rock audience, ELP are certainly responsible for millions of people, who would otherwise have baulked at the idea, listening to such works and having their musical horizons widened. Perhaps we really should give them credit for that didactic aspect of their very influential presence in music.


Album · 1994 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 1.94 | 7 ratings
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- Vacating the Throne in the Smallest Room in the House -

Most of the tales that surround the making of this grubby and tatty little album carry an uncanny resemblance to the sorts of excuses trotted out by beleaguered soccer franchise owners when their team is on a 10 match losing streak:

'Injuries to key players'

(Emerson had not long undergone arm surgery for nerve entrapment and his pliancy in agreeing to press ahead and overdub his parts individually with his one remaining good hand beggars belief)

'Confidence and morale have taken a dent, the fans need to get behind us and encourage the team'

(Hiring Disney composers and Sony hit writers to contribute to a document featuring three of the most indelible talents to ever grace rock music might just contribute to the faithful streaming towards the exits)

'The coach has my complete trust and he can and will turn this around'

(Producer Keith Olsen forbade any conceptual pieces or classical adaptations and therefore conspired to abort a version of the 'Karelia Suite' by Sibelius with Allan Holdsworth on guitar appearing on the album, although by way of self-serving recompense, we do get to hear his own daughter speaking on one track)

We can't blame Olsen entirely for this debacle, but he has become tantamount to the midwife of choice for the soulless, having delivered to the expectant world the air-brushed platinum blonde diaper burritos of Fleetwood Mac, Whitesnake, the Scorpions, Saga, Starship, Rick Springfield, Pat Benetar and Emmanuel (Who? a Mexican hair-gel counterfeiter, that Interpol are probably still looking for)

Hand of Truth - In contrast to the horrors that lie in wait this is as good as it gets. Even a compound proggy meter is involved for the opening piano motif plus a subsequent tempo change into an impressive slower section but compared to an unimpeachable past, it is distinctly humdrum for ELP. Keith perks things up with some signature squealing Moog and Greg's vocal is at least a damn sight more robust than his prose:

'I hear the cry of freedom, We have the power to change the world'

I doubt if Olsen would have even let the trio change their socks unsupervised.

Daddy - a very attractive chiming guitar arpeggio certainly, but it just never goes anywhere. The treatment of a serious subject (child abduction) just comes across as mawkishly trite due to Greg's bathetic delivery and despite some tasteful piano textures from Emerson, 'Daddy' smacks of an effective intro being stretched into a pseudo song. The aforementioned Olsen 'fille' gabbles the title and I have to confess, such shallow manipulation and emotional bankruptcy means I've never yet made it through to the end of this shameful tear-jerker (pun intended) I could swear Palmer's entire drum part consists of just a sole thwack of the snare on the 4th beat of every bar.

One By One - Don't be deceived by the contrapuntal and fugue like intro as it just degenerates thereafter into stolid US 'rawk' keech*. (*The latter being a Scottish pejorative which the rest of you should not find hard to orient to your own vernacular. Tip: use your sense of smell) Keith presumably was the last person in the navigable universe to be told that orchestral stabs were considered passée at least 10 years prior. The chorus is memorable in the sense that inoculation shots leave an indelible mark on their recipients but Emerson's descent into sub Asia cliche sus 4th chord resolutions on a polysynth patch reeks of desperation.Greg's lyrics alas, just reek:

'Out of the cocoon reaching for the moon'

There 'is' a lovely cathedral organ segment but it's over far too soon and similarly the instrumental section to the fade is entertaining but gets buried beneath those wince inducing orchestral stabs. Enough already.

Every time I listen to this album I cannot help but imagine the beetle-browed Olsen sat in the producer's chair peering through the control room window with that reproachful look on his face that says:

'If just one of you guys tries any of that fancy dan progressive flashy shit with me, I'm nuking the critter'

Heart on Ice - Imagine a collaboration between Elgar and the Scorpions on a '3am in the morning' ballad written specially for those forbidden from staying up beyond 7pm. Lake once again double underlines his credentials to be the undisputed James Joyce of prog:

'We just flicker like a candle in the cathedral of our dreams'

Thin Line - Palmer's shuffle is about as stiff as the inhabitants of a Mosh pit at a Brahms recital while Keith does at least get to contribute some guttural Hammond but the 'faux' jazzy Steely Dan harmonies and female backing vocals in the chorus are but a gentle slap on the bottie off deserving of a firm kick in the backside for all concerned.

Man in the Long Black Coat - Possibly the best/least wretched track on the album and there is finally some mood building atmosphere invoked on this Dylan song. Carl Palmer has claimed that this was the centrepiece of a 20 minute Emerson conceptual piece ditched by producer Olsen, although it's hard to see how even Keith could have expanded such a modest musical seed as this to epic status. If nothing else, it was capable of getting me to seek out the original and all things considered, Dylan has served Emerson well over the years. (see 'My Back Pages, Country Pie, She Belongs to Me')

Change - Borderline endearing but it just doesn't suit an Englishman like Lake's voice. Vaguely redolent of something that might have popped up of the 'To The Power of Three' album with Robert Berry. One of those 'unfinished' songs that most people leave unreleased because they couldn't come up with even a mediocre verse melody for the rather ordinary chorus.

Give Me a Reason To Stay - A royalties cheque? Joking aside, this is decent MOR penned by the aforementioned Disney and Sony hacks Steve Diamond and Sam Lorber respectively (sic). Nice chord progression and a well crafted development but it ain't even remotely an ELP song. Someone like Neil Diamond or (gulp) Tom Jones could make this very good indeed. (Hey I'm trying to accentuate the positives here OK?)

Gone Too Soon - Depending on whose version of events you believe, Emerson and Palmer don't even play on this critter. Yes, there's audible clockwork synth and metronomic drums but these were allegedly provided by session-men. Both certainly sound like stock 'off the shelf' parts without a vestige of personality to betray their origins. Pat Benatar astride a Jefferson Skateboard and never was a track so inappropriately named.

Street War - Like Euro synth pop from the mean streets of Hampshire as if parodied by an English REO Speedwagon tribute band, but possibly even less gritty than that. Keith's inspired chromatic descending organ lick is kinda cool but once again this just ain't right for Greg's limey tonsils and he sounds about as credible as my Dad tackling an Ice-T medley.

It saddened everyone who wasted their ill-gotten gains buying this album that our favourite prog band of all had been reduced to the malleable puppets of their corporate paymasters. There was no tour and precious little marketing that I can recall after its release and in hindsight such a diplomatic withdrawal was probably a blessing. I do however still hold out a strand of hope that the aborted 'Crossing the Rubycon' project will one day be completed and released. By all accounts this shelved album was a fully fledged progressive beastie that even if it were the final 'hurrah', would prove a much more elegant exit than this ignominious whimper.

BTW You can get the utterly fab and groovy bonus Dolby Surround version of 'Pictures At an Exhibition' via other ELP reissues. I'll let you do the maths.


Album · 1992 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.56 | 7 ratings
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- Emerson v Emerson with Victory Records as the Loser -

I was really surprised at how low people rate this album given that it is probably the strongest ELP studio release since 'Brian Salad Surgery' appeared in 1973.

Given that a reunion was completely unexpected and that our three heroes now found themselves aboard a sinking ship adrift on the choppy high seas of corporate 'rawk'(HMS Victory Records, who went under) they deserve great credit for producing a record as good as this one. Stories abound that Victory originally approached Emerson to compose a soundtrack for a movie and 'suggested' that he get Lake and Palmer on board. The fact that no-one involved can even name the film in question begs some questions. There are many others who view this version of events as apocryphal and would consider more plausible, Emerson's urgent need of huge amounts of cash after a vicious divorce had 'cleaned him out'

Go figure....

Short pieces are the order of the day here, with no extended suites as in days of yore. Some reviewers are convinced that the band were 'under instructions' to write concise, sharp and snappy radio fodder for this but Emerson's version of events is quite different. He has stated that he had 'carte blanche' from the record label to write and record whatever he wanted, irrespective of genre or track length.

OK, this AIN'T 'Trilogy' or 'Tarkus' but neither is it 'Love Beach' or 'In the Hot Seat' either. There is not a bad track on the album and although rather bereft of any obvious ELP instant classics, we have a very fine collection of symphonic prog tunes where a welcome 'modern' economy is evident.

The only real niggles I have are that Carl Palmer appears to have decided that in 1992 there is no place for 'interactive' drumming anymore, so his contributions are no more than a very elaborate 'click track' for Lake and Emerson to keep time. Although this adds considerable weight and power to the rhythm, and is consistent with a desired contemporary feel, much of the previous subtlety and interplay between the trio is lost as a result.

Also, Greg's voice has understandably lost much of its range and tone down the years, but I do miss that unique 'tenor sings rock' texture that only he and say, John Wetton seemed to possess.

BLACK MOON - A real 'grower' this one, as on first hearing I relegated it to 'stadium grunt' due to its use of the 'We Will Rock You' drum beat (are you squirming yet Carl?) but after repeated listens, the overall structure and complexity reveals itself, layer by layer. Check out the closing organ solo over the very inspired 'folky' bridge chord progression. True killer. Why, even fatboy has honed a social conscience for this one with his depiction of the planet ravaged by eco unfriendly nations etc

PAPER BLOOD - a simple 'rocker' but damn fine for all that. Greasy organ open fifths from Emo hammer out the deceptively simple riff over which Lake intones a tale of the futility of the acquisition of wealth (Right on sister! Greg's tits appear to have been firmly in the wringer when they booked the studio?) Rather refreshing 'solo' from Mr E, which consists of some incredible stabbing of an ambiguous 'cluster' chord over the incessant rhythm (You have to hear it)

AFFAIRS OF THE HEART - Greg's first contribution to the album, and a very fine acoustic ballad it is too with Emerson playing a very minimalistic (by his standards) and beautiful accompaniment on ethereal piano and synths. Like so much of his 'background' work on this record, the textures and timbres are exquisite. From memory, a version of this song was recorded by Lake and Geoff Downes?

ROMEO AND JULIET - Prokofiev gets thrust into the ELP blender and comes out screaming. The beat has a real 'Hendrix' vibe and the synth sound used for the main melody is spine-tingling. Emerson has stated in an interview that before arranging this piece for the band he played the original piano score over and over again until he got it down perfectly...then threw the manuscript paper away (Prokofiev might have thrown it back, but who cares?) This track was a particular standout on the subsequent world tour.

FAREWELL TO ARMS - Perhaps the first 'baby clanger' on the album. Quite a decent tune but spoiled by Lake's rather mannered vocal (you know those really irritating instances when he 'speaks' the tagline of a song?) and the feel is not dissimilar to a rather sluggish adaptation of 'Elgar' The closing synth solo almost saves the day however, and there is more than a passing nod in the direction of 'Lucky Man Moog' here.

CHANGING STATES - this is an ELP version of a tune that Emo composed for a solo album (where it was called 'Another Frontier') Not really that different until the slowed down bridge section appears that precedes the ending. I actually prefer the solo album version but the superior organ, bass and drum sounds here make this a real treat. 'Bach' is the obvious inspiration here and Emerson whips up a real storm with his own inimitable appropriation of what the 'fugue' form should sound like.

BURNING BRIDGES - Surprisingly, this was a song written with ELP in mind, by the album's producer Mark Mancina and very fine it is too, replete with a strong melody and memorable chorus to boot. The organ sound and melodic shape employed throughout is redolent of 'Procul Harum' and never fails to summon the hairs on the back of my neck to attention. Exhilarating. (Mr Mancina is now a very successful and prolific composer of movie soundtracks).

CLOSE TO HOME - Emerson's solo piano piece and unfortunately not one of his best. Not a stinker by any stretch of the imagination, but this tune has always struck me as having 'odd' phrasing in the main hook and fails to satisfy despite some masterful playing and an interesting developmental section in the middle. Perhaps 'A Blade of Grass' would have made a better choice. (I think this alternative solo piano track was included as a bonus track on subsequent reissues of the CD?)

BETTER DAYS - Mercy! this is almost funky?, with staccato clavinet and as close as Carl will ever get to approaching an 'urban' vibe on his kit. This type of modernity had been attempted before by ELP, but compared to other (atrocious) efforts on 'In the Hot Seat' and 'Love Beach' it proves they COULD assimilate contemporary developments within the broader context of a progressive style. I am advised that the storyline was inspired by an incident in Emerson's life where he (anonymously) gave a considerable amount of cash to a homeless person in the street.(NOT his ex wife presumably) The ending section to the fade out is magnificent. No pyrotechnics or 200 notes a minute here, just fantastic use of timbre, texture and dynamics to get the job done. Breathtaking (and simple)

FOOT PRINTS IN THE SNOW - Emerson must have loosened the reins to give Greg TWO solo pieces on the one record? Anyway, this is another fine acoustic song with a particularly memorable hook and although very understated, rather surprisingly provides the album with a satisfactory conclusion. (ELP usually started with a hurricane and built up to a climax)

So in summation: This album is NOT even remotely AOR or POP and I am puzzled by the charges of same levelled against it from previous appraisals. Certainly, the tracks are shorter than we have come to expect and there is no overriding 'concept' piece upon which to focus our attention. So what?

I just wish that those anodyne and soulless charlatans like Marillion, IQ, Pallas et al get the chance to hear what their own mutant baby christened 'Neo Progressive' COULD have been if put in the hands of the masters.

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER Emerson, Lake & Powell

Album · 1986 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.31 | 6 ratings
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- Heather Arsonists Foiled by Mid Atlantic Storm Clouds -

There is a story attached to this album that posits the original master tape recorded in England was destroyed in a fire/accident and forced the band to reconvene in the USA to start all over again at the behest of Polydor. Whether there is even a grain of truth in this is debatable, but I must admit to being more than sorry that a more 'anglicised' version of the album is not in existence. It might also help to explain why we are left with a document that loses much in the botched transatlantic translation of 'ELP' into 'AOR'.

What does seem abundantly clear however, are the internal tensions at work between the three protagonists and their anxious record label i.e Emerson and Lake were never exactly prog's 'Ken & Barbie' and we have the late Cozy Powell's testimony to their relationship at that time as being somewhat closer to 'Itchy & Scratchy'.

All the ingredients were now in place for an album that would make 'Love Beach' sound heavier than a tone row poem by Schoenberg, but surprise surprise, the results are considerably better than we had even dared to hope. Apart from the engineered lapses into corporate 'rawk' territory to appease their paymasters, most of these tracks sound just fine and dandy to me.

Powell's proven abilities as a heavy rock drummer are well documented, but he is very much an 'in the pocket' player in contrast to say, a 70's Carl Palmer or the late Brian Davison, and this approach does have a commensurate effect on the music from Keith and Greg. Therefore it should not surprise you to find a stripped down backbeat beneath many of these songs. Keith has stated in interviews that he found this 'liberating' in his playing, knowing that Powell was always there, never allowing the pulse to get lost.

'The Score' - Keith often uses brass fanfares in his work and these are what drives this piece along so dramatically. There is a lengthy instrumental section before the vocals enter and we notice immediately he uses synth chording more frequently than the organ of previous years. (Remember this was 1985 and polyphonic synthesizers were commonplace) Greg's voice is ushered in bathed in a swimming pool of reverb, and like all the elements of this heavily processed recording, sounds artificially ENORMOUS. (he subsequently became 'genuinely' enormous in his latter years) I suspect the track was originally intended to be entirely instrumental as apart from the reprised 'You're welcome back my friends' tagline, the remaining vocals appear utterly superfluous.

If you like your prog both pompous AND bombastic (with a hint of Camembert) then you will require at least one change of clothing long before the end of this.

'Learning to Fly' - With one foot in the stadium and the other in the cinema, Emerson straddles quite admirably two competing disciplines here and the result is a deceptively simple but dynamic song of which his own parts carry the melodic interest considerably better than Lake's. (After running repairs to another instrumental?)

The pace changes abruptly at the end and Keith's exposure to the soundtrack industry is evidenced by a quite magnificent piece of orchestral writing realised on unaccompanied synths that segues into....

'The Miracle' - OK I admit it, the lyrics here would probably even embarrass Fish when he was but a tadpole in short pants, but the music is thrillingly cinematic and for once, carries a truly spellbinding chorus. We get a rare glimpse of the Hammond from the front of the mix in an inspired solo that entails a visit to 'Goosebumps R Us' for me every time.

'Touch and Go' - Perhaps one of the only post 80's tracks by any permutation of ELP deserving of classic status. The harmonic structure is as basic as any simple folk tune, but the periodic injection of 'that' stupendous fanfare stated by Emerson, clever use of a choir pad and Powell's industrial percussion effects, transcend the humble foundations of this piece. For what it's worth, I think the fanfare 'hook' bears more than a passing resemblance to something I have heard before by composer Vaughan Williams? Whatever, just when you think Keith has run out of harmonic variations to put under this motif, he comes up with yet more to bring us to a giddy and swaggering conclusion.

'Loveblind' - Oh dear....why is there never a power failure when you could really use one? Apart from a decent synth pitch wheel excursion on the fade out, this is all the reason a man needs to throw some of his fellow creatures off a bridge. It sounds like a bad Asia song covered by an REO Speedwagon tribute band after their guitars had been stolen from the equipment truck. (If you play this song backwards you will NOT hear any Satanic messages, just Polydor purring)

'Step Aside' - This is one of those little hidden gems that seems to have fallen beneath the ELP radar. A very atmospheric and brilliantly composed jazz setting of a memorable tune featuring Keith's patented Oscar Peterson impersonation and some tangy harmonies on the classic intro. Although this is hardly Cozy's forte, he sensibly plays well within himself and contributes a tasteful if somewhat rudimentary swung groove. What little jazz the drummer may have had in his soul, it completely dwarfs that possessed by Lake, who just sounds ill at ease with this material.

'Lay Down Your Guns' - Keith and Greg have an unfailing knack of coming up with twee sub Elgar whenever they attempt 'majestic' paeans to pacifism. A similar, if slightly better attempt is represented by 'Farewell to Arms' from the 'Black Moon' album. Do they have to write a pro war song before they eventually nail this sucker?

Whoops, that was clumsy as it's now time for......

'Mars, the Bringer of War' - Emerson has stated that he hesitated before embarking on an adaptation of this Holst piece as he felt it was 'just a bit too obvious' for a band like ELP to tackle. Regardless of his misgivings, I am glad he went ahead and, although I do share some of the reservations expressed by other commentators, do feel that this is a largely successful attempt.

As with all arrangements of music composed for scores of performers, much is going to be lost in transposing said parts for just three players. Keith has therefore learned to his cost, that he will we judged not only on what he does play, but also on what he chooses to omit and is forever trapped in a classic 'no win' situation. I believe he has to his credit, identified all the appropriate 'obbligato' parts on 'Mars' and does a damn fine job of capturing the relentless fury and incendiary aspects of Holst's composition.

My only criticism would be that the palette of sound colours he chooses are predominantly synth heavy and without recourse to the more 'organic' elements like Hammond, piano, and clavinet with which to provide contrasting relief, the 8 minutes or so of unremitting synthetic textures can be something of a strain on the listener.

This is a very robust and often underrated album and, although it was transparent that this line-up would never endure, we should instead just enjoy a record that still manages to fan some progressive flames despite Polydor's strenuous attempts to douse the fire.


Album · 1978 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 1.89 | 10 ratings
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- Young, Gifted and Red-faced (In Their Pyjamas in the Bahamas) -

'Tanning lotion (check)'

'Silly hat (check)'

'medallion (check)'

'sunglasses (check)'

'Miss Spain (check..hey baby)'

'Compositions you will ever want to hear more than once'

'Erm...Keith? about that holiday at Compass Point man .......'

When punk declared it open season on the prog dinosaurs, they afforded ELP special status as a delicacy to be best enjoyed eaten alive after roasting over a viciously hot spit and marinaded for several years before being washed down with a bottle of finest German Schadenfreude.

In 1978 Emerson, Lake and Palmer really only had two options: they could lie low for a while (or as low as a dinosaur could be expected to lie) until the eternally cyclic tides of fashion had turned once more back in their favor or: take on the new wave at its own game and under its rules.

As commendable as their decision to opt for the latter was, there is but a very fine line between the brave and the foolhardy and given that their most potent weapon in this campaign rested entirely on the ability of one from their number being able to write short radio friendly pop hits (Greg Lake), they had about as much chance of success as that of David's infant niece against a Goliath who has already purloined the slingshot beforehand.

'All I Want Is You' - Now I know I'll be swimming against the tide here but, I rather enjoy this and, apart from the excruciating middle eight where you might be forgiven for hoping that 'flight 112' loses power in both its engines, think this is a really neat little pop song with a catchy chorus to boot. Just the shimmering guitar and Greg's voice makes for a very effective entrance.

'Love Beach' - Contains the immortal couplet:

'Where pirate moons, throw silver spoons across the waves to you'

Do potential tourists in the Bahamas run the risk of injury from being harpooned by cutlery from bum baring buccaneers? I really think we should be told.

'Taste of My Love' - If music be the food of love Greg, you really need to stop snacking between meals. As an advert for the author's Olympian stamina during some high altitude training in the boudoir, this strays perilously close to 'Spinal Tap' territory.

'The Gambler' - This ain't too shabby at all and at least it's got a bit of grunt in the shuffle boogie chorus plus a decent hook courtesy of Greg's guitar. A work of labyrinthine conceptual genius in the light of what preceded it.

'For You' - Still can't believe this made 'The Return of the Manticore' boxed set as despite some 'pretty' piano from Emerson and Greg's patented Julio Iglesias impersonation, there really isn't sufficient cause to reach for the tissue box just yet. The guitar synthesizer that Lake packed for his hols is put to good use here but as attractive a timbre as it is, he's like a kid with a new toy: you just can't seem to get the damn thing off him. Enough already!

'Canario' - The 'token' classical adaptation is well played, energetic and pretty good fun but they sound inhibited, either by the hovering specter of Ahmet Ertegun who booked the studio time, or someone has discovered the source of that funny smell at Compass Point (It's Franck Pourcel's missing cheese from 1969.)

'Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman'

'Prologue/The Education of a Gentleman' - Very understated opening with just simple piano chords and Lake's sepia tinged lamentation for the lost generation. Carl's restrained but salutary fill kicks us into a much meatier groove thereafter with drums, bass and synths supporting a melodic transition that goes in turns from noble through triumphant to defiant with increasing urgency. Emerson keeps things very simple and does not have a conventional 'solo' but contents himself with unfailingly inspired and appropriate synth brass fanfare motifs that capture perfectly the waning sunset over a once mighty British Empire. This is more like it lads.....Damn! the 'Baby Clanger Early Warning Alarm System' has just been tripped by:

'When I finally marched from Sandhurst, I'd learned to put my fellow man first'

Towards the end alas, the harmonic colors dissolve somewhat into an ambiguous 'pale blues' palette, and ELP seem either undecided or hesitant as to whether following this detour will bring the song to a satisfying conclusion. (It doesn't)

'Love at First Sight' - As far as I can tell this is built entirely from a Chopin piano etude that Emerson plays unaltered on the intro before moving into his own uncharacteristically florid and romantic extension of same joined by Lake's vocal. Being a staple of the classical repertoire the tune is hardly deserving of any flak and Greg's 'Edwardian drawing room' inflected delivery on this section sounds authentic and sincere. Unfortunately this same delightful material stubbornly refuses to 'kick ass' as ELP attempt to cajole it to do so on the second part of the track. Lake's vocal just sounds wearyingly shrill and the pathos of the first half degenerates into bathos on the second. Nice little Spanish guitar solo from Greg and supporting vibes from Carl do soften the blow a little.

'Words From the Front' - Palmer's sparing but lively groove approaches 'the Meters' but ultimately shies away from 'da funk' (It was, after all, only a tan) and the band join him in a jazzy and by ELP standards, minimalistic passage featuring some biting Fender Rhodes electric piano from Keith. There is much to enjoy here as the room afforded by the sparsity of the arrangement allows us to hear at close quarters some vintage interplay between the trio. Once again Emerson practices admirable restraint and avoids the temptation to fill up all that free air with dazzling but cluttering virtuosity, and the track benefits from this new found discipline and....Whoops! the 'Baby Clanger Early Warning Alarm System' is flashing red again:

'Yes it's great now you're a full time nurse but do be careful with the air raids getting worse' (need to increase the threshold setting I think)

The quiet section in the middle where Second Lieutenant Lake receives the news that Sister Lake has met an untimely end at the hands of those filthy Bosch hun, borders on the trite and despite a truly haunting and chilling atmosphere created by Emerson's skeletal chiming Rhodes and Palmer's chattering cymbals, nothing is going to save Lake's melodrama heavy 'gravitas' from being consigned to the 'out' tray for eternity. (and perhaps just a bit longer, it really sucks)

The thrilling and inspired ending to the song therefore takes on the mantle of a musical apology for what came before with Lake's snarling and indignant vocal mirrored sympathetically by some glorious brass 'distress signals' via Keith's synths. (Yummy, you are forgiven boys)

'Honourable Company (A March)' - Anyone in the flight path of the orbiting Planet Emerson would normally batten down the hatches and secure the ornaments if they see the word 'March' looming on the horizon as history dictates that a merciless trampling underfoot will be meted out otherwise. This is therefore rather disappointing and smacks of 'Abaddon's Bolero the sequel', as performed by the massed Pipes and Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Cute, but that is hardly an epithet worthy of ELP.

Sometimes 'Officer and a Gentleman' is brilliant, at other times ordinary and very often downright atrocious and we are forced to view this piece as a lavishly expensive demo included here on 'Love Beach' as a snapshot of a promising but underdeveloped work in progress.

Peter Sinfield was flown in to contribute to the lyrics on this record and he brought along with him his erstwhile girlfriend, the reigning Miss Spain. Some of the lyrics are in places so bad that it begs the question, did the dusky beauty queen actually write them? (or was it that hotel waiter who was studying english?)

Exiled in the late 70's from their own country for tax purposes and probably their own personal safety too, there is a temptation to read too much into ELP's tale of a triumphant and expansive empire being torn asunder by the barbarians at the gates (punk rock) for the fit to reek of anything other than Chateau de Sarsons.


Album · 1977 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.08 | 8 ratings
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- Ouch! Artists hit the canvas and get counted out... -

Had this been a boxing match, I hope they would have thrown in the towel to spare the victim suffering any more potentially irreparable damage. I've felt for some time that this album got it's 'damn good hiding' as a reaction to the perceived excesses of 'Works Volume One' by a majority of ELP fans, and the alienation they felt at having it confirmed by instalments, that the trio had largely abandoned their previous electronic style.

Be that as it may, Atlantic were left to mop up the remnants of that four-sided mismatch, and provided us with this two-sided mishmash as a means to stem the flow of losses suffered by a band who were haemorrhaging huge amounts of cash during a crippling orchestral tour.

What we have here is less than 'A Saucerful of Secrets' and more of 'A Doggie Bag of Tidbits'. A decent, if rather undistinguished collection of singles, B sides, outtakes, oatcakes and fruitcakes.

'Tiger in a Spotlight' - A leftover from the 'Brain Salad Surgery' sessions and although just a bog standard boogie, a filling snack with some understated lead guitar flourishes from Lake, a scintillating barroom piano solo from Emerson and held together by a very tautly swung shuffle from Palmer. Keith makes good use here of those signature brass sounds he coaxes from the Moog to garnish an otherwise cheesey dish with some alien 'other worldly' seasoning. This studio version of 'Tiger' however, always seems muddy and unfocused to my ears, and pales in comparison to that of the superior live version on 'In Concert'

'When the Apple Blossoms Bloom etc' - Appears to be a jazz inflected jam over an infectious fusion groove laid down at the outset by bass and drums. Emerson may have utilised this track to explore some of the possibilities afforded by the prototype polyphonic Moog he was auditioning during the same 'Brain Salad Surgery' sessions. Nothing to hyper ventilate about but it does have some nifty 'bubbling' and delayed synth effects at the end. Some unscrupulous techno act is bound to hunt this down and loop same to appalling effect before long.

'Bullfrog' - Carl Palmer's association with the jazz rock trio 'Back Door' is a longstanding one dating from when he produced their 'Activate' album. Together with Ron Aspery on sax and Colin Hodgkinson on bass they embark on some incredibly accurate unison playing at very high tempo before moving into an african styled 'jungle' beat precipitating what can only be described as 'analogue sub aquatic frog farts' from which I am sure the piece was named. This is a great track and perhaps should have been included at the expense of one of the weaker offerings on Carl's portion of 'Works Volume One'

'Brain Salad Surgery' - notable if only for the trio's continuing vendetta against 'girly' sounding waltz grooves, (see 'Bitches Crystal') this one kicks seven shades of fecal matter out of 3/4 but sounds unfinished and underdeveloped after a lively jazzfusion start and a memorable tagline from a snarling Lake. The truncated feel of this song may be a result of the limited time format available on the promotional flexidisc it was recorded for. Apart from this and Queen's 'Sheer Heart Attack' there can't be many other title tracks that never made the album can there ?

'Barrelhouse Shakedown' - The B side of 'Honky Tonk Train Blues' and an Emerson original that shares with Freddie King's 'Hideaway' that rare feat of being a memorable tune over a set of standard blues changes. The clarinet solo on this is particularly good and well worth waiting for.

'Watching Over You' - This was written by Lake as a lullaby for his infant daughter, but before you reach for the sick bag, please be advised that this is a very beautiful and sincere song brilliantly sung by the chunky troubadour who in turns tackles some delightful harmonica and what sounds like an upright jazz bass with consummate ease.

'So Far to Fall' - There is no copyright law applicable to 'spirit' but this is a pure unadulterated and joyous 'lift' from the late Jimmy Smith featuring a jazzy big band arrangement and Lake's cautionary tale of a bedroom Olympian who, to put it euphemistically, suffers a career threatening injury at the hands of his female fitness coach. Like 'Bullfrog' this was deserving of a place on the 'Works Volume One' record and would have improved Greg's very disappointing side greatly.

'Maple Leaf Rag' - Joplin's famous tune gets beneath Emerson's fingers and is rewarded by being played at the correct metronome setting for a change. Admirable but rather pointless even with the comic intro.

'I Believe in Father Christmas' - a considerably stripped down version of Lake's yuletide smash and all the better for it. The overblown orchestral arrangement on the original was even by ELP standards, just too rich a dish to be healthy.

'Close But Not Touching' - I am trying very hard to resist Carl's unwitting invitation to play into the hands of his most virulent critics here but oh what the hell...never was a track more aptly named. The music here betrays its creator as being that of a percussionist due to an unwavering linear design that becomes wearying very quickly. Things do pick up in the jazz funk/big band developmental section however, but does not save this effort entirely.

'Honky-Tonk Train Blues' - Erm, the A side of 'Honky Tonk-Train Blues'

'Show Me the Way to Go Home' - I was dreading this but my fears of 'Chas and Dave round the old joanna' proved to be unfounded. Emerson staggers delightfully over the piano during the '3am after a night on the turps' intro before the vocals enter and Greg delivers this rather thread worn standard incredibly well. Thereafter we build up to a gospel choir and horn backed boogie shuffle over which Lake, to my unreserved surprise, proves he has more than a vestige of the blues in his soul after all. Great fun all round.


Album · 1977 · Third Stream
Cover art 2.48 | 11 ratings
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- Now that's what I call patchy! (Volume One) -

Aside from the non-sequiter contained in the title (by this stage ELP patently did NOT Work) this has all the tell-tale signs of a patched up reconciliation, with Atlantic Records as mediators in a matrimonial battle to see who ultimately would get custody of the kids. Like most parents who undergo a messy, drawn out and acrimonious divorce, it is their creations that suffer the most, with low grades, truancy, and withdrawal into fantasy worlds very often an inevitable consequence of this trauma.

ELP's offspring, as represented by the tracks on this double album, certainly adopted many of these classic behavioural traits, but eventually came to be once again on speaking terms with their parents.

BUT IT TOOK UNTIL BLOODY SIDE FOUR !!!. (Sorry for yelling)

- Keith Emerson -

'Keith's baby grand gets expelled from Rock School'

'Piano Concerto # 1' - It took me a long, long time and countless plays to get a handle on any of this, but if you stick with it and persevere you will be rewarded by what is undoubtedly one of the most substantial compositions by a rock musician to date. What strikes the listener immediately is how conservative much of the writing is and a casual ear would be hard pressed to identify its creator as being that of Keith Emerson. With this in mind, I conducted a blindfold test on a budget (i.e by hiding the cover) on some house guests recently and they offered Copland, Gershwin, Delius ,Tchaikovsky and, somewhat unhelpfully, Glen Miller (from Stevie), as possible contenders for the composer. However, once the Concerto's author was revealed, all my guests without demur claimed that:

'Yeah ?... but you can tell though really..that it's by a rock muso I mean'

'Glen Miller ain't a rock muso'

'Shut up Stevie'

This reaction is probably one of the main hurdles that Emerson constantly faces in his quest to be taken seriously as a composer and I suspect the conciliatory and traditional aspects of the piece were a deliberate ploy to attract endorsement from within the larger classical community. The jury still appears to be out as to whether this has been successful or not, but there are a few distinguished concert pianists who have included the work in their repertoire, and it does appear from time to time on the playlists of classical music radio stations. Should Emo ever get a foot inside that forbidding door, I hope that he will employ both his ample size twelves to kick said barrier firmly down for the benefit of all who follow. We can but wait.

The first movement, although unequivocally diatonic in character, is actually based on a tone row as employed by the 2nd Viennese school of serialist composers eg Berg, Webern and Schoenberg. By all accounts the latter were not exactly hell raising party animals and their output is marked by a paucity of toe-tappers and a surfeit of very dry, academic and cerebral sterility. Emerson has pulled off quite a coup therefore, by illustrating that memorable and melodic themes can be realized by the use of a compositional technique that is traditionally seen as begetting cold or austere results.

The second movement is an unabashedly nostalgic wink in the direction of the baroque period and as much as Keith imparts his own strong personality into this brief homage, the effect is a rather self-consciously quaint daydream of Gershwin as the guest soloist at a Bach recital. As pleasant and diverting as this is, it reeks of the intermission music during the screening of the main feature.

The third movement is unrelentingly percussive and full of dramatic brio culminating in a very moving and effective main theme that lives long in the memory afterwards. Conductor John Maher bullies a very committed and aggressive performance from the London Philharmonic and Emerson's cadenza exhibits some startling and daring treatments of the motivic ideas used in the work. At times there is enacted an unflinching battle between the massed forces of orchestra and solo pianist with no quarter asked or given in a breathless and exciting 'slug fest' to see who's still standing at the end.

But you are reading this from a jazz music website, so how can we possibly rate the fish when it ain't even on the menu? (More on this later)

- Greg Lake -

'Macca junk food from Dad fails to appease the Lake brood after a 1 out of 5 report card'

'Lend Your Love to Me Tonight' - No Greg, I will not. Unless you provide a written receipt testifying that no more of this sub McCartney Hippy MOR will emanate from your esteemed orifice(s) ever again.

'C'est La Vie' - Apart from that redeeming fragment in the arrangement where the choir and orchestra brilliantly mimic the 'out of tune and out of time' refrain from the vocal, the sugar tanker that jettisoned its cargo into this Lake Inferior, makes immersion a distinctly dubious pleasure (Wet and in incredibly sickly sweet)

'Hallowed Be Thy Name' - Easily the best song on offer here with a clever and caustic lyric:

'The optimist asked for a taste of the pessimist's wine' - (Optimists need to drown their sorrows sometimes too, and a pithy metaphor for nihilism)

The arrangement is outstanding on this clumping piano driven and curmudgeonly snarl of a song that casts the habitual romantic lead in an unaccustomed role of that as the disaffected naysayer looking on at the chaos all around him caused by the stupidity of his fellow men:

'this planet of ours is a mess I bet heaven's the same'

Great use is made here of glissando strings to give the song a suitably neurotic and disquieting atmosphere. Unfailingly brilliant and a real diamond in the mire. Greg, welcome back my friend to the show that never....(Doh!)

'Nobody Loves You Like I Do' - Answers on a postcard to the author please. I must have listened to this song at least 50 times now and cannot for the life of me, recall a single note or phrase from it. Greg Lake's 4.00 answer to John Cage's '4.33'.

'Closer to Believing' - This suffers from the same malaise as Lake's orchestral version of 'I Believe in Father Christmas' in that what is a very fine song with eloquent and thought provoking lyrics, is suffocated under a huge fleecy pillow of an arrangement. Once more alas, Greg lapses into that irritating habit he is prone to of 'speaking' the tagline in some of his songs (eg 'we want....US') This latest example being capable of emptying a rhino's tummy back out through the in door.

- Carl Palmer -

'Absent fathers never get the chance to deliver six of the best to their offspring'

'The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits' - A very boisterous romp through Prokofiev's piece with Palmer's kit and Orchestra in perfect empathy with neither overpowering the other. Stirring.

'LA Nights' - The sort of west coast 'rawk' thumper that could perhaps have been put to better use in the advertising of sportscars. Very solid performances by all concerned with Joe Walsh wrapping his lips round some 'voicebox' guitar and his hands round some sterling 'Jack Daniels' bottleneck lead. They even drag Keith along on this 'cruise down Hollywood Boulevard in an open top Maserati' number where the latter thumps out some authentic 'rawk' piano.

'New Orleans' - Rather spartan and rudimentary funk tinged blues rock which seems to hang in the air like an unfinished chore.

'Two Part Invention in D Minor' - Carl's pedigree as a fully qualified orchestral percussionist has never been in doubt, but this smacks of an indecent haste in sourcing any old vehicle to illustrate his advanced driving skills.

'Food For Your Soul' - More than a nod (in fact a bow) in the direction of Palmer's drum heroes Krupa, Rich, Cobham et al in this exhilarating big band workout that is considerably more accomplished a composition than being merely a platform from which Carl can deliver a stunning and economically constructed solo. Almost visceral in its intensity. I'm full up.

'Tank' - ELP's rusting old warhorse is saved from the scrapyard with a jazzy lick of paint and some completely new bodywork from expert panel beater Carl on a skilfully arranged adaptation of this tune for Jazz Orchestra. Emerson revisits his famous Moog solo towards the end, and in this setting is revealed 'Tank's' jazz roots and vocabulary which certainly caused me to reappraise Keith's original creation in a whole new light.

- Emerson, Lake and Palmer -

'Atlantic Records get custody of the twins' (but they get to stay up really late)

'Fanfare for the Common Man' - Copland has already endorsed the band's version of his famous short piece and it is really not hard to see why. Apart from the sheer inflated scale of their interpretation, the trio remain pretty faithful to the composer's original intentions by ensuring that the lengthy improvisation at it's centre is framed by reproductions of the indelible main theme at either end. Emerson's new 'toy' at around this time was the triple manual Yamaha GX1 keyboard (an analogue synthesizer with elephantitis) and its very distinctive character was fundamental to the realization of this piece. Rather punningly, Keith employs that technology's replication of a very humble harmonica sound with which to embark on his brilliant improvisation. Greg and Carl have never sounded this 'tight' and buttress the track with one of the slinkiest of all wicked shuffle grooves in rock. The tonal palette becomes more and more sulphurous as the piece develops and at its peak there is an 'underpant filling' blare of resonating synthetic brass from Emerson that still startles 30 years later. (But that might just be me)

'Pirates' - If ELP had stayed together then this track may be indicative of where their future direction may have led. The fusion of rock instrumentation and orchestral resources was a long term project for Keith and he has voiced dissatisfaction with the results obtained previously on 'Ars Longa Vita Brevis' and 'Five Bridges' with the Nice.

There has always been a tendency for an electric band to overpower the orchestral players but the remedy of simply amplifying the latter has invariably led to a diminishing or loss of the rich and unique palette of tonal colours available from this source. In the controlled environment of the recording studio however, this elusive balance may be somewhat less hazardous to accomplish and on 'Pirates' ELP can be heard happily supping from the 'holy grail' that this piece embodies.

The lyrics first of all, which are something of a blindspot in prog's rear-view mirror, are superb and both Lake and the much maligned Sinfield deserve great praise for constructing what is no less than a fully plotted narrative poem which conjures up perfectly the appropriate atmosphere and accurate historical detail befitting Emerson's magnificent music. In addition, Greg does does not just 'sing' the notes with his habitual aplomb but interprets the lyrical content as though he were an actor in this most theatrical of creations ever attempted by ELP. This must be very close to the finest vocal performance of his life.

The allegorical aspects of a Pirate story are very apt. It's all here. The looting and pillaging, the riches beyond your wildest dreams, a license to act with impunity, debauchery without the consequences and roaming the world like an outlaw above and beyond the reach of the law. It's only rock'n'roll.

Therein lies the problem with this sprawling, schizophrenic and bloated train wreck of a record. For the vast legions of the band's followers, 'Works Volume 1'was simply a 'step too far' and expecting a fanbase drawn from a predominantly white rock demographic to embrace willingly some avant garde classical music was doomed to failure from the outset. We are even denied the opportunity to evaluate this document as a bona fide ELP album, as it is after all tantamount to three mini solo albums with a big wet group hug at the end.


Album · 1973 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.65 | 16 ratings
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- Get Me a Ladder, The Only Way Is Down -

I tried, I really did, honestly (to find a weevil in these martian fireflowers) but have to confess that this is probably the closest you will find to the unattainable perfection we all search so futilely for.

ELP had learned the lessons from its predecessor 'Trilogy', i.e don't write anything that you can't reproduce on stage and end up touring just half an album of new material. No weak tracks here, and I can say that every one of them has been my favourite at any one given time.

Interestingly, the band was not allowed to perform 'Jerusalem' in the UK, presumably on the reactionary advice of the censor who hesitated at the idea of some dirty long-hairs butchering a national hymn. Shame really, as this version is completely respectful to the original and Lake's vocal is one of his best ever. Palmer's drumming is sublime, and manages to be incredibly busy AND utterly supportive despite the plethora of spectacular rolls throughout the track's short duration. Not sure if fatboy actually plays bass on this as the bottom end, to my ears at least, sounds as though it comes from Emerson's Minimoog bass ?.

Tocatta - Ginastera's music is something of an acquired taste and certainly not for the feint-hearted so Emerson has done a remarkable job at transforming the 3rd movement of the Argentinian's 1st piano concerto into a format that displays the band to best effect.

This is probably the closest ELP came to abandoning tonality altogether and certainly a close run thing with 'The Barbarian' as being the heaviest piece they ever recorded. For years I thought the electronic 'freakout' that comes near the end was contributed mainly by Emerson's modular moog system, but I have been advised that most of the sounds here come via Palmer's electronic percussion.

Yep, we need a soothing ballad now after that onslaught, and they deliver in style with Lake's 'Still You Turn Me On' being a contender for the best song he ever wrote. This would have been the perfect single from the album but rather pedantically, the performing rights 'bean counters' deemed that as Palmer does not play anything on this track, it could not therefore be released under the name ELP.

The intro to 'Benny the Bouncer' contains one of the first instances of a polyphonic synth being used in recording history, and on reflection, this hilarious vaudeville parody seems an odd choice on which to debut such innovative technology. The track gets some flak from ELP fans, but I love it to death and the piano solo is one of the most exhilarating sections in popular music EVER. Very funny and witty lyrics from Lake and Peter Sinfield which serve to lessen the charges against the latter of being a pretentious dilettante and ELP as humourless.

'Karn Evil 9' on its own must be deserving of prog's claim to its equivalent of pop's 'Sgt Pepper'. In it's 30 minute span it encompasses everything that visitors to this site value above all else. Fantastic playing, innovative technology that ENHANCES the music as opposed to DISGUISING same. The writing is credibly 'symphonic' in the formal classical sense as all the motivic and thematic ideas undergo the same stringent development and treatments as that afforded to musical materials in the hands of Sibelius, Mussorgsky, Bartok, Copeland et al.

Economical solos and breathtaking exploitation of dramatics and accents?. (Check)

Key changes, tempo changes and timbral changes? (Check).

There is no noodling over a riff for 10 minutes here and the music is meticulously composed right down to the last high-hat stroke to be executed faithfully within the live environment. If proof were needed, the resultant tour and triple live album 'Welcome Back My Friends' is testimony to this compositional discipline.

The lyrics in Prog are normally one of its weak points but Lake and Sinfield really make a great effort here to explore the ramifications of the dawn of a dystopian technological age where our inventions ultimately come to destroy us and our human values. Some may now consider the corrupt 'circus' analogy as somewhat clichéd but in 1973 this was thought provoking and extremely prescient, so full marks to ELP for that.

It is strange however, that the acoustic '2nd Impression' is based on themes contained in the following '3rd Impression' which has led me to believe it was composed AFTER the 3rd part of the suite?

SUMMATION: At least 30 years ahead of its time as evidenced by polyphonic synths, electronic percussion and sequencing (the classic swept filter effect that segues side one and two of the original vinyl)

From this point on, there was nowhere else for ELP to go, (electronically at least) as they had taken analogue technology to beyond the limits dreamed of in 1973. It would be another 8 years before MIDI appeared and thereafter the digital revolution of sampling.

Best album by the best band in the best genre with the best cover. (A Full House)


Album · 1972 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.12 | 18 ratings
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- The Venus de Milo attempts the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer -

'The Endless Enigma' - Of all the large scale pieces produced by ELP, this Dali inspired triumvirate is perhaps the least satisfying. The bass drum as 'heartbeat' metaphor steals a march on Floyd and there are some eerie Moog atmospheres shattered violently with 'hamster steeplechase over the piano keys' glissandos so beloved of Emerson. After some strident pedal point bass and a few (much sampled) bongo rolls, the engine finally fires up and kicks into a wicked shuffle groove over which the Hammond spits out a suitably aggressive statement of intent. Regrettably all this tantalising foreplay is in anticipation of a main sung theme that when it appears, renders the foregoing as a bit of a 'kiss on the porch tease'.

The melody is decent enough but the stilted and halting feel of the verses is nowhere near close to that of 'majestically' as instructed on the published manuscript.

The piano interlude is a very accomplished (and finger blisteringly difficult) piece of writing by Keith, which displays to full effect his commanding grasp of a variety of compositional forms, moving through a gentle and wistful opening towards a complex fugue with some mind boggling counterpoint under which Lake adds some inspired and memorable 'singing' bass.

ELP appear to be double parked in a cul de sac with an expired license at this point so adopt some clever 'call and response' dialogue between Palmer's tubular bells and Emerson's Moog as a preface to reprising the opening sung section albeit at a slower tempo. I'm not entirely convinced that the song either warrants such repetition or that the fugue section belongs at its centre.

The individual sections are certainly effective but the overarching structure is somewhat strained.

'From the Beginning' - Another generous helping of a considerably slimmer Greg Lake on this fatalistically inclined paean to the vagaries of love. He deploys 9th chords here quite unusually and buttresses his tightly wound creation with a memorable bass line and tasteful electric guitar solo. Emerson's Moog solo on the outro is an unbridled joy.

'The Sheriff' - Palmer's commitment of the drummer's cardinal sin (banging your sticks together by mistake) is captured for posterity on the intro before we gallop off into the sunset on a very enjoyable and light hearted cowboy pastiche featuring some clippety-clop organ. The instrumental section is rather unusual in contrast to what frames it, by being almost akin to jazz rock in places. The final verse is ended by a hilarious gunshot ricochet and a brilliant piece of saloon bar piano from Emerson.

Who says ELP are miserable bastards?

'Hoedown' - Became something of a live staple for many years to come and Copland's jaunty rodeo music is for the most part preserved in Emerson's adaptation save the classic whooping synthesizer glides that introduce the piece. You can have great fun trying to identify all the north american folk tunes he manages to quote from. (or don't and take up knitting instead, the choice is yours)

'Trilogy' - A rare instance in ELP of a large scale work being seeded from just a single theme as stated by the unadorned Moog 'violin' on the intro. Thereafter we move into a very beautiful and haunting piano setting of this motif sung dreamily by Lake to what is presumably a jilted lover ? Emerson, obviously heedless to the risks of a dotage crippled by arthritis, regales us with yet more knuckle busting flourishes at the piano before the tempo changes to 5/4 for a bombastic transposition of the phrase to the Moog. The lead sound used is definitively 'heroic' and would have brought a flush of pleasure to even Dr Robert I am sure.

Next up, a slightly 'swung' 6/4 groove which betrays a jazzier and more chromatic feel than what went before. I can't help but detect the influence of Miles Davis on this section, particularly the extended solo passage that centres around a B7#9 chord. The band really kick some proverbial backside here with Palmer laying down one of the 'funkiest' beats in his locker and Lake anchoring this maelstrom with an infectious ostinato. Numerous leads are layered and overdubbed as the improvisation develops before culminating in the squealing protestations of the synths subject to this unbridled fury. (Blimey Guv'nor)

To round things off there is another sung section featuring Lake with what sounds like his tongue firmly in the region of his cheek:

- You'll love again I don't know when but if you do I know that you'll be happy in the end -

The original melody does seem rather 'forced' in this rhythmic setting and I suspect that Greg's delivery betrays as much. ELP close the track with an ironic blues tagline that was even considered passée in the bronze age, but our three heroes may possibly have reversed themselves momentarily into that same cul de sac as on 'Enigma'

The many transitions that this track goes through are very skilfully and seamlessly negotiated and 'Trilogy' certainly represents one of ELP's finest recorded moments.

'Living Sin' - A relatively simple heavy rocker but Emerson's inspired synth brass work and a striking and sinister 'baritone' vocal from Lake transcends the meagre harmonic material on offer. The main riff is deceptively simple but the band exploit its quasi 'eastern' qualities to achieve an exotic feel. Perhaps the best song that Deep Purple never wrote.

Abaddon's Bolero' - If one track on this record can be a microcosm of the problems 'Trilogy' presented for ELP then it must be this one.

Yes, it's a thrilling and innovative arrangement of a climactic composition that reaches a magnificent 'orgasmic' ending. (Not 'af you saucy devil)

No, it cannot possibly be replicated on stage armed with but the mere two that Keith has.

Much of the 'Trilogy' material suffered the same fate as 'Bolero' and as far as I am aware, the title track was seldom performed live in concert. It must have been frustrating for a musician as accomplished and ambitious as Keith Emerson to realize, that as unlimited a playground as the studio was, he had to leave behind many of his favourite toys when stepping out in front of an audience.


Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.58 | 18 ratings
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- Tarka the metallic otter (sent for an early bath) 0 - A very badly drawn mythical beast 1 -

'Tarkus' - The title 'suite' has now quite rightly entered into history as a hitherto unprecedented measure of how we now appraise those occupied in the creation of progressive rock music of any conceivable style, and is perhaps this records greatest and enduring legacy. It served almost as a 'blueprint' for much of the Italian symphonic prog movement and has been a source of inspiration for musicians and composers ever since.

I do think it significant that Emerson's compositional style has been an acknowledged influence on other instrumentalists apart from just keyboard players, in contrast to Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz, Tony Banks, Dave Greenslade & Rod Argent etc.

There are palpable traces of Bartok, Ginastera and perhaps Zappa throughout Emerson's creation and he chose wisely in allowing for the danger of the whole 20 minutes alienating his audience, to contrast the 'Eruption - Iconoclast - Manticore - Aquatarkus' instrumental sections with some more conventional song based material utilising Greg Lake's vocals. This technique served ELP well throughout their career and the overwhelming success achieved by 'Tarkus' simply endorsed its repeated use on subsequent albums.

The material that comprises the remainder of the album is often either overlooked or dismissed as inferior to the 'Tarkus' composition, but I feel that this is unduly harsh and think it long overdue for reappraisal.

'Jeremy Bender' - Where Floyd Cramer meets a defrocked cross dresser and after a boisterous night on the turps, duet on this whimsical number at 3am before being led away to the cells in preparation for the trial. Often dismissed as ' filler' but good fun and Emerson's piano is always worth some of your time.

'Bitches Crystal' - The waltz rhythm's stubborn refusal to 'kick ass' has been a constant source of frustration to many a rock muso, and it took Palmer and his two buddies to teach them how to make this normally 'effete' pulse decimate hindquarters. All manner of stylistic bases are covered from jazz piano, blues rock, classical and even that tinkling 'ice cream van' music alluded to in the title. I also love the way ELP achieve a satisfying blend of the acoustic instruments and the Moog. Judging by some of their contemporaries efforts at around the same time, this is not as easy as they make it sound here.

'The Only Way' - The lengthy Bach quote is used I suspect, not for any musical purpose but to set up the right 'pious' atmosphere for Greg Lake to subvert with his attack on religious hypocrisy and self serving belief systems. It's not very often that ELP ever strayed anywhere near political, religious or social controversy as they do here, and whether they got their fingers burned or not, I do wish they had been as forthright with their views as they are on this very moving atheist rallying call. Compared to Greg's usual preoccupation with mythical beasts, love affairs that dwarf entire solar systems and fantasy literature, this is 'gritty realism' by comparison.

'Infinite Space' - A criminally ignored track in their repertoire, probably because of its pungent Bartok harmonies and incessant bludgeoning 7/4 meter. I love this unreservedly for its sheer immovable force and the way Emerson harnesses some startling (Hungarian?) modes and scales in the creation of what seems at the outset, an extremely unlikely melodic denouement.

'A Time and a Place' - Starts off rather unpromisingly as a simple syncopated hard rocker but improves significantly once we reach the solo and the glorious ending. The former contains what must be the most visceral and 'bowel emptying' organ sound since records began while the latter is a classically hued feast of Moog synth that you just wish would never end. Stunning. The cake ain't too hot but Emerson's icing makes up for it.

'Are You Ready Eddy? - If only the answer had been 'No'...... we would at least have been spared this sub Pythonesque 'dicking about' that has become the ultimate ELP stocking filler. File under 'hammy' AND 'cheesy'

If memory serves me correctly, I think this was the unholy trinity's sole Number One album in the UK, and on the evidence of what is presented here, seems slightly ironic that such widespread endorsement was granted to what is perhaps the weakest of ELP's first five. That it not to say it was undeserving of such sales figures, but of all their early 70's records this is the one that has aged the least gracefully.

I would guess that the reasons are mainly down to the use of some rather dated studio techniques and effects which although de rigeur for the time, stamp '1971' indelibly onto the production to its detriment. Lake's multi-tracked harmony vocals and Palmer's phased drum kit rolls are two such instances, together with some rather kitsch and self-parodying 'freakout' rock guitar. From what little documented evidence I can gather, there was apparently considerable pressure brought to bear on the band by their record company to get the album out and into the shops as quickly as possible to appease fan demand, so this may have engendered some production 'short cuts' being used.

However, what has always been abundantly clear, is that we are not going to pull down the Taj Mahal just because it does not conform with our idea of modern architecture.

PS 'Tarkus' really IS named after Tarka the Otter (check Emo's autobiography if you don't believe me)

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.13 | 19 ratings
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- Exclusive: Doves Cause Baldness? -

It should be self evident that reviews of such pivotal progressive rock albums as this one one must be tempered by the heights/depths a band subsequently reached after it's release. Had I heard this for the 1st time in 1970, I would have been quite simply 'blown away' as they say, as there had been nothing quite like it hitherto.

Preamble over, on with the music.

'The Barbarian' - although rather cheekily not credited to Bartok on the initial pressings, this remains perhaps my favourite ELP track ever. Venomous and sinewy Lake bass, snarling and attacking Hammond plus a kit assault from Palmer that stills leaves me speechless. The piano/brushes interlude in the middle comes as a welcome respite from the unremitting carnage that comes before and after. When the track ends, you are changed forever....

'Take a Pebble' - Emerson's musical designs dwarf what is at best, a pleasant enough but rather insubstantial Lake ballad which completely outstays it's welcome. The piano playing is as ever, masterful, but given the paucity of melodic material available here with which to improvise on, Emerson runs out of ideas well before half way. The rudimentary guitar solo in the middle, replete with the atmospheric cave sounds, is mixed far too low and served only to become an area on the original vinyl record that proliferated scratches in glorious stereo.

'Knife Edge' - Notwithstanding another little copyright 'oversight' re the disgruntled Janacek estate, this is a belter of the first order with a fantastic organ solo that still exhilarates 37 years on. Great singing from Mr Greg but collaborating with a roadie is going to give you terrible lyrics (Fraser) The band always had a terrific knack for adapting just the right classical piece to suit their own musical designs and Bach's Italian Concerto quoted here is no exception. Like most people in 1970 I too thought my record player had melted during the 'slow down' section at the end.

'Three Fates' - Wonderful playing from Emerson throughout his 'solo' contribution after a rather boggy and sludgy intro on the pipe organ (which became de riguer) for all his subsequent imitators/wannabees thereafter. Can't help but feeling that the whole is less than the sum of it's parts on this one. Lots of great ideas follow on from each other sequentially but the overall architecture creaks a bit.

'Tank' - Probably the closest ELP got to playing jazz rock in their careers. Brilliant harpsichord and clavinet from Emerson, and fat boy turns in a tour de force on bass. Being the early 70's, this sprawling epic could not be complete without recourse to a lengthy drum solo. I have heard and been entertained by many of Carl's solos over the years but must say that this is the worst one he ever committed to tape. When the hopelessly dated phased drumming enters, it's such a relief to hear the swung ending section after the tedium that preceded it. Emerson's ominous Moog makes it's first appearance here and at the time, was an alien timbre that we were all completely bowled over by. Ground breaking stuff indeed.

'Lucky Man' - the band's only stateside hit probably gave the yanks the impression that ELP was the UK's answer to CSNY. Lake's pretty but inconsequential acoustic song certainly milks undeserving resources from Emerson and Palmer which would have been better utilised on more group material. Similarly with 'Take a Pebble' the arrangement is far superior to the underlying musical ideas. Much has been written about Emo's famous outro moog solo, so I won't labour the point, but according to his autobiography he states

- 'I thought it was shit, I still do...' -

Personally, I love it and it seduced me thereafter into a lifelong love affair with the synthesizer and prog rock in general.

To sum up:

The problems of satisfying such a disparate trio as ELP were manifest as early as this 1970 album with the inclusion of 'solo' tracks to appease their creators. Coming full circle at the demise of their career on the 1977 'Works' album, the symmetry is complete, with each member getting a side each of a double album.

ELP made progressive rock possible with both their viability in terms of sales wedded to their brilliant musicianship. The history of popular music dictates that up till that point, the two were considered mutually exclusive.

THE NICE Live At The Fillmore East December 1969

Live album · 2010 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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- 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 2.50 | 2 ratings
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- 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.


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.


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 3.80 | 4 ratings
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- 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.


Live album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.67 | 3 ratings
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- 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 4.83 | 3 ratings
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- 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.

THE NICE Ars Longa Vita Brevis

Album · 1968 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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- The Life Expectancy of Fat Bottomed Girls -

'Daddy Where Did I Come From ?' - Rather an ordinary rock riff that stretches in protest at being the load bearing wall in this humorous construction sung by Emerson about the facts of life. The spoken voice of the uncomfortable 'parent' attempting to impart this knowledge to his inquisitive offspring is that of the band's manager Tony Stratton-Smith (and subsequent founder of Charisma records) The damning indictment hurled from the bridge section is really just a bit 'rich' from a band of hellraisers like the Nice could be:

'Your back teeth rotting in a gallon of booze, you can't even work out how to fasten your shoes, you get yourself into such a state, it's no small wonder that you can't even answer questions'

Similar musical materials were put to better use on 'Azrael Revisited' on the next album. The vinyl pressing of the record I originally purchased had some guitar on this track which beefs things up considerably, but the CD reissue I own does not?

'Little Arabella' - Emerson dials up an authentically cheesy 'Errol Garner' organ sound for this knowingly louche swing pastiche that Lee Jackson delivers with insouciant charm throughout. I think all of us have met at some time or another exactly the sort of dippy hippy chick that they cruelly lampoon here.

'Talks in riddles talks in rhymes, she is a problem of the times, I'm rather glad she isn't mine'

The very impressive trumpet was contributed by a session player.

'Happy Freuds' - the obsession with the theories of Sigmund Freud was rampant during the late 60's and the Nice have clearly decided they've had quite enough of listening to the sort of psycho-babble that was endemic amongst the so called 'beat' intelligentsia. Even on this second album the band prove to be more than capable of crafting a memorable pop song. Keith's voice however, was never suited to the sort of material he composed and as spirited an effort as he makes here, it just don't cut it.

'Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite' - as a first hesitant step into the adaptation of a classical work this ain't bad, but my enthusiasm is always going to be tempered by the wonderful heights they reached on later attempts. Brilliantly played as always but suffers from a rather haphazard and sloppy arrangement which casts Sibelius in a rather insipid light. Nice use of occasional bowed bass from Jackson to authenticate and acknowledge the origins of the work. Roy Harper claims to have inspired the band to tackle this piece.

'Don Edito El Gruva' - The problem with all practical jokes is that they lose much if restricted to just the audio realm. Orchestra tunes up and someone blows a very loud whistle. Much giggling ensues. Guess you had to be there. (or had sampled the whistle beforehand) 'Don' being engineer Don Brewer.

'Ars Longa Vita Brevis' - ('Art is long, Life is short'- Lee Jackson's art school's motto)

This 20 minute 'suite' indicates a massive leap in ambition for the band and although it suffers from the lack of direction exhibited by all those swimming in uncharted waters, represents a pivotal moment in rock that ushered in a whole new climate of experimentation and adventurous risk taking. (Yippee!)

It was seeded by a riff that departing guitarist Davy O'List contributed and the rest seems to have snowballed from there. Much debate ensues about who actually plays the guitar parts on 'Ars Longa', but the prevailing view is that it is Malcolm Langstaff, a contemporary of Jackson and fellow Novocastrian who learned the parts by listening to a BBC session of an earlier version.

Brian Davison was well known to be reluctant to perform drum solos on stage, so it is something of a surprise to see one on this album during the 'Awakening' section. 'Blinky's' speed, feel and touch are all well to the fore and it's refreshing to get to hear the subtle detail available on CD that was muddied on the original vinyl.

O'List's original riff appears in the 'Realisation' Movement and it's 'eastern' tonality is exploited by the Nice in an incense filled song section sung with suitably oriental inflections by Jackson. His lyrics alas, remain as stubbornly cryptic as always:

'Life's too short to paint a kiss, so sing a picture, paint a song, take it home and bang your gong'(!?)

Keith then moves onto piano and embarks on a Latin percussion backed tour de force which runs the gamut of most of his avowed influences at the time i.e Charlie Parker, Bach and Jacques Loussier.

'Acceptance - Brandenburger' - Emerson's choice of vehicle here is Bach's 3rd Brandenburger Concerto (a series that has served the Nice well, see - 'Country Pie') with which to extemporize on and contains some of his greatest organ playing to date. The opening statement of the theme on Hammond never fails to raise the hairs on the back of your humble correspondent's neck. The Nice even manage to tease a performance out of the orchestra that borders on 'swinging' a rare feat from classical players.

'Denial' - It's a relief to be able to hear this finally resurfacing from the murk that cloaked it on the vinyl version. Alludes in places to phrases and motifs that would appear on 'Hoedown' by ELP and reprises O'List's original riff in a very satisfying symmetrical conclusion to the whole suite.

This record probably captures the Nice 'halfway up the stairs to the observation bay' that they were able to look out from on it's successor, and although it could be described as very patchy, it is an incredibly far sighted work that blazed a trail where no others had dared to set a Beatle boot.

THE NICE The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack

Album · 1967 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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- The Great Leap Forward by the Gang of Four -

Whether intentional or not, the Maoist connotations of the appalling title wedded to some groundbreakingly inventive music captures some of that heady whiff of revolution that was in the air on this precocious 1967 debut by the Nice. If that were not sufficient grist to undermine the prevailing genteel mill, then the sight of four reprobates cavorting in cellophane on the cover just might have tipped the balance.

The 'who made the 1st prog album?' debate argued with increasingly shrill protestations of certitude is now a game that we should all be heartily tired of. Judging by the adolescent imbecility of some of the propositions on offer, we would just as well conclude that Progressive Rock originated in some primordial soup of an acquired taste, and get on with enjoying music that we care about.

That said, the prevailing reference points surrounding 'Thoughts' have to be acknowledged or else we end up pretending that art is independent of history. (Art is a product of history, and NOT vice versa)

Blah blah blah

So, a balanced history primer might include (but is not restricted to) Floyd's 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' - Family's 'Music In a Doll's House' - Hendrix 'Axis Bold as Love'and Van der Graaf Generator's 'Aerosol Grey Machine' as products of the sort of influences that were at play around this time. I'm sure you will agree, as varied a bag as are assembled here, they represent some rip-snortingly fine music.

'Flower King of Flies' - not sure if this is really inspired by William Goldings novel 'Lord of the Flies' but it clearly hardly matters to the band in a very enjoyable slice of poppy psychedelia featuring some knowingly over the top backing vocals and a very fine tune. A distant relative of the similarly acid drenched 'Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon'

'Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack' - This was a single and I could be wrong, but this is Davy O'List singing right? Whoever it is, it's a damn fine reading of a very accomplished and classically tinged pop tune. The faintly silly 'bah bah BAH baaah bah Baaah' refrain on the chorus will be an unwelcome guest in your head for months to come after hearing this. Subtle and restrained use of mood building harpsichord by Keith and trumpet by O'List.

'Bonnie K' - the Nice's recent past as jobbing RnB musicians is brought to the fore here in a raucous blues rock number. Plenty of energy and ferocity but I fear this substitutes for lack of substance in the composition which is really tantamount to a mediocre riff masquerading as a song. Emerson's 'Hammond on Amphetamines' sound is captured faithfully however and his playing is always worth some of your time even on weaker material.

'Rondo' - Where Emerson tosses a Brubeck 9/8 salad into the air and surgically enhances the pieces that land into a galloping 4/4 with the rest being history. On this much lengthier track we get perhaps our first 'peek' at the sort of improvised magic the Nice would subsequently cast with astonishing frequency when allowed the room to breathe and explore as they are here.

O'List's guitar solo deserves special mention as he displays a very finely honed ability to pace his musical ideas and ensure they have a beginning, development and satisfying conclusion, in stark contrast to many of the 'throw enough fuzzed up freakiness at the wall and some it's bound to stick' school of 60's guitar methodology.

Digital technology was good to both Davison and Jackson, as the CD reissues of much of this early material by the Nice at last does some justice to their vastly underrated and innovative supporting work behind the twin barrelled assault of the group's two competing soloists Emerson and O'List.

'War and Peace' - Mercifully shorter than the work it alludes to but rather a perfunctory instrumental blues, albeit one that is framed in gaudy psychedelic colors. The energy and abrasive textures employed are of more interest than the composition.

'Tantalising Maggie' - This COULD have been something right up there on a par with 'See Emily Play' calibre Syd Barrett, but unfortunately the many sublime individual fragments of the song are presented haphazardly as if the band were unsure as to how best to show them off to full effect. Something of a missed opportunity.

'Dawn' - Despite some inspired atmospheric effects and Emerson's injection of classical baroque elements, this is a rather ponderous and plodding number not helped in the least by Lee Jackson's whispered narrative which appropriates 'laryngitis' rather better than the intended 'menacing'

'The Cry of Eugene' - Truly wonderful and as good as anything accomplished at around the same time by Floyd, Beatles, Crimson, Family and the rest. The cream of their admittedly weak vocal melodies rises straight to the top and the song is a (completely impenetrable) haunting and yearning slice of melancholia as touching and sensitive as 'Hang on to a Dream' but with the economy of learned pop and the energy of their innate rock. Here lies in embryonic form, one of the seeds that was to flower into what we might recognise as the bouquet of progressive rock.

Andrew Loog Oldham and his Immediate label's 'groovier than thou' manifesto must be culpable in the failure of the Nice to make a significant mainstream breakthrough earlier than they did. Up until they switched to Tony Stratton-Smith's Charisma imprint in 1970, they had still not received a single penny in royalties from Immediate and the band's sole source of income was from incessant gigging.

Tip: Best to avoid any contractual obligation to a Svengali with double barreled name

By the time 'Five Bridges' had been released the band had already gone their separate ways at the behest of Emerson to free the latter in his besotted pursuit of King Crimson's handmaiden Lake for a planned musical menage a trois with an ex-Rooster.

(relax, I meant Palmer)

KING CRIMSON The ConstruKction Of Light

Album · 2000 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.62 | 19 ratings
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- The Destruction of Light and Shade -

I've never been much of an audiophile as the production on a record very rarely impacts to any great degree on my enjoyment of any given release. However, the 'Construkction of Light' might just be the one instance where my vandalised ears are less than well disposed to forgive such disruptive building work. This critter is wearying and exhausting to listen to in one sitting. Whether this is a case of over zealous compression or what sounds like the drummer chiselling his beats via Pro-Tools on a concrete kit is open to debate. A shame really, as the majority of material on this Crimson millennium issue is exemplary. We've all I'm sure been an unwilling party to those fidelity discussions with hirsute plankton who exclaim:

'Yeah, but the 30th anniversary edition is 24 bit remastered in Dolby at double speed plus FIVE bonus tracks so you wont recognise it as the same album dude'

You mean to the extent that the notes and the order they are played in changes?(and 'Caveat Emptor' with 'previously unreleased' status folks, these freebies didn't see the light of day for good reason i.e. their creators usually thought they weren't worthy of release)

Prozakc Blues - The 'k' 'k'onceit indulged in at around this time ir'K's this 'K'orrespondent to distra'k'tion. Enough already. As the title indicates, we have a blues capsule, but one piloted by the crew of the red fiery brigade. As on 'Pictures of a City', Crimson manage to invest some primordial harmonic gravity with some unnerving weightlessness when they step outside the pressurised (wood) cabin of the idiom. Belew's vocal is pitch shifted downwards to authentic effect in imitation of a 21st Century Schizoid 'Leadbelly' on a visit to his long suffering Doctor:

'Well I woke up this morning in a cloud of despair, I ran my hand across my head Pulled out a pile of worried hair.I went to my physician who was buried in his thoughts He said son, you've been reading too much Elephant Talk'

There is more than a trace of genre parody and caustic bile in Adrian's delivery here and his swipe at a Crimson internet discussion forum, although seemingly churlish, is well founded (even a casual visit will confirm said appreciation society as a nest of infertile W.A.S.P.s with Conan the Librarian as moderator which makes even 'PA' look like a sanctuary of reasoned calm) The aforementioned 'concrete' percussion does not mercifully spoil this track, as the rather unfocused pounding sludge of the pulse is consistent with the blues effect intended. A great and funny song that should be played to blues purists everywhere as an example of why so much of their music is tantamount to a dusty museum piece roped off from the threat of innovation.

The Construkction of Light - Although ostensibly split into two parts the demarcation is frankly spurious as the whole she-boodle segues seamlessly into one whole. The accuracy demanded from the twin guitars of Fripp and Belew on this piece must be harrowing to negotiate as the compositional device of harmonised parts that appear to mimic a shifting temporal delay as the piece develops allow precisely zero margin for error. A similar albeit inferior effect could be conjured up via a digital delay set for the appropriate time division, but performing such feats 'manually' as they do so expertly here simply beggars belief. As dry and academic as that might sound, rest assured that like all Crimson's most challenging music, there is a hard-nosed beauty here that somehow conspires to be neither sentimental or cerebrally sterile. Belew's memorable and brilliantly executed lyrical section helps greatly in this regard by alleviating the daunting complexity with a more accessible hook:

'And if a bird can speak, who once was a dinosaur and a dog can dream, should it be implausible that a man might supervise the construction of light?'

(I said more accessible, not catchy all right?)

Into the Frying Pan - Can't seem to shake off the conviction that this startling song is inspired by the Beatles (as risible as that might first appear) as it strikes me as closely akin to one of the Fab Four's early pop ditties but with Crimson as the backing band and William Burroughs permitted to sit in the cut-up producer's chair? Beguiling and intriguing for sure as it threatens to collapse into incoherence at any given moment but miraculously still delivers its melodic bounty despite the insistent chaos clamouring at the gates.

FraKctured - There is a marked tendency in some previous reviews to propose that the Crims are vainly revisiting past glories on their adaptations of prior works ? I think this judgement completely facile as evidenced by the verdant new pastures that such sacred cows are led to willingly or otherwise. For the most part the 'moto perpetuo' of the original is preserved here but this fragile and feisty creature is mutated and burnished into a new shiny metallic biomechanoid as befitting a shape shifting replicant. (with big sharp pointy teeth to gobble you up with my dear)

The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum - A playful lyrical device yes, but we all dallied with our own crayoned version of the Surrealists 'Exquisite Corpse' as kids. Perhaps the weakest of the conventional songs on 'Construkction of Light', but certainly not remotely shoddy or slapdash (despite the band's futile efforts in any failed realisation of a rehearsed spontaneity)

Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part IV - Once again, Fripp and Co still display an endearing affection for demarcation as testimony to conceptual rigour. The discrete partitioning of the three sections is more a hindrance to clarity than an aid but we have in our now hot little lap 8 minutes of implacable, neurotic and downright cussing Crimson that for the most part, is on a par with any of their instrumental pieces of the past. It does drag a tad towards the end though and you are always grateful for the appearance of the album's tail-ender when it finally uncloaks itself from the retreating carnage overhead.

Coda: I Have A Dream - A very powerful and sincere song penned by Belew which catalogues some of the worst tragedies that have afflicted the modern age. I think the author has chosen wisely to avoid imparting his own conclusions here, as the nature of the destructive losses he itemises should relegate any whining liberal angst as superfluous to help the medicine go down. Kudos to Adrian for that restraint. There was an interesting acoustic version of this number available for free download from Belew's website. (Not sure if you can still get it?)

Heaven and Earth - The token bonus track that most of us would not move same for to ever hear again. My hopelessly prejudiced view relegates anything remotely 'ambient' as suitable only for the purposes of providing a soundtrack for a flotation tank. Like so much of the Projekcts output, we are expected to allow ourself to drift away to wherever this music takes us. Me ?, I much prefer to surrender to the inevitable that gravity holds all the aces in this hole.

Under normal circumstances the 'Construkction of Light' would warrant an unhesitating 4 sparklies from this habitually grudging rodent but for the reasons I alluded to in the introduction, cannot give anything other than three and a half dwarf stars. Mastellotto is a very fine drummer with a portfolio that others who man the traps would kill for, but his kit sounds bear an uncanny semblance to those that would emanate from industrial strength Tupperware being bludgeoned into submission with iron bars. Similarly, the slinky and sinuous bass of Gunn and the guitars are smothered in a quick drying glue that robs the playing of what dynamic elasticity it may have possessed at the outset. However despite such provisos, please don't confuse the medium with the message as there is much fine music on this album that should be coaxed out of its dark hidey hole on a Fripp remastering job.

How about it Bob?


Album · 1995 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.57 | 25 ratings
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- Crimson Tertiary College of Highly Strung Arts 3 v Conformity High 2 -

Perhaps one of the most focused of all the Crimson releases post 74's 'Red' this certainly sheds some of the adipose tissue that caused the 80's cadets to stumble their way over three particularly sadistic obstacle courses designed by Sergeant Fripp. His and our reward is an elite corps of troops who have passed muster on what must be one of the most harrowing initiations in popular music. The 'fat wheezy boys with a note from matron' have been consigned to the sidelines to watch the first team strut their stuff against their abhorred local rivals 'Conformity High.'

Let's hurry along now as we are nearing kick off time....

'Vrooom' - The precocious younger brother of 'Red' and 'Larks Tongues' displays some fearsomely angular chops and a marked preference for heavier metallic tinged textures over the improvised constructions of yore. Thankfully however, the Crims never degenerate into bludgeoning metal riffery at any point. I think there are two main reasons for this:

The harmonic territory they inhabit is not conducive to thickly distorted guitar sounds i.e. if you play an E7#9 chord using someone like Tony Iommi's guitar rig, it just sounds like a modulated fart in a wind tunnel and:

The traditional 'metal' guitar sounds can only reliably appropriate Major, 5ths and (at a pinch) 7ths intervals before the chords start to break up into a sludgy and muddy mess. King Crimson very cleverly exploit this phenomenon on the intro, where some atonal 'squawking' chords are overlaid against a sinuous bass driven groove to great effect i.e the frisson caused by the disintegration of the chords is used for precisely that end, and it is used sparingly.

Belew's playing is particularly interesting on this record, as his command of more mainstream 'rawk' artifices and techniques is a very effective counterweight against the more avant garde leanings of Robert Fripp. Adrian appears to take on the role of a 6 string equivalent to the previous 'rocker' in the band, John Wetton and this lends the music a very accessible surface with which to perhaps entice new fans from the heavier end of the rock spectrum?

'Coda: marine 475' - an ever descending journey into some infernal region the directions to which have long been monopolized by Fripp & Co in their self published 'A to Z of the forbidden zone'.

'Dinosaur' - self depreciating humor is a quality all too rare in the prog world and similarly to 'Ladies of the Road' they display a healthy disregard for both their own lofty place in the hierarchy of rock and the mainstream's perception of them as irredeemably passe.

- standing in the sun, idiot savant, something like a monument, I'm a dinosaur, somebody is digging my bones -

This really is two fingers in the face of vacuous modernity and I love them dearly for it. Apart from the foregoing we have in 'Dinosaur' as good a song as they have ever written. The 'Tron gets dusted down for an appearance on the intro and together with an incredibly inventive arrangement and a classic chorus, we catch a glimpse of what the Beatles contribution to prog could ultimately result in. Quite brilliant.

'Walking on Air' - Not a million miles away from the languid feel of 'Matte Kudasai', this is a very beautiful ballad sung with a Lennonish sharpness from Belew. The 'backwards' lead guitar sound conjured for the short solos is wonderful (how DO they do that?, I have heard 60's reversed guitar loads of times, but it ain't as good as this)

'Bboom' - Bruford and Mastelotto cook up a twin chef percussion stew of their own recipe and somehow succeed in lending a drum duet solo the same exhilarating rush as that of a classic three minute pop song. (Now that is quite an undertaking yes?)

'Thrak' - Another entry for the Crimson lexicon of freshly minted words (see 'Groon' and 'the Crukster') When the music lurches in it sounds like an uninvited gatecrasher who turns out to be the life and soul of the party. (but ends up trashing the stereo) There is considerable detail in the background to much of this album that only reveals itself after repeated listens and the source of these alien utterances is always ambiguous as Crimson manage to mutate bass, guitar, keys and vocals into all manner of haggard and twisted parodies of their original sources.

'Inner Garden 1' - Spooky and rattling skeletal song with a trace of Belew's former mentor David Byrne. Seems to exit 'hanging in the air' as if smothering an unspoken thought. Very eerie and affecting.

'People' - Infectious lop sided funk that only Crimson could bring off with any credibility in the prog domain. Truly inspired rippling guitar arpeggios on a brilliant chorus and unusually for this band, backing vocals. Yet more of that forward thinking 'backwards' guitar that I love to bits and this track above all else represents for me, a real manifestation of where prog could sit quite happily with the appellation of 'modern rock' without any hint of self consciousness.

'Radio 1' - Disorienting electronic glissandos as though we had tuned in accidentally to the premiere of Norman Bates first piece of musique concrete. Like an axe wielding leprechaun (Short and scary)

'One Time' - Beautiful plangent guitar on a deceptively simple ballad (the meter and rhythm are very elusive, try tapping out the beat, like me, you will probably get lost) Very memorable tune brilliantly sung as always by Belew. Don't want to sound like 'Mr Picky' but it may be a tad overlong?

'Radio 2' - rather pointless little ambient 'choccy drop' that only serves to illustrate what an air conditioning system on Neptune might conceivably sound like ? However we will forgive them this aberration as at 1 min 3 seconds it doesn't stick around long enough to qualify as 'ambient' i.e any old shit through a big reverb

'Inner Garden 2' - Erm, call it a wild stab in the dark if you like, but as this is the same harmonic material as employed on Inner Garden 1, why not JOIN THEM TOGETHER LADS INTO ONE SONG?

'Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream' - (If you exclude the 3rd, you get the life of Kate Moss) Had John Lennon survived into 1995 he may in all likelihood have come up with something like this. There is a hint of the Beatles throughout Belew's work and although I would deem it as merely an avowed influence it is not, despite claims to the contrary by his many detractors, derivative. Let's face it, if you are even tenuously employed within the realm of popular music and are NOT influenced by the Beatles, it really is time for a career change don't ya think?

'Vrooom, Vroooom' - I feel this is tantamount to a remix of the opening track and although it deviates sufficiently to be entertaining it seems to rather 'over egg the pudding' somewhat. (Another slice?, no really I'm fit to burst thanks) The ascending motif is very similar to that employed on 'Red'.

'Vrooom, Vrooom, Coda' - Again, this reeks of an 'outtake' culled from an earlier version of some of the themes heard previously and yes, it is certainly bracing, but hardly constitutes a separate composition.

This is a very fine Crimson album that certainly breaks new ground for a band who have always stubbornly refused to sit still for any length of time. I do think that the charge of 'neo-metal' attached to some of their later work is rather an exaggerated one as there is considerably more variety and subtlety displayed here than on most of the other so-called prog metal outpourings I have heard.

Despite a rather leg weary finish on 'Thrak' the Crimson College first eleven managed to hold out in the end to vanquish their hated opponents in the Conformity Eleven. (Hooray! let's celebrate with lashings of pop and a midnight snack in the dorm chums)

KING CRIMSON Starless And Bible Black

Album · 1974 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.94 | 33 ratings
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- Rage, rage against the dying of the light - (Dylan Thomas)

According to Eric Tamm's book 'Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft' the majority of this album was recorded live and subsequently overdubbed to bring it to it's present form. If that is indeed the case, they have done a wonderful job of both removing the audience noise completely and disguising the origins of the performances. It seems that Fripp has an ongoing reservation about the studio being a valid medium as representative of a performance, and this half live/half studio hybrid possibly offered for him, an acceptable compromise between the two competing disciplines.

'The Great Deceiver' - After being accustomed to quiet mood building intros on previous albums, it's something of a shock to hit the ground running here with an explosive salvo of sixteenth note riffing from the violin and guitar over Bruford's manic kit groove. A truly spellbinding display of controlled power and dynamics from a band who sound leaner and hungrier than ever before. I particularly love John Wetton's voice as his faintly adenoidal tenor serves as the 'eye of the storm' at the center of the Crim tornado. The chorus here is so good that it would have served a more mainstream pop classic well. In lesser hands this type of unconventional structure can sound disjointed and unbalanced but King Crimson make the difficult sound monstrously easy (and vice versa - see Prelude: Song of the Gulls)

I think the lyrics are (unusually) Fripp's, and he casts a jaundiced eye over the commercialization of spirituality that pervades the modern age:

- Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the virgin mary -

'Lament' - Beautiful 'chiming bell' guitar sound enhances another fine vocal performance by Wetton in a song that betrays a jaded cynicism with the machinations of the rock world in general. A feature of Cross's violin playing throughout this record is how sparing it is and his contributions carry more weight as a result. Those duetted lead moments he shares with Fripp's fuzzy black liquorice tone are exquisite. Again, sublime use of dynamics in the separate parts and boasting a melody that even Lennon would have been proud.

'We'll Let You Know' - The dramatic style change that was initiated by 'Larks Tongues in Aspic' is emphasized on the improvisatory tracks like this one. More than any other band whose origins are from a predominantly rock tradition, Crimson demonstrate an ability to improvise using the vocabulary of rock as fluently as that employed in the jazz of say, Miles Davis various groups over the years. When Bruford and Wetton kick into the main groove after teasing us for several delightful minutes, the effect is that of an entirely credible white funk. Accept no imitations, these guys can make the Meters sound like pale Russian bank clerks. The title may be an overspill of the caustic from 'Lament' i.e don't call us etc ?

'The Night Watch' - The rapid trilling of the guitar on the intro appropriates a venetian mandolin, but there the comparison ends, as all conventional techniques in Fripp's erudite hands tend to. A very plaintive and haunting tune sung admirably as ever by Wetton. Even on something as harmonically conventional (by Crimson standards) as this is refreshingly free of the sort of 'ear candy' coating employed by so many of their contemporaries. Unadorned, humble and beautiful.

'Trio' - So named presumably because Bruford does not play on it ? This has a capricious celtic/middle eastern tinge and features some fantastic dynamic interplay between Fripp, Wetton and Cross. How unusual is this, a rock band where the individual members actually listen to what each other are playing?

'The Mincer' - After a very atmospheric build up we get a multi tracked psychedelia hued vocal from Wetton that portrays some harrowing and disturbing imagery.

- Fingers reaching, Fingers reeking. Jump for the scream, Good night, honey -

Your very expensively assembled 'Hi-Fi system falling through a black hole' effect at the conclusion is where the first reel of tape ran out half way through the original live recording.

'Starless and Bible Black' - Takes over from where 'We'll Let You Know' left off. Like most inspired phenomena, this is resistant to causal analysis and appears to inhabit the realm of 'happy accidents' that Fripp and co guessed could not be arrived at in any other fashion. Perhaps Robert was justified, and that the recording studio was not conducive to the realization of beautifully crafted moments like this? These types of tracks need LOTS of listens before they can seep into your affections, but on arrival, they remain there steadfast and true.

'Fracture' - For an album that contains no weak troughs at all, this is the certifiable highpoint of the set.

(If EVERYTHING is just peaks, why does the resulting landscape NOT look like a high altitude Holland? - .....Dunno)

In its 11 minute duration we hear a culmination of everything that Robert Fripp had learned up to that point in his driven quest for perfection throughout an inconsistent but adventurous career. The building blocks for this piece are almost without exception, very short phrases and motifs that are treated with a bewildering array of transpositions and modulations as the track progresses. All the elements that made this scarlet red animal so unique and thus an endangered species, are well in evidence throughout: Wetton's guttural bass provides the rock hook and generous heart, Cross supplies an ethereal mystic spirit, Bruford contributes a playful polyrythmic funk and Fripp mans the controls at Brain Central. A cerebral creature yes, but one that has learned to kick and scratch for both love and sustenance.

This is not a particularly accessible album, but one that will provide enduring rewards on repeated listens, so don't be discouraged by the paucity of conventionally 'pretty' music as what is here is damningly beautiful forever.


Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.18 | 37 ratings
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- Sang Froid Reptile With Overlapping Scales -

After the very lackluster 'In the Wake of Poseidon', this offering from the Crims was something of a return to form.

Given Fripp's penchant for a revolving door recruitment policy at this time, it is remarkable that any of these early recordings possess as much coherence as they do. Lake's absence is not particularly glaring, as Haskell serves up some very inventive and perhaps 'earthier' grooves on the bass and his singing is a real highlight of the album. A childhood buddy of Fripp, we have anecdotal evidence that he found the material here daunting and did not relish the whole undertaking one bit. Regardless of Gordon's misgivings, his vocals lend an interesting texture and counter balance to some of Fripp's epic designs.

I fear the sedentary axe hero overreached himself here with an unwieldy idea for a very ornate but ultimately unsuccessful concept album i.e the side-long 'Lizard' totally outstays its welcome and seems to take an inordinate length of time to explore then squeeze the life out of the musical materials presented.

The playing throughout is quite brilliant and the attention to detail is exemplary, but Fripp has never been shy of squarebashing his very illustrious troops into line, so why does he let Collins, Miller, Charig, Evans and Tippett noodle away just filling up space?

This is a great pity as the lyrical opening section with Jon Anderson's vocal is quite brilliant, managing to encompass groundbreaking structural and key change elements topped off by an exquisite and unforgettable chorus. Thereafter things degenerate into a lengthy and painstaking transition from straight to swung time with the music becoming progressively jazzier but increasingly ragged.

Fripp seems hell-bent on showing off this house to would be investors, but I for one, would keep my money in my pocket if all I am shown is the basement and a meticulous plan of the foundations.

Towards the end we do get some respite courtesy of a gorgeous bagpipe drone sound from Fripp's elegiac and wailing solitary guitar before..... Whoops...they've done it again. We end on a rather predictable note with some speeded up fairground music, a device they should have got out of their systems long after its deployment on previous releases.

Side one of 'Lizard' is much, much better as the shorter song based formats force Fripp and Co into an economy of style woefully absent on most of side two.

'Cirkus' - Haskell's voice lends this a spooky air and the dynamic development is beautifully executed with a sublime police siren riff at the climactic moments. Listen to Fripp's bizarre broken arpeggios on acoustic guitar during the verses and just marvel at how he makes such angular accompaniment work so well. One of Crimson's most underrated songs.

'Indoor Games' - A tune that extra terrestrial female infants practice skipping to in the playgrounds of Pluto? The quiet section in the middle is sublime but what sort of lollies were these guys sucking on?:

'Each afternoon you train baboons to sing on perspex coloured waterwings'

Wonderful acoustic guitar strumming from Fripp on the chorus and fantastic horn arrangement lending the piece a jazzy improvised feel (although its composed down to the very last detail - that's the trick)

'Happy Family' - almost like a nursery rhyme sung by Darth Vader with Haskell's voice twisted beyond all human recognition into a gleeful robotic snarl. Very beguiling little melody that is at once innocent and sinister, framed in a very inventive arrangement with suitably languid flourishes from Robert.

Someone told me once that this song might be about the Beatles but I can't discern any obvious reference to the fab four ?.

'Lady of the Dancing Water' - pretty, as in 'I Talk to the Wind' (slight return), but saved by some beautiful flute and that caramel texture that Haskell's voice lends to proceedings. In contrast with what comes before and after, this song seems like an afterthought. Not strictly filler, but out of context with the thematic feel of the album.

This record does have significant depth and detail so it rewards repeated listens but I fear that the following analogy may help summarize its flaws:

'They were arguing over which brand of camera to use to take pictures of the crash site, all the while oblivious to what caused the accident in the first place'


Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.61 | 33 ratings
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- And there was a beautiful view, but nobody could see, Cause everybody on the island was saying Look at me ! Look at me ! (Laurie Anderson) -

'Formentera Lady' - Is what happens when you stretch a good tune so far that the elastic snaps, leaving just a construction that conspires to be both stiff and flaccid simultaneously. It seems astonishing that the normally vigilant Fripp had fallen through the huge and creaky trapdoor of 'Moonchild' a second time. Not as aimless as the latter but one of the very few Crimson tracks that I am at pains to concede to the bands detractors, is nothing more than stoned hippy nonsense.

'Sailors Tale' - Shiver me timbers ! this is the proverbial bee's reinforced kneepads to be sure. The late Ian Wallace cooks up a molten percussion broth that is guaranteed to 'stick to yer ribs' while Bluebeard Bob sets sail on a fiery reign of fretboard terror plundering and laying waste to all that musical convention can put in his way. Breathtaking. The sound of conformity being forced to walk the plank.

Very few bands use the Mellotron as imaginatively as Crimson have done, and these 'icy shafts of sunlight' that uncloak the sulpherous interior of Sailor's Tale' contributes a glacial diffidence that is both unsentimental and beautiful.

The 'solo' guitar section is quite probably one of Robert Fripp's finest recorded moments, and I am still unsure if the effect he conjures here is achieved by some inspired 'detuning' of his guitar to facilitate these huge and gorgeous resonating chords. The source of the ominous subterranean bass drone at the end I cannot identify, but there is surely no finer equivalent even 37 years later ?

'The Letters' - Sinfield's habitually arcane and portentous lyrics may have been the midwife in the tortuous birth of rock's 'Gothic Ballad' as sung here by a clearly uncomfortable Burrell. If Lord Byron had penned a rock opera it may not have been even as overblown as this. Frustratingly, both the melody and accompaniment are very good but this verbiage should really give the Crimson King an even redder face.

'Ladies of the Road' - This is great fun and breathes some new life into that flagging old 'promiscuity' warhorse as perceived by denizens of the backstage debauch. The band seem only too keen to take the mickey out of themselves and even if the marvelous chorus is 'Chim Chim Cheree' lifted straight from 'Mary Poppins' it hardly really matters. Boz Burrell sounds suitably lecherous on the verses and the music mimics very well the dissolution it is attempting to illustrate.

'Prelude - Song of the Gulls' - Comes across as a rather short-handed attempt by the Lower School Fiddle Ensemble to premiere their first composition on Parents Night during a particularly virulent strain of flu. Pleasant enough but incongruously bland and 'safe' for a Crimson experience.

'Islands' - It seems to take a hell of a long time for this song to finally make its point and although sung beautifully and arranged well with careful use of dynamics, timbre and pace, it really should have been at least 5 minutes shorter. As betrayed later on his debut solo album 'Exposure', Fripp appears unable to resist the overriding temptation to remind us what an incredibly erudite chap he is by including some pointless banter he has with the orchestral players at the end.

I don't want to hear about the cutlery Robert, when you recommend a restaurant to eat.

Like many of the King Crimson albums up until the stylistic leap initiated by Larks Tongues', this record suffers from a maddening inconsistency. Boz Burrell escapes any blame however, as his bass and vocals certainly lend a bit of bluesy grunt to some of Fripp's otherwise dry and cerebral creations. Mel Collins also gets a clean bill of health and let's face it, the man has never emitted a spurious or tasteless note in his life.

Therefore I think the increasing frisson between Fripp and Sinfield may have been the source of some of the shortcomings that manifest themselves on 'Islands' and they were to part company forever soon after.

If only Robert had recruited Jerry Seinfeld instead...

KING CRIMSON In The Wake Of Poseidon

Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.36 | 35 ratings
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The King is dead...long live the king

Quite possibly the worst Crimson album ever released (so 'Earthbound' and 'Islands' sucked too, but at least they had some energy and balls) representing a particularly barren and fractious period in the band's history.

Lake and MacDonald appeared to jump ship in the middle of this and given the horrors on offer, probably chose wisely. Michael Giles was to follow soon thereafter and it seems clear from published records of this exodus that the Crims were not a happy bunch of campers.


'Pictures of a City' strays perilously close to '21st Century Schizoid Man' in its compositional structure but is still a belter in the Crims catalogue and easily the best track here by a country mile or two. The music before the singing starts appears to be a conventional minor blues but they manage somehow to coax an angular jarring effect out of these traditional changes ? I have always loved Michael Giles drumming and his unique style on their 1st two albums lends a rhythmic subtlety and anchor to the music.

'Cadence and Cascade' debuts the toffee coated larynx of Mr Gordon Haskell to beautiful effect as the song fits his soporific style perfectly. Interestingly, another version of this melody appears on the 'MacDonald and Giles' album under a different name. The writs must have been flying....

'Catfood' is rather silly but utilises the infectious bass riff in the Beatles 'Come Together' to great effect and, even though commercially orientated enough to be released as a single, manages to contain some truly freaky and avant garde piano from Tippett (the 'Top of the Pops' audience look bemused on the footage)

'In the Wake of Poseidon' ain't too shabby a song but its form and structure relegates it to being a pale imitation of 'Epitaph' from the debut album. Like an ornate and lavishly assembled marble archway to a mud hut.


'Peace' in its three guises is just plain drippy and wetter than a dolphin's wedding tackle. The melody is neither memorable in its unadorned or arranged settings and just seems like a waste of time all round. Lake's vocal is quite plaintive yes, but as for unforgettable hooks, you don't hang your coat on a spear do you ?


'The Devil's Triangle' or more appropriately, 'Satan's Chocolate Fireplace' is an incoherent welter of half-baked and unfinished ideas ladled over a sludgey bolero beat lifted straight from Holst's 'Planets Suite' Lovers of the Mellotron (of which I am more than partial) would even turn their noses up at this concoction. It just never goes anywhere or has a transitional development to speak of and seems to last for days. Intense yes, but so is a jackhammer.

King Crimson regrouped after this debacle and went on to record some of the most innovative music in the 70's bar none, and for their fortitude alone, we should be thankful.

Unfortunately this record suffers from the inevitable comparisons with its ground breaking predecessor, and Robert and his ever changing stalwarts of the Red Guard are guilty of applying 'In the Court's' template onto much weaker material which simply disintegrates under the strain.

KING CRIMSON In The Court Of The Crimson King

Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.34 | 42 ratings
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Crown of Thorns

Time for a little revisionism here methinks... Reviewers of this album are often at a loss to reconcile the disparity between its indisputable influence and its musical merit. In the case of the former, it made Prog fleetingly 'hip' and served to convince the money men that this type of artistic expression could shift shed loads of units. In the case of the latter, we are left with an endearing work that left its inimitable mark on all those who fell within its magical slipstream. Yes, this is one of the most important prog records EVER No, this is NOT the flawless masterpiece touted as a 5 star effort by most of the genre's myopic curators

Therefore, at the risk of appearing bludgeoning, there are only three tracks on this record that you really couldn't live without: 21st Century Schizoid Man - Epitaph - In the Court of the Crimson King

The remainder are pleasant enough but do inevitably betray the origins of the band in its gestation period of hippy 60's pop through freeform freakout wankery. ie. Giles + Giles + Fripp = Flanders + Swann + flares + chemicals

What is also interesting about this record is that it subsequently shaped everyone's perceptions of what King Crimson were about, irrespective of how much they grew and developed over time. To wit, mention the name to anyone over 40 and you will get that lazy response - 'Groovy, peace man, far out, let's all make love etc' - Anyone who has heard the band live circa 69-70 will testify that 'In the Court' only hints at the sort of ferocity and confrontational power that were integral to the Crimson experience. The irony of their 'hippy drippy' label is one that probably hindered Crimson's material success in later incarnations. If you seek further evidence, check out the numerous collectors club releases lovingly remastered by Robert Fripp himself to see the sort of feral jazz intensity they exuded live.

So for me at any rate, this album is not even representative of our fave red critter at the time of its release and it could be argued that 'Court' was culpable in creating a level of expectation amongst it's subjects that the Crimson King was never really in a position to satisfy. Much of this music has aged far less gracefully that that of it's contemporaries (the Nice, Procul Harum, Arthur Brown) and notwithstanding the three indispensable tracks, the earnest apologists for 'Moonchild' must be guilty of intuiting the 'Music of the Spheres' from the sound of their engines idling at a red light.


Album · 1974 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.58 | 45 ratings
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The Sinking of the Tritonic - Captain Scuttles the Ship

As far as I can tell, this was the last 70's King Crimson album released before Fripp disbanded the entity to allow him more time for 'head shopping' at Mystical Apocalyptic Visions R'Us (G. I. Gurdjieff - prop).

'Red' - The tritone (augmented 4th) interval has been exploited by many rock musicians over the years and is particularly beloved of the cartoon subversives who currently inhabit the metal domain. However, when used with originality, there are great examples of it's disorienting frisson on 'Symptom of the Universe' by Black Sabbath, 'YYZ' by Rush, 'Purple Haze' by Hendrix & 'Black Sabbath' by erm...Black Sabbath.

Unlike Tony Iommi however, Fripp & Co are not remotely stirred by the boyish blasphemies of those utilizing the 'diabolus in musica' as outlawed by the church music authorities in medieval times. There is a leanness and acuity in 'Red' that seems to be borne of a new found economy in much of Fripp's writing. Everything is very concisely structured and the innate extemporizing instincts are tightly reined in, which gives this track a brooding malevolent power that you feel if completely unleashed, would probably vaporise pets anywhere within the vicinity of a home entertainment system. The first hint of the metallic slant that would be further explored on their later output eg 'Thrak' - 'Power to Believe' etc

'Fallen Angel' - Not more references to the horny goateed one lads ? (tsk...) Another moving vocal performance from the infallible Wetton in a song that exploits more traditional harmonic structures to marvelous effect. It's amazing how Crimson can inhabit territory that is not a million miles away from say, Rush, and make the latter sound like field mice still stinging from their first shave. The middle section where Fripp and Wetton duet on a tightly woven instrumental passage is unnervingly beautiful with exemplary balance between the electric band and the various horns that weave their way throughout the song. In many ways perhaps this is what 'Lizard' side two was SUPPOSED to sound like ?

- Switchblade stings in one tenth of a moment, Better get back to the car -

PS Note to Peter Gabriel - When writing from the perspective of a Puerto Rican street punk from New York, it is not mandatory to affect a laughable American accent to approach authenticity. (see The Lamb Gives Up the Ghost on Broadway)

'One More Red Nightmare' - I am always struck by Bruford's percussion arsenal on this track as it seems he has taken a leaf (or in this case, a very heavy piece of sheet metal) out of Jamie Muir's book and employed same to mesmerizing effect. The drumming on this record is incredible and if any proof were needed as to how innovative and 'musical' a player Bill is, just point the doubters towards any track on this album. Like many Crim numbers from around this period, it veers off after the song section into what on first listen, appears a completely unrelated area, but somehow they conspire to make these devious tangents all reach a satisfying destination in the end. Uncanny. Trivia Fans - the only brilliant song I can think of that features handclaps.

'Providence' - Oh lordy...having recently lauded the lads to the heavens for their inspired improvs on 'Starless & Bible Black' it is with a heavy heart that I have to say this is the one wet eggy fart in the lovely shiny red space suit. There MUST have been scores of alternative improvisations they could have used surely ? As ever the playing and dynamics are faultless but it's an unstructured mess. The furious filling of air pockets by oxygen thieves. Like 'Moonchild' I am sure if you had been there, you would have exhaled softly and muttered 'incredible' with a far away look in your eye, (before promptly exiting the studio via an upstairs window on hearing the playback).

'Starless' - Given that it's a mighty crowded area, this is shoving its way to the front of the queue as best Crimson track EVER. Fripp's fondant guitar lead on the opening is so beautiful it audibly aches. The 'song' section is the finest melodic construction in the Crim catalogue and manifests a finely honed refinement of what 'Epitaph' and 'In the Wake of Poseidon' etc only hinted at.

- Sundown dazzling day, Gold through my eyes, But my eyes turned within, Only see, Starless and bible black -

The slow building crescendo section that follows features our old buddy the tritone in Wetton's pensive bassline over which Fripp contents himself with a skeletal 'one note ostinato' that is transposed accordingly to suit the harmonic progression in an edgy an increasingly spooky transition. As far as controlled dynamics, pace, texture and suspense are concerned, this should be compulsory listening to the prog/math metal wannabes who fashion light and shade out of 'fast very loud' and 'faster louder still.' What follows is a passage in what sounds like double time using the same (or very similar) musical material with the addition of jazzy flourishes from sax, trumpet and flute. This culminates in the denouement of the piece where the whole band embark on a majestic reprise of the main theme to a very satisfying conclusion. The band delay slightly their rejoinder to telling effect here, and the resultant weight and 'oomph' of the result is a climax of indefatigable beauty. (oooh you naughty man)

Were it not for the freeform widdley chops wank lapse represented by 'Providence' this would have been a 5 star effort. Notwithstanding the foregoing, a very fine album by a band at one of their many creative peaks during a 40 year roller coaster career.

KING CRIMSON Larks' Tongues In Aspic

Album · 1973 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.58 | 48 ratings
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Red Jelly Babies escape from the box and finally reach maturity

The quantum leap represented by this album in the Crim catalogue cannot be overstated. Everything that followed should have cast an unflattering light on the unfocused and misguided promise of Crimson's prior juvenilia. But no, for reasons of perhaps lazy journalism or plain ignorant stereotyping, the red critter will be forever depicted as a bloated 'dainty' wheezing in the slipstream of a crushed velvet underground it had long outpaced and left miles behind. (The guys behind you sometimes turn out to be a lap ahead of you)

So much of the music presented here flies in the face of the prevailing prog zeitgeist of 1973 that were it not so facile a contention, we could be forgiven for stating that King Crimson were the first punk band. Gone are the stupefied noodlings of Islands - the twee gothic romance of 'In the Court' - the self conscious cleverness of 'Lizard' and the wet stoned nonsense of 'Poseidon' (Yep, this is a U-turn incorporating six wheelies and the smell of burning rubber)

Instead, we are confronted with an unflinching and unforgiving discipline that somehow manages to harness jazz, classical, blues, pop, musique concrète, gamelan, african, raga, rock, metal and all points inbetween (and unknown) during this record's duration. The 30th anniversary edition, which I'm reviewing here, has been lovingly remastered to salvage many hitherto sunken treasures from the original vinyl mix. Bruford's polyrhythmic kit work and the percussion salvo delivered by Jamie Muir are noticeably enhanced here to mesmerising effect.

It's a long time since I listened to Bartok's string quartets, but there are discernible quotations from these via the violin of Cross and the guitar of Fripp throughout 'Larks Tongues'. I know that Bob has expressed a fondness for Bartok's chamber music in the past and of all the albums in Crimson's discography, the influence is at its most palpable here.

Our old buddy the tritone (augmented fourth) makes its presence felt in thrilling fashion on the corruscating 'Talking Drum' which builds in ominous brooding fashion until the screaming and visceral climax is reached leaving the listener drained but delirious (like sex for the ears but without the mopping up and the cigarettes) PS Why then is it that every live version I have heard since butchers the original by playing it just way too darn fast? (Someone should tell the lads about foreplay methinks)

The spoken dialogue that uncloaks itself from the background on 'Larks Tongues in Aspic Part 1' just prior to the eastern tinged conclusion I think must belong to that of Jamie Muir (being the owner of a suitably thick Scottish brogue) but as to its significance re:

'and hung by the neck until you are dead'

still remains completely unfathomable?. It takes a lot of listens for the underlying structure of this track to reveal itself, but you will be rewarded for your patience, with music that lives long in the memory afterwards, so stick with it.

From the plaintive balladry of 'Exiles' through the unadorned and exquisite brevity of 'Book of Saturday' to the guttural funky rock of 'Easy Money' there is not a single damp patch on the red mattress anywhere. The strident rock riffing, 'whisper to a scream' dynamics and instrumental interplay as evidenced on 'Larks Tongues Part 2' are worth the admission price alone, so just buy the damn thing and congratulate yourself on the gift of impeccable taste.

This is perhaps one of the most significant rock records of all time and one that completely dwarfs 'In the Court of the Crimson King' in terms of innovation, daring and influence. If ever a band were deserving of the epithet 'eclectic' it is surely King Crimson, who have perhaps unwittingly, given many sympathetic musicians entire genres within which to extract their lucrative careers. The irony of the Crims parlous financial plight at around the time of this album will not be lost on you I am sure gentle readers.

It might be best to let Jamie Muir have the final say. After all who's going to argue with a man who played a musical saw on stage, left one of the greatest prog rock bands ever to join a remote Monastry in Scotland then finally became a painter ?

'The way to discover the undiscovered in performing terms is to immediately reject all situations as you identify them (the cloud of unknowing) - which is to give music a future' - (Jamie Muir)

FRANK ZAPPA Joe's Grage Acts I, II & III

Boxset / Compilation · 1987 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 2.09 | 10 ratings
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Beached Harpoonist Claims Bullied by Whales

I felt secure in the knowledge that the worst concept album ever made by anyone, anywhere was 'Preservation Acts I & II' by the Kinks. This was a flimsy edifice of twee Orwellian drivel from a band I considered to be one of my favourites of all time.(and still do) Ray Davies' tale of a huge faceless corporation (read EVIL) that wished nothing more than to drive out ordinary people (read GOOD) from their humble villages (read GOOD) in the pursuit of mercenary gain, (read EVIL) for all its overreaching artifice and risible bravado, was at the very least sincere but grievously misguided.

'Joe's Garage' is much, much worse. Let me sum up the plot for you:

Rock'n'Roll is dumb and its practitioners often smell bad (yet somehow the prurient obsessions of hirsute guitar totin' plankton are our only hope of salvation from those who wish to stifle such sedition) Rock stars are the waay coolest enemies of the state as their music is subversive, dangerous and thus a threat to the pillars of convention.

Blow it out yer denim clad wazoo Frank, this document is all the proof needed that like charity, censorship begins at home. Had just one of his expensively assembled sessioneer luvvies had the cojones to advise Frank this whole disingenuous farce was a locker room summit, things may have turned out differently.

Circa 1979 in Zappa's post modern but pre Kinsey Report psyche, America 'hid' sex because it was 'dirty' and disapproved of 'Rawk' because it was the 'devil's music' and promoted 'carnal thoughts' ergo, he had a mandate to throw double entendres, blow-jobs, wet t-shirts, titties, beer and whatever other rotten fruit from his abandoned orchard at a prudish and blushing suburbia. In the soiled realm of the scatological (a non-sequitur to be sure) you get the overriding impression that toilet training must have been delivered by pets to their owners. The only individual or member of a demographic referenced in this album who actually has an undeniable hang up about sex, is Frank Zappa. In this cramped and humid FZ cosmology there are basically two types of female: Groupies and women who 'really' want to be groupies despite their protestations to the contrary.

As to what heavyweight chopmeisters such as Vinnie Colaiuta, Tommy Mars and Terry Bozzio were doing replicating the efforts of a bar band fuelled by Dutch Courage on many of these tracks is beyond me. If the Beatles White Album can be considered an affectionate and skilful homage to a wide variety of popular music styles, then Joe's Garage is its corollary: a spiteful and lazy parody of those styles that serves only to accentuate whatever vestige of merit remains in what is being ridiculed. One of the pifalls/benefits (you choose) inherent in lampooning musical genres is that your audience, if dumb or gauche enough, actually start to mistake your deceit for the genuine article. Zappa is certainly no lard-head but I'm sure that at this point from his embittered leer he would have derived great relish in passing off vinegar as Honky Château for under-age drinkers. All manner of scribbled approximations of what crass and venal popular culture represents are attempted here: parochial world music, booty motionless disco, Goths tackling funk, cartoon racism 'wops' doo-wop, farm-boy industrial, Not In My Back Yardies Reggae, debonair wino crooners and bogus boogie all merely serve to show Zappa's resentment that he couldn't write a single good pop song during his entire career. (It's harder than it looks Frankie snicker)

Many apologists for this archly conservative 'panto for longhairs' have cited Zappa's avowed inspiration sourced from the extant Iranian revolution. That someone might identify Islamic Sharia law, separation of the sexes, guardianship of the jurist and the veiling of females as representative of inalienable freedoms preferable to the brutal and violent imposition of western values can of course be debated at length, but FZ is clearly befuddled by a choice between the land of his birth propping up a dictatorial regime or replacing same with an equally repellent alternative.

It shouldn't come as any surprise that musicians as routinely accomplished as those gathered here cannot be unremittingly wretched for a whole 2 hours and there are a couple tracks on 'Joe's Garage' that escape the prevailing puerile gigglefest:

'Watermelon in Easter Hay' is an exquisitely beautiful guitar solo that boasts a tone and timbre unmatched in the entire FZ oeuvre. Over a sparing and largo 9/4 groove Frank weaves and flexes sinews of controlled power and lyricism all too often neglected in his vast arsenal of admirable chops. Wet T Shirt Night would have made a decent instrumental but isn't so erm...

If you're 14 years old, (biologically or otherwise) live close to Lake Clearasil and giggle at the words 'Moby Dick' or 'crevice' then this is your holy grail.

FRANK ZAPPA The Grand Wazoo (The Mothers)

Album · 1972 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.66 | 51 ratings
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Dr Heckle Throws Mr Jive Into A (Deserted) Mosh Pit

I've had to scoff some serious amounts of humble pie lately with regards to Zappa. For years I had considered 'Hot Rats' as about as good as he was likely to get in my estimation until I heard 'One Size Fits All' which supplanted the former on the winner's podium in the Lemming household. Well dip me in brie and call me a high cholesterol niche snack if you like, but the moustachioed one has gone and upset my fragile apple-cart once more. This is as sincere an artistic statement as Frank ever issued in his long and prolific career. There is none of the puerile scatology, bitter caustic or smug parody that littered his early work with the Mothers or his increasingly spiteful solo material intended for the rock demographic (see 'Joe's Garage') Something of an 'Oops Inside Your Head' malaise appears to have afflicted Zappa in the interim and we can only guess as to the underlying causes. His assault at a London concert, where a hirsute 'Rainbow warrior' shoved Frank into the empty orchestra pit, confined him to a wheelchair at around this time and such a traumatic episode would have had a salutary impact on anyone. Whether 'The Grand Wazoo' sold like mittens in a horror costumiers I'm not sure, but having your one heartfelt offering to the masses attract tepid indifference would hit any self respecting artist pretty hard. Perhaps Frank decided from that point on 'Screw Em...the real Frank Zappa is pearls before swine'. Instead of shrill recriminations let's just enjoy and celebrate an album that exemplifies what Jazz-rock could and should have been in stark contrast to that sterile, appeasing and hollow victory for accuracy that the genre degenerated into.

The Grand Wazoo - This may have been an instrumental version of a song called 'Think It Over' salvaged from part of Frank's aborted musical 'Hunchentoot.' It's testimony to Zappa's brilliance as a composer and arranger that he understood intuitively that a list of ingredients does not represent taste. For me to describe what this piece sounds like I'm gonna have to separate the constituent parts which completely misses the point of successful synergy i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Anyways, the predominant groove is redolent of a very sophisticated Chicago blues shuffle, over which Zappa has scored an ingenious big band style chart that Stan Kenton would rob the aged and infirm for featuring a 12 piece horn section, the uncanny drumming of Aynsley Dunbar and the languid but anchoring bass of the cryptically named Erroneous. (nee Alex Dmochowski, who may have cloaked his identity on account of not having a valid green card for the USA) The guitar sounds exploited by Zappa here and elsewhere on the album are worth mentioning as they sound as though the shimmering chorale effect they imitate may have been sourced from a wah wah pedal and a rotating Leslie speaker? As impressive as such heavy artillery might appear on the printed page, what use is state of the art weaponry if you're only firing soda at the infidel? Rest easy padre, as Zappa is packing some serious heat hereabouts in the shape of a stellar main theme, a beautiful developmental section and a finale resolution that is tantamount to a stealth bombing raid on the senses. Mercifully, the improvised orgies that soil so much of jazz-rock's pristine linen are avoided here by sweeping up those 'Miles' of noodles that would otherwise just litter the ticker tape parade. Witness the thrilling (but cruelly brief) slide guitar excursion by Toni Duran, a trombone solo from Bill Byers that slips, slithers and glides in admirable fashion before handing the baton to Sal Marquez's eloquent but still muted trumpet. Throw in Don Preston's Minimoog oscillator death throes and have the horns quote from Sol Bloom's 'Little Egypt' and you have in yer mittens one of the most enduring and eclectic masterpieces of music irrespective of category or style. If someone says they still loathe all Zappa's music after hearing this, they're either lying, deaf or the type of person who would buy a concert ticket solely for the purposes of throwing the main attraction into the orchestra pit.

For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers) - Opens with some swirling guitar picking that resembles those ambiguous and haunting chord 'clouds' created by McLaughlin's Mahavishnu. The only conventional vocals on the entire record are sung alternately by Janet Ferguson and Sal Marquez. This is borderline avant but despite my habitual resistance to the latter somehow manages to work in the most delightful way and is stubbornly resistant to any sort of causal analysis. A beautiful opening melody is interrupted by the mock operatic bravura of Marquez before the track slowly dissolves into a dissipating and stark ambience where (gulp) the dreaded chromatic percussion monster stirs from his lair but the resulting skeletal chiming is miraculously apt. Preston's Minimoog is subject to another full cavity body search and squeals and shrieks with a ferocity that belies its size before the whole bizarre undertaking just suddenly breathes its last. Odd, but in a good Mort Garson, Dick Hyman sorta way. Trivia fans are advised that the horns quote (I think) the 'New Brown Clouds' section of 'The Adventures of Greggery Peccary' halfway through the track.

Cletus Awreetus Awrightus - The wordless vocals are by the mysterious and best unexplained 'Chunky', George Duke (la la la's) and Frank Zappa (rum pum pum's) erm...respectively. This tune radiates playful fun in shed-loads and shorn of his routine mordant spleen, just proves that at the dark heart of the Zappa critter there once resided a kernel of innocent joy. The 'Tack' piano solo is by George Duke and the jesting tongue in cheek saxophone solo is delivered by the inspired and unerring Ernie Watts. Cartoon music for grown-ups.

Eat That Question - An unaccompanied glissando electric piano introduction by Duke, and never has Fender's flagship keyboard product been exploited to better effect. Listen carefully to how Dunbar mirrors with astonishing sensitivity the phrasing and articulation of Duke's magnificent solo without letting the propulsive groove drop for a second. You are in the presence of true greatness dear readers. Rhodes junkies everywhere will either be hyper ventilating or breaking out in hives before this number's conclusion. Although at surface level this entire composition is fuelled by a simple four bar phrase it's such a malleable and catchy theme that it begs to be explored further and Frank's wah wah drenched solo certainly confirms he knew he had a certifiable belter under his fingers and always invokes the spirit of Hendrix to my mind.

Blessed Relief - The most conventionally pretty music ever to have escaped Zappa's poison pen but it is neither sentimental, bland or ingratiating in the slightest. A delicious harmonic progression provides a worthy vehicle for Sal Marquez's trumpet which in places approaches burnished molten tears (sniffle) The textures, melodies and harmonies inhabit a creation so achingly beautiful that this is, without fear of contradiction, the only Zappa number that has ever made your feisty reviewer weep real salty rodent tear-drops. Once again, electric piano victims are advised to have a medic and overnight bag at the ready lest Duke's ethereal and spine tingling solo initiate a relapse into Rhodes dementia.

'The Grand Wazoo' is a true masterpiece and one that with telling irony was achieved during one of those few instances when Frank Zappa allowed his guard to drop momentarily to reveal a creature capable of music so accomplished and fuelled by genuine love of his art that the commensurate vulnerability he so abhorred and feared would have been cherished not scorned.


Album · 1968 · Bop
Cover art 4.16 | 10 ratings
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The Loneliest Monk On This Bi-Polar Sphere

I wasn’t trying to create something that would be hard to play. I just composed music that fit with how I was thinking. I knew musicians would dig it, because it sounded good. I didn’t want to play the way I’d heard music played all my life. I got tired of hearing that. I wanted to hear something else, something better. In fact, I wanted to play differently. I had a different conception of rhythm section, and all that.(Thelonious Monk 1965)

It stands to reason that the closer we try to approach any subject the greater the likelihood we may start confusing the particular with the general. Monk is a good case in point as most of the academic research conducted since his death from a stroke in 1982 has been clumsily filtered by the romantics in the interim. Ask yourself which you would rather explore: the warm, humorous, devoted and loving family man, a struggling black musician in a racist society respected and admired as pivotal in the painful birth throes of be-bop or: the maverick eccentric madman who danced a version of ring-shout on stage, was hospitalised 12 times, reduced to an alternately catatonic or manic pacing state during bi-polar episodes, heavy user of booze and hallucinogenics, busted for both his own possession of narcotics and those of Bud Powell, for whom he took the 'rap' that landed him inside for 60 days. My guess is that most of us would queue up with the rest of the rubberneckers hoping for a glimpse of road-kill in shades and sporting a beret. If it ain't obvious by now that Monk's enduring portrayal as a portal for 'derangement as muse' is completely erroneous, the inescapable facts seem to me pretty clear: He composed precisely zero when suffering from those bouts of manic depression he endured about 3 times a year during his life. Certainly his condition worsened towards the end but by that stage he was an incommunicado recluse cared for by his wife Nellie and his long-time benefactor Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. The latter installed a piano into his apartment, but Monk never went remotely near it once. His music would have sounded exactly as it sounds to us today with or without his debilitating mental illness. (The biggest regret is that perhaps his modest output of circa 70 tunes would have been significantly larger?)

What's fascinating about so many of Monk's compositions are that if the constituent elements are separated to be considered in isolation they sound plain vanilla 'wrong' e.g. 'Raise Four' could be deemed a conventional but 'quirky' blues interior but the hypnotic dissonant phrases he hammers over the top somehow conspire to contradict our habitual expectations of the form. Similarly on the aptly titled 'Ugly Beauty', Monk's only waltz original effortlessly embraces languid and listless simultaneously without any apparent tension or implied contradiction. Miraculous in short. Listen carefully to the piano solo here and witness a rare window into Monk's past as fastest gun in town from Minton's be-bop cradle in the 40's and you will hear glimpses of a technique comparable to Art Tatum. In the subsequent years he seems to have deliberately pared his pianistic style down to a minimalist level of what he felt was required to say the most with the least amount of virtuostic clutter. Progressive Rock shred enthusiasts and boudoir Olympians should really take heed of the following:

I’m one of the cats that used to start them playing like lightning. We used to play like lightning all night long up at Minton’s sometimes. I got tired playing fast all the time. You get so you automatically play fast. You can’t play no other way. If you notice, there’s a lot of musicians like that.(Thelonius Monk 1965)

There can't be many tunes in the jazz realm that span precisely 21 bars and any additions or subtractions would spoil the perfection of the overarching structure. 'Boo Boos Birthday' represents this astonishing feat and like so much of Monk's harmonic world inhabits a place where the internal logic of his conception is at odds with conventional musical norms. There are loads of musicians who attempt to ape Monk's angular melodies, clenched harmonies and off kilter rhythms but suffer the same fate as those whimsical pop tune-smiths who try to do a 'Syd Barrett by numbers'i.e. they just sound like upstart volcanoes who can only spit more rock.

One of the few disappointments on 'Underground' for me is 'Easy Street' which comes across as Monk's take on the sort of lounge jazz that has been endemic since the likes of Oscar Peterson raised the bar for the weight bearing expectations of piano stools the world over. Nice but nah...

'Green Chimneys' was inspired by the name of the school that Monk's daughter (Boo Boo) attended and has one of those obsessive percussive ostinatos that he made so inalienably his own. Charlie Rouse's sax really illuminates on this number as he has a rare intuitive grasp of how best to embellish upon the composer's habitually cryptic melodic shorthand. The side-men on this session represent one of the most stable and enduring of Monk's quartets: Ben Riley (drums) and Larry Gales (bass) and the aforementioned Rouse (tenor sax) had been extensively road-tested during Monk's European tours arranged by his lifelong champion and friend Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Riley's drum solos on 'In Walked Bud' and 'Green Chimneys' are a litmus test for an interactive drummer i.e. his ideas are sourced from the implications of the music and not just by looting a locker full of 'whoop de doo' chops.

The vocal interpretation of the bop chestnut 'In Walked Bud' is a real eye opener and kudos to Jon Hendricks for providing a phenomenon hitherto unknown to me: a scat vocal and lyrics that do not induce toe curling agony in your reviewer. The chromatic descending harmonies are pure unadulterated Monk and he and the entire band manage to breathe invigorating new aenima into this rather mottled critter.

All things considered this is a very strong and enduring album that despite the art department of Columbia's efforts to sell Monk as one, is nowhere near the machine-gun totin' revolutionary status of something like 'Brilliant Corners' (albeit that was from nearly a decade prior)

If it's true that scarcity is the only thing that confers a value on anything, then Thelonious Monk's stock will continue to rise into the firmament and beyond until such time as humanoids are born bereft of ears and a fragile spongy connecting bridge betwixt.


Album · 2004 · Fusion
Cover art 2.09 | 7 ratings
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Pierre's Pit-Crew are the Pits

Since when did Gong become a franchise? Planet Gong, New York Gong, Mother Gong, Acid Mothers Gong, Gong Global Family, Gongzilla, Swiss Family Gong, Gong R'us and Pierre Moerlen's Gong have all appropriated the name with various and often conflicting motives with which to expound on the group's mythology. It is perhaps the jazz fusion branch of the network that could be deemed furthest removed from the hippy cosmology wafting from Head Office. That ain't a bad thing in my book, as pig-farming egyptologists who receive alien radio broadcasts via their earrings and take to the skies in vessels originally designed to house hot beverages are usually more than sufficient to 'rip a rodent's knitting' big time. I've never yet made it through any of the Radio Gnome trilogy efforts on a full stomach but liked the plain vanilla fusion material of Gazeuse sufficiently to take a punt on this album from 2004. Lemmings are very short sighted creatures and my cash was inside the till before I managed to decipher from the sleeve that this was just Moerlen and some Russian speed typists he hooked up with in Moscow circa 2002.

Musea's helpful description of their wares declares: Thirteen instrumental pieces full of groove, power and sophistication are to be heard, some more hypnotic or peaceful moments being also present in a very melodic jazz-rock fusion style.

What is there not to like?

For those consumers amongst us who might wish to make the desired 'informed choice' hereabouts try this:

Store your ambient hippy baggage in the overhead lockers on a smoother than silk flight that unlike 'Teapot Airlines' is strictly non-smoking. Between the roomy aisles you will be served minuscule portions of dried and professionally airbrushed nibbles that would struggle to satisfy your pedigree chihuahua ensconced safely in the hold.

God if one of these guys farted I'm sure the studio walls were tripped to fill the place with concealing pot-pourri. It's all very urbane, polite and professional 'north of the waist' but lacks the southern 'baby makers' to fill those roomy Cossack pants. These guys are but time served mechanics to Moerlen's racing driver. Once again Pierre leaves behind further evidence that he was was one of the finest and most versatile skin thumpers on the planet. I enjoy both his drumming and mallet percussion considerably more than I do the compositions here. His collaborators have chops in abundance but a finger-bowl of melodic ideas from which to draw upon and almost every track develops along wearyingly familiar lines:

A short melodic motif on vibes is repeated over a static harmony for circa 4 bars and then is transposed intact to fit over the next static harmony in the chain for the next 4 bars etc. All manner of fiendish meter changes and solos from the 'School of Widdley' are deployed en route but the sheer numbing predictability of these fraudulent mystery tours is enough to clot the capillaries in your ears. It's not an entirely featureless landscape however but what peaks/depths exist do not require any ropes or crampons:

Airway to Seven - Most composers compelled to tell you their piece is in 7 beat phrase length must have something to hide. It's not normally something like this fondant monstrosity of nonchalant calm. Circa 1 min 45 secs (ish) there is a piano solo that sounds chillingly familiar to (gulp) Body Talk by soul/dance criminals Imagination.

Pentanine Part 1 - Occupies the sort of dreamy arpeggiated territory inhabited by Happy the Man and ain't bad with a 5 beat phrase length and a lovely synth patch from Meehail Ogorodov to perk proceeding up but halts very clumsily and abruptly to embark on some twittering whirry electronica which leads exactly nowhere but eats up the clock.

Trip a la Mode - Either an affectionate homage to the gamelan guitar Discipline era Crimson or a shameless rip off. (You pays yer money etc) Decent but as accomplished a bass player as Alexai Pleschunov is, he sure ain't no Tony Levin. I could also have lived without the 'dance handclaps' fellas.

Classique - This does possess a welcome bit of grunt about it but the same rhythmic phrase is repeated ad infinitum throughout and comes to resemble a flightless bird's increasingly desperate attempts at migration. Fusion appears to have hatched countless dodos like this critter.

Lacheur - Nice subtle swung sixteenths feel a la hip-hop but yet again the same modest idea is stretched to breaking point.

Blue Nuit - Someone appears to have tremulously asked for the directions to the suburbs of 'bombastic' on this number. Perhaps the most fully realised composition on offer as it has a clear statement, development and conclusion that most of the other tracks lack. Arkady Kuznetsov really steps up to the plate on this one with a fine and poignant fuzz guitar solo which even contains some lyrical ideas I can remember afterwards. On the downside it has an climactic ending that makes coitus interruptus seem elegant by comparison.

Judging by the welter of competing claims to the rich and varied Gong legacy, there are many out there who would say with some justification that this really ain't the 'real McGong' as the only founding member to hand is that of Pierre Moerlen. My knowledge of this group is admittedly extremely limited but they appear to oscillate between the polar opposites of dippy hippy tomfoolery and sterile anodyne conservatism. I probably need to explore their vast output some more as there must exist somewhere a much happier middle ground than that represented by Pentanine

JOHN ZORN Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman

Album · 1988 · Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 2.43 | 5 ratings
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Picking Up the Tab For Free Jazz

How do you describe the taste of chicken if you don't like chicken ? Some would say you shouldn't by virtue of being deemed a closet vegetarian. Others would say by being objective i.e as if by some other worldly journalistic conceit you were able to inhabit the sense organs of a 3rd party chicken lover. Until such time as the 'Vulcan Mind Meld' becomes standard issue for humanoid critters, prejudice, subjectivity, aesthetic sensibility and plain vanilla you will stubbornly hold sway.

What's sauce for the goose cannot camouflage a deficit of golden eggs.

I have an innate aversion to the 'abstract' in any art form and with music, especially so. That said, I don't consider either my tastes to be conservative ones or my willingness to persevere with challenging music to be found wanting.The important thing is that I want to delight in and appreciate all music but if I can't I do resent the corollary that my resistance is invalidated by my lack of understanding. It's sound, I've got ears and a (tiny) brain plus I'm sincere (I think I'm actually over-qualified)

There's a Carl Stalling 'cartoon violence' surface to this music reflected by the faux 'urban primitives' artwork which depicts scenes of self mutilation, S & M, torture, suicide and metropolitan dissolution peopled by grotesque cutesy parodies of suffering. The New York School of Highly Strung Arts has often been guilty of elevating our basest instincts into a vicarious confrontation of ugliness its graduates would run a mile from if encountered in the street. This is fantasy combat for those who've never been in a fight. Similarly, the notorious artwork that adorns the various Naked City releases features gratuitous imagery of executions, corpses, medical illustrations, yet more S & M plus torture victims and smacks of whining self-aggrandisement that hitherto I believed was the preserve of the boyish blasphemies from the metal brigade. The sleeve-notes really don't help in dismantling this prejudice either e.g. F**king hardcore rules, smash racism (?) Inside every Webster University Conservatoire student there is a big apple street punk just bursting to get out. Right on bro. We can't judge the book by the cover but in this instance, deprived of any articulated statement being discernible therein, it's all I have to go on as regards intent.

The 17 tracks are short and mercifully have titles, as given their uniformly searing blandness, how else could you tell them apart ? That Messrs Zorn, Berne, Dresser, Baron and Vatcher are all consummately skilled musicians is not even up for debate here but the quintet appear to be hell-bent on regressing to a primordial state where notions of form and structure are considered impediments to drawing from the well of pure subjective creativity. Rather ironically, the charges of self-indulgence hurled at many a Prog giant are dwarfed by this avant dinosaur. What vestige of architecture still remains on this scorched earth location comes courtesy of the indelibly recognisable melodic skyline of Ornette Coleman's original tunes.(Which is a double whammy for your reviewer as I loathe the source and the destination equally e.g like hearing a Bay City Rollers album of Osmonds covers)

That Zorn strenuously resists all preconceived labels and categorisations for his music is of course a laudable sentiment but we are left with the overriding conclusion that it can only be described by what it isn't or what it lacks. (Bald ain't a hair colour) I do have a great deal of respect for John Zorn as a facilitator for music that would not ordinarily find a commercial outlet (via his artists 'not for profit' co-operative record label Tzadik) and he should be applauded for his efforts in this regard. He has recorded and contributed to more music than even someone as prolific as the late Frank Zappa and I'm not going to pretend that Spy v Spy is indicative of any of his other work (cos apart from the aforementioned Naked City project, I ain't heard any)

If sublimated aggression is your 'thang' and have an affection for shrill disaffection, grindcore, noiserock, carry a subscription to The Wire and think the latter's Ian Penman a literary genius - take a ringside seat.

(I'll be over in the corner with a white towel)


Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.26 | 6 ratings
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The Blues had a baby and they called it Progressive Jazz Rock

Although I can find no direct references in any of the lyrics I am able to decipher, this album may be based upon the 1951 novel of the same name by Josephine Tey. The plot of this book is concerned with whether Richard III, King of England actually murdered his nephews, the 'Princes in the Tower' The latter's claims to the throne were negated by being deemed illegitimate under a document titled the Titulus Regius published in 1483.

(Yeah so ? get on with it you long winded rodent)

'Three Score and Ten Amen' - The incongruous spectre of Ennio Morricone pops his head over the parapet here on the choral intro for this teleologically inclined rumination on our all too brief mortality. Thereafter, Farlowe proves once again that despite his much documented and rather paradoxical obsession with Nazi memorabilia, he was really christened Christopher 'Tyrone' Farlowe. We are in the presence of perhaps the only man without a perennial suntan capable of flicking wet towels at that rather redundant cliche that 'honky' can't sing da blooz. Clemson's playing I don't really much care for as large swathes of the classic double Live album are sullied by his 'Blues Rock for Dummies' soloing. He is somewhat more restrained here however, and apart from the odd wah wah drenched cold shower in places, is mercifully consigned to the 'shallow end of the gene pool' for the most part. The horns have an unmistakable 'Jazz with a British accent' inflection and prevents much of this record from degenerating into a pale take on the similarly minded early 'Chicago' or 'Blood Sweat and Tears' from across the pond. This is a great opening song with a bristling delivery from Farlowe over a delicious chord progression apportioned very imaginatively between Greenslade, Clemson, Heckstall-Smith, Clark and Hiseman. The brief narrative that appears however, unless tackled by someone like Lou Reed, Mark E. Smith or William Burroughs, ends up as rather trite and mawkish and does spoil an otherwise sublime track accordingly. Chris Farlowe's declamatory vocal stylings are often considered OTT but hey, this is 'prog' baby ! and understatement has never really been on the menu at the 'Bombastic Takeaway'. The song ends on a particularly memorable note with stabbing horns on an unresolved dissonant chord. Very unsettling and powerful.

'Time Lament' - Some very neurotic brass and string writing introduces this and takes on the mantle of a rather disquieting chamber music as realized by someone like Zappa. Things settle down quickly with gorgeous shimmering organ chords and tasteful breathy sax injections. The sung section has a very stately and tenuously hymnal style and as you would expect, Farlowe milks this pious atmosphere for all it's worth with another larynx flexing delivery sufficient to snuff out liturgical candles. The pace then quickens with a lovely bubbling organ motif before we embark on a very tightly disciplined stop/start section which also carries a trace of the staccato writing style of Zappa circa Orchestral Favourites Heckstall-Smith lends some signature wailing sax to a quieter section and together with Mel Collins, these two are probably the only credible jazz sax players on a rock record I have heard. The nervy strings and brass get reprised briefly before the band kick into a syncopated riff with shades of America by the Nice. The whole song never sits still for long and this ever changing structure lends it a schizophrenic feel throughout. For the ending we meet some heavy brass chording dragged inexorably downwards by the magnetic pull of the descending harmonic progression. Two belters to start with. Things are looking good*.

'Take Me Back to Doomsday' - (*I knew I would rue those badly chosen words) The witty gallows humour in the title is unfortunately one of the few redeeming factors in this track. Dave Greenslade's rippling piano is very attractive and even the reviled Clemson is tasteful here, but the 60's harmony vocals over a chugging Deep Purple type groove is hopelessly dated and without a memorable tune this really ain't going to win any friends 'round these parts. There is an extended instrumental passage with some nice flute and some rather aimless sax squawking and noodling redolent of the 'OFF your face' while the red 'record' bulb is ON which Crimson were guilty of on both Islands and Lizard

'The Daughter of Time' - Comes across fleetingly on the intro as a parody of lounge lizard jazz as explored by Zappa (the irreverent moustachioed one is quite a palpable influence on much of this album) before we transition into more staccato writing featuring a very arresting sax put through a chorus effect a la VDGG. As tantalizing as this may appear, when we do encounter Farlowe again, the melody alas, is a portentous dirge that makes Lamonte Young sound positively capricious by comparison. Very disappointing

'Theme For an Imaginary Western' - the Pete Brown and Jack Bruce penned classic is beautifully read by Farlowe and suits his soulful delivery perfectly. Given the wretchedness of his subsequent group's attempt on Spyglass Guest, Greenslade's organ somewhat ironically sets the mood perfectly for this very powerful song. This track represents Clemson's most successful contribution to the record and I think it significant that he shines when playing simpler chordal arpeggios and phrases that outline the harmony at the 'dusty end' of the fretboard as opposed to his habitual screechy noodling at the other end. Must take this opportunity to underline what a very accomplished and supportive drummer Hiseman has always been and I am surprised his name does not crop up more frequently when the 'great and the good' are debated from the drum stool ?.

'Bring Out Your Dead' - This morbid humour is getting beyond the pale fellas ? Greenslade's Hammond conjures up a rattlesnake slithering on the desert sands during a very dramatic intro before we gallop off into a brisk instrumental that betrays shades of the Nice in places. The main theme is stated in unison by guitar and organ and eventually joined by sax before we are temporarily unseated by another wah-wah (why why ?) drenched solo from Clemson. A feature of Colosseum was the great use that Greenslade made of vibes during the quieter atmospheric sections of their work and there is a beautiful and delicate example of that here which contributes an ethereal texture in contrast to the driving urgency that preceded it. The unrelenting pace is halted during a section where more start/stop rapid unison playing is exploited to telling and percussive effect. This is a very fine composition and represents my favourite side of Colosseum i.e. their forays into predominantly instrumental writing where the band dispense with their habitual blues vocabulary. I feel it is in this territory that they were at their most innovative and far-sighted.

'Downhill and Shadows' - This '3am in a blues club with just a solitary chain smoking waiter for company' number features some suitably slurred and wailing solitary sax from Heckstall-Smith in inebriated busker mode. He utilizes that 'two horns at once' trademark here a la Graham Bond and I think quotes or prefaces momentarily from Valentyne Suite ? This funereal and brooding blues which both Farlowe and the band could perform in their sleep is a rather unsatisfying conclusion to the album. Given their impressive and glowing resumes garnered from the Illuminati of the UK R'n'B scene this is tantamount to 'Blues on Autopilot.' As much as it healthy to acknowledge your roots and influences there is much evidence here to suggest that Colosseum are not using the blues as a vehicle to expand that particular idiom but merely thumbing down a lift from the next passing car. Dull.

'The Time Machine' - Another best left unreleased 'bonus' track this time a pointless live drum extravaganza by Hiseman. Demographically speaking, drum clinics are attended in the main by drummers and who am I to undermine democracy ? (and don't the word 'clinic' denote something unwholesome here ?) There is of course great playing by a consummate technician but this is 8 minutes of your life you wish you had spent gardening instead.

BEWARE: at 2min 30secs(ish) we get a truly infectious rolling funk beat which will probably be sampled and looped by one of those 'one word a minute typists with a synthesizer' from the dance fraternity and mutated into a jack hammering global smash.

Don't say you weren't warned....


Album · 1972 · Fusion
Cover art 3.54 | 14 ratings
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Bury This Cant

Oh dear....what a sprawling mess of a record this is to be sure. After the lightweight but delightful 'O Caroline' kicks things off, it just degenerates thereafter into a rambling and incoherent noodle fest. Although Robert Wyatt is a musician I have the utmost regard for, his decision to squander part of 1971 with these lazy hippies is at best, dubious. You can rest assured that the majority of track times listed here correlate exactly to how long these songs took to write. This is fusion/freeform improv wank taken to it's inevitable and dreary conclusion. Without any sort of underlying structure or form to hang your ideas onto, you end up spitting into the wind like Matching Mole do here. To be fair, the drummer tries hard to inject some sort of propulsive direction to the proceedings, but very often he abandons this under the unflinching incoherence all around him. Fuzz bass, fuzz organ, fuzz guitar, fuzz Rhodes and fuzz head(s) are the main ingredients in the appalling and badly recorded mix. The Canterbury crowd has thrown up some unequivocal gems like National Health, Hatfield & the North, Kevin Ayers etc but this is just undisciplined and amateur tomfoolery that should never have seen the light of day. It is particularly ironic that charges of self indulgence, long windedness, and lack of respect for your audience are reserved primarily for the prog giants like ELP, Yes, Genesis et al and yet here we have, preserved in atrocious stereo, everything that has rendered the label progressive rock a pejorative one.

GONG Gazeuse! (aka Expresso)

Album · 1976 · Fusion
Cover art 3.99 | 26 ratings
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SxE Gong - the Miracle Hair Restorer

My sister once dated a Gnome Radio ham and when the relationship ended in tears (hers) she won custody of four Gong albums and bequeathed same to her little brother (moi) Forever hence, the original owner of said vinyl was referred to simply as 'the hairy stranger to soap' by Lemming soeur. To date I have never been able to make it through any of the Radio Gnome trilogy but was amazed to discover that this album is as coherent and disciplined as the former are rambling and slapdash. There is not a single pixie, orgone accumulator, teapot or paean to the futility of bathing anywhere on Gazeuse, and I really should recast the world's most grievously irritating longhair commune band in a whole new light. This is straight up jazz rock fusion, with themes, improvisations and recapitulations that Mahavishnu, Return to Forever and Weather Report would kill for. After a chemically constructed 'wall of force' decreed that Daevid Allen quit the original lineup they were still two albums short of fulfilling a contract with Virgin Records. Pierre Moerlen appears to have stepped in at this point to take control of affairs and whether he is considered a control freak or not, we should be thankful he grasped the reins, as shorn of Allen's wacky zaniness (a.k.a.stoned smug hippies dicking about) and without Hillage's gaudy psychedelia laced guitar this is a very different fusion beastie indeed.

Straight Edge Gong anyone ?

Expresso - I had to do a double take here as this can't be the same band that named a track I am Your Pussy can it ? Very carefully structured and paced right down to the last detail with sparing use of staccato unison sections and bolstered by the molten steel of Holdsworth's legato guitar. The textural detail provided by his brother's subtle vibes behind Moerlen Snr's intricate and groovin' kit plus the sparing sax interjections via Didier Malherbe are a joy. Even that 70's studio conceit of phasing the drum fills doesn't irritate here such is the strength of the material and playing throughout. Lovely double time contradiction towards the end set up by the chromatic percussion getting busier over the unwavering pulse of the underlying groove. I could swear my hair has grown since this track started ...

Night Illusion - Must be the first time I have heard Holdsworth play conventional power chords as illustrated by the intro. Another very robust composition with a main theme that lingers long in the noggin afterwards. If nothing else this album has convinced me that Pierre Moerlen is one of the best drummers I have ever heard and once again the dynamic contrasts afforded by the wealth of chromatic percussion deployed gives the track a depth of detail that rewards repeated listens. Zappa had a lifelong mallet fetish but he seldom put them to such effective use as Gong do on Gazeuse.

Percolations Parts 1 & 2 - The first part confounds my habitual prejudice about ambient style atmospherics i.e. this is assuredly not just any old flotsam drowned in a big reverb. Gorgeous swathes of composed chordal washes provide a backdrop whose source appears to be that of a pedal steel guitar put through a variety of chorused and/or overdubbed harmonies. (Whatever, it is just industrial strength sumptuous y'all) The second part racks up the tempo considerably and steals a march on much of the gamelan guitar work of the Crims that was to follow circa 1981 but here stated on vibraphone, mallets, marimba and glockenspiel. Take care to notice the compelling use of timpani on Percolations as unlike many rock bands, Gong resist the temptation to go bombastic '1812 meltdown' when armed with the orchestral critters. I am probably one of the few non-drummers who actually enjoys many drum solos and the one here provided by the multi talented Moerlen is as good an example of a carefully composed and 'musical' excursion I have encountered. Right up on a par with Billy Cobham and Tony Williams (praise indeed) Is that a light covering of fuzz I can now feel on my bald patch ?

Shadows of - Perhaps the best track on the album. Almost a perfect example of what jazz rock could be (but seldom is) The main theme is tear wellingly beautiful and the subsequent sections that follow, although all clearly discernible, serve to add to the whole and flow seamlessly into each other as the piece develops. Holdsworth's solo is a veritable 'stag night at the Whammy bar' and is just another example of the sort of light and shade and dynamic contrast that appears to have left his work as the years went by. Is this a fringe I see before me ?....

Esnuria - Crunchy riffing from Holdsworth and a rhythmic feel not a million miles away from Bill Bruford's Earthworks. Lovely ostinato from Malherbe mixed tantalising low in the mix as if to tease us into reaching for the 'repeat' button. Francis Mose contributes some plaintive singing bass on this number and like everything at the bottom end on Gazeuse, plays just enough and no more to get the job done. This discipline may be a product of his stint in early Magma ?

Mireille - Rather roomy little tail-ender. Not completely redundant as it does contain some plaintive acoustic from Holdsworth over some dislocated and dreamy harmonic accompaniment via Mose's ethereal Rhodes and neurotic acoustic piano. Although hardly a 'sea parter' it's the only track that features keyboards.

Gong's output appears to be split abruptly between the communal fruits of psychedelic breakfast cereal and the latter fusion material. Whatever side of the fence your preferences might lie, I am convinced that lengthy exposure to this band might actually promote hair restoration in we balding and ageing proggers. So wedge that retreating mullet between the speakers and watch that thick glossy pate miraculously regenerate itself.


Album · 1963 · Blues
Cover art 3.14 | 2 ratings
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Jimmy Smith is the only reason I started to listen to jazz and he represents an attractive portal for many other newbies to dip their tootsies into what can seem a huge and forbidding pool.

(His name cropped up constantly whenever my Prog Rock hero Keith Emerson was asked to name-check his formative influences)

Despite the teasing of my buddies in exploring Smith's output e.g. 'Come on man, that's old geezer's music'

I persisted and discovered a brand new world had opened its doors wide to me. Jimmy's glut of trio albums are a tad predictable and often retread a well beaten path so the big band albums soon became my favourites. On first acquaintance, this will strike the casual listener as plain vanilla blues plus horns, but on closer inspection is revealed a hard bop sensibility wedded to a very attractive and accessible soul-jazz style. No matter how sophisticated and angular Jimmy's rapid monophonic bop inflected runs can get, there is always a shed load of groove underneath to help the medicine go down. Like Lalo Schifrin, Oliver Nelson's charts are big, bold, brash and sumptuously tacky which serve to frame Smith's bluesy eloquence against a suitably populist backdrop. Take heed however, that there are in places a few servings of supper-clubhouse 'scampi in a basket on a bed of latin percussion' where Jimmy's lyrical take on the main theme is stated but these are mercifully short-lived and few and far between. 'I Can't Stop Loving You' and 'Meditation' are probably the worst offenders here as fondant flute plus latin percussion always adds up to Hubert Laws in my flawed arithmetic. The highlights on this set are the title track where a lonely and dissolute harmonica slurs against Nelson's funereal shuffling horns while Smith teases us with some rippling runs cunningly placed low in the mix. The effect of his ensuing solo thus erupting in full guttural throaty stereo is beautifully realised. Dining out from inside a dumpster in Cardboard City has never sounded this attractive. Horace Silver's 'The Preacher' receives an addictive swinging treatment utilising a seedy defrocked gospel tone while Smith and Nelson somehow conspire to transform a song I heartily loathe (Fat's Domino's 'Blueberry Hill') into something else entirely and quite irresistible. 'Walk Right In' is reminiscent of the sort of Big Band arrangements made famous by Cab Calloway (that's gotta be a good thing in my book) This is certainly not the best Jimmy Smith Big Band album out there ('The Cat', 'Any Number Can Win' and 'Bashin'are probably superior) but it's a safe place to start and just might lead you further afield in due course to the delights of Larry Young, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery and points unknown.

AREA Maledetti (maudits)

Album · 1976 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.83 | 13 ratings
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The Posse that Lynched the Hangman - A Spaghetti Western

We should never lose sight of the context within which a work of art is created. In the noughties, those in the west are undoubtedly guilty of taking for granted most of the freedoms not enjoyed by artists who existed under less liberal regimes. To wit, some of the greatest creations of all time are forged from clandestine resources and exist IN SPITE of the prevailing controls designed to stifle them.

It's very easy to smirk knowingly at say, Poland's Exodus, Estonia's In Spe, Hungary's Panta Rhei and Slovakia's Collegium Musicum and twitter

- that's really just pedestrian rock and SO derivative -

without stopping to realise that ownership of ELP's Pictures at an Exhibition at one time in Budapest would have had you locked up. Although Soviet era eastern Europe can hardly be compared to a relatively urbane and democratic Mediterranean nation, the fact that art cannot exist in a vacuum still holds true.

I have many Italian friends, most of whom grew up in Italy during the late 60's early 70's and they would agree without hesitation that it suffers from an endemically corrupt society where the only crime acknowledged in the popular consciousness is 'getting caught'.

It should come as no surprise therefore to discover a vigorous reaction to this deficit of integrity from the nation's youth to reclaim that yawning space abandoned by institutionalized duplicity. Such is the volatility of Italian socio political life that all manner of polar opposites and extremes over the years have managed to enjoy their 15 minutes of allotted infamy from the hustings. It is from this forbidding soil that such rare blooms as Area have conspired to grow, mutate and nurture an agenda aimed at addressing the bullying administered to a shrinking and timid idealism by the forces of reaction.

Unfortunately however, like many other purveyors of an egalitarian manifesto, Area are found guilty on all charges of conspiring to send the disenfranchised masses into the class struggle accompanied only by a posturing conceptual art-wank soundtrack.

The unarmed cannot declare a cease-fire and do Area really think that complex, challenging and dissonant jazzrock is anything other than 'preaching to the converted' i.e the liberal intelligentsia who can actually appreciate this stuff ? Joe Blow might just march to the Stones and Oasis, kill the king and rail at all his servants , but he would look on in baffled dismay at what he sees as the hollow rhetoric of elitist and pretentious poseurs.

Evaporazione - As if to say, 'this ain't no party, this ain't no CBGB's, this is not entertainment Ladies and Gentlemen, we have something to tell you and it's not very nice' . Similar in spirit to that of the intro used by Fripp on Exposure. Mercifully brief.

Diforisma urbano - Like submerging yourself in a warm and sumptuous analogue bubble bath. Industrial strength 'funky' with some glorious synth, bass and drum interplay and a memorable rejoinder theme which reappears at intervals throughout. Redolent of some of Miles Davis fusion work but free from the noodley meanderings of the latter. Many singers have designs on using their voice as if it were an improvising instrument, but none come as close to the startling effect Stratos achieves here. Makes even the redoubtable Sara Vaughan sound like a karaoke busker.

Gerontocrazia - More incredible singing/vocalizing by Stratos which we get to enjoy up close on an acapella intro which you will never forget once heard. His voice is surely one of the most astonishing I have ever encountered, and lends Area's volatile music an indelible and compensating texture. He soars, swoops, flutters, screams, shrieks, squawks and croons in equal measure and must be deserving of a freshly minted instrumental category all by himself by now surely ? (Demetrio on Stratos-caster) Thereafter we gradually move into a section for the emerging band which encompasses Mediterranean, Arabic, North African and jazz dialects all poured liberally into an intoxicating and nicely simmering stew. Paolo Salvi's visceral and pulsing cello is particularly effective here and the synth palette of Patrizio Fariselli is unfailingly appropriate throughout. If you had to choose only one Area track with which to convert a doubter, then it might just very well be this critter.

Scum - Dislocated and elusive stabbing rhythm replete with some rapidfire Keith Tippett era Crimson piano which just manages to straddle that precarious cusp between anarchic and incoherent successfully. Perhaps the most overtly jazz oriented piece on the record. Bristling and beguiling playing from all the band on this and although not particularly accessible it is well worth the perseverance. Rather incongruously the instrumental sections end with some synth chording very similar to Partick Moraz circa Refugee. Quite what the bilious manifesto of an idiot feminist militant has to do with all this, I am unsure (S.ociety for C.utting U.p M.en) by Valerie Solanas, whose only claim to posterity was a failed assassination attempt on the (ironically gay) conceptual art wanker without peer, Andy Warhol.

Il massacro di Brandeburgo numero tre in sol maggiore - according to Mr Biagio Cepollaro's sleevenotes this brief and delightful adaptation of Bach for string orchestra is really about an oedipal killing and/or castration of your father. In the unlikely event that you invite Mr C round for tea, best to remove all the cutlery beforehand methinks...

Giro, giro, tondo - Another wonderful vocal extravaganza from Stratos introduces this and he sounds in places like a hybrid Mongolian overtone throat singer/Yodelling Swiss shepherd (imploring his flock to chase the sheepdog ?) Curiously, the main riff employed here is almost identical to that of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band's Shark's Teeth before we move into an exhilarating electric piano solo from Fariselli who really shines on every track on this album. Kudos are also due to Giulio Capiozzo on drums, whose playing is dazzlingly inventive and, to my untrained ears, fiendishly complex but unfailingly musical.

Caos (parte seconda) - here we meet a bewildering and nauseating array of 'in jokes' the preserve of the smirking anti-art brigade i.e Fluxus, Dada, Cage, Warhol and the rest where infantile 'dicking about' is considered a subversive and politically charged act. Self indulgent, patronising, long winded, pretentious and bordering on arrogant contempt for your audience more like. Everything that makes the term 'prog' a pejorative one is contained herein. A void masquerading as a statement that will live long in the memory of only goldfish. Viva neglect lads...

I cannot help but detect the calling card of the artistic Fluxus movement throughout so much of this record. All the tell-tale signs are there: the completely impenetrable, paranoid and delusional sleevenotes from an intellectual half-wit, intuiting democracy in the creative arts by positing the beauty of random events i.e anyone can do this, espousal of anti-art to be understood by the masses and not just critics, dilettantes and professionals. If you can get through the sleevenotes without revisiting your lunch, right on comrade ! but to give you a warning morsel from Mr Biagio Cepollaro's tangled pasta:

- the musical corporativism is demolished by means of the 46 Bach-like beats. Interaction is sought with the public through the solicitation of chaos; two linked synthesizer threads and two oscillating ones capture the corporeal thermodynamics of the public.... (Say What ???!!!) -

We cannot blame Area for an unsolicited description of the view from inside Biagio's own backside and the whole execrable essay may have been translated from Italian via Klingon to English by a stoned and dyslexic glove puppet from the record company.

Based entirely on Biagio's ramblings, he would have us believe Area constitute a gang of Tifosi ejected from the stadium by the hated Carabinieri but cannot flee their captors (presumably because their train is running late)

This is a very impressive album by a band that have never compromised their artistic vision for a second but a word of caution is required, lest some unwitting souls think this is just another slice of Italian fusion. No Siree, Area are notoriously contrary and consequently very hard to categorise satisfactorily. I am sure they wouldn't have it any other way as there are instances on Maledetti where they cut off their (FAKE) noses to spite (OUR) faces with indecent glee. Democracy has never had any place in the arts and individuals as clearly intelligent as Area, should have the nous to understand that it is scarcity that confers value on anything.

Special Thanks to Gina for transcribing and translating some of the lyrics.


Live album · 1975 · Fusion
Cover art 4.20 | 30 ratings
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Sketches of Pain

The word genius is bandied about in reference to musicians like Davis, Lennon, Coltrane, Morrison, Hendrix et al like slurred proposals by those who know the vows of fidelity ain't gonna last past the best man's speech. (The hitherto salacious excesses of the groom being outlined by a professional arbiter of taste - a biographer) Everyone and their dog claims to be under the influence of the aforementioned luminaries until such time as the fashion cops pull them over. However, we certainly can't blame Miles Davis for the fickle and transitory nature of the fan-base and musicians he longed to be acknowledged by (i.e. Rock Music) Support slots opening for the likes of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana merely served to betray a germ of populism as an integral part of this complex and contradictory man. Although frustrated at his overtures being spurned by the ordinary pop lovin' Joe, Miles would have savoured the irony of having swapped jazz snobs for rock snobs, the latter being arguably even more conservative than the former. Enthusiasts for the sort of music he was producing circa 1975 would deem Agharta as dense, seamless and abstract. Me ? Closer to impenetrable, monotonous and incoherent. Others would claim this is Miles 'space music', or as someone like his avowed inspiration Stockhausen would have it, a space for music to exist. (How many holes does it take to fill the Osaka Festival Hall, or is this flat-packed structure one I have to assemble myself ?)

There are instances on the half hour Prelude where I am haunted by a nagging visitation from a bratty Moonchild over an immutable funk beat. Prelude to what ? you could measure these track lengths with a sundial. Everything is textural hereabouts, even what pass for solos are inextricably woven into a sound-scape where there is neither foreground or background with just that incessant and ingratiating pulse to remind us this corpse is still breathing (heavily Man). I guess that some sort of ground-breaking has to be undertaken before either eulogies or being buried alive is considered appropriate. Not even James Brown would milk such modest resources and expect to get away with it. What exactly did Davis contribute to these four titles by way of thematic, harmonic or motivitic sources to warrant a writer's credit ? We appear to be in the realm of a succession of shifting 'moments', that require the listener to surrender their habitual notions of linearity and embrace the fleeting and arbitrary coalescence of unrelated strands of sound. (Jeez, I'm starting to sound like a publicist for the ECM label). I'm too lazy, old or set in my ways most likely for this malarkey - creative listening on this scale must be a young un's game.

The only people who could be forgiven for wishing to name-drop Miles are those countless hired labourers he employed who must have become disenchanted at their being no architect for the house that everyone else built with Davis inscribed on the mailbox. e.g. Tutu is tantamount to a Marcus Miller solo album with Miles as guest soloist. Similarly, Aura composed and arranged entirely by Palle Mikkelborg goes out with the MD moniker carelessly scribbled to the cover art. Little wonder Davis post 70's output is such an unwieldy mess.

By this stage Miles had abandoned conventional harmonic devices entirely but something had been lost in the interim: and those who essay lives in reverse (historians) could have advised him a plot always appears at the end. Without recourse to any hook, gradation or development these rambling acreages merely depict a stricken wreck who could only keep afloat with a ballast of booze and nostril sherbet on board. I cannot discern any leadership or guidance throughout Agharta and such is the tyranny of texture at play Miles contents himself only with a shrugging tootle here and a grudging parp there as though preoccupied with choosing the wallpaper for his derelict house.

To their credit, the hand picked band he assembled for these dates do their damnedest to inject some excitement into these jams despite the absence of any charts, instructions or orders from their AWOL general. Davis was fond of regaling his new charges with this sort of tutelage:

Play what's not there, don't play what you know, play what you don't know

Hip-speak: closer to your backside than your mouth.

If proof of such were needed we only have to consult Pangaea, a concert recorded by the same personnel on the same day which yielded another completely different set of performances. Cosey in particular displays a fiery and vicious energy completely at odds with his laconic taskmaster. The Foster/Henderson/Mtume bass/drum/percussion trio is retained from the excellent On the Corner, and all three are certainly more than able to nail a groove mercilessly as they do here. Sonny Fortune strikes me as more of a conventional jazzer in that his sax and flute solos on the record are the only ones that develop along marginally conventional lines of statement, improvisation, recapitulation etc.

Miles Davis sold himself like a brazen 'strumpet with trumpet' to get into bed with rock and even tried to shoehorn his way onto PIL's Album album, under the flimsy pretext that Johnny's voice sounded like his own horn ? Lydon flatly rejected his contributions. From here it is but a short slap to the horrors of jazz funk followed by a short button press to the digital technology that begat Detroit Techno and call the lineage facile if you like, Rap. The graveyard of progressive music that was the 80's where electronic dance music's endemic cyclic rhythms choked any dissenting voices must surely owe a debt of gratitude to Miles Dewey Davis.

If you are captivated by free jazz, Can circa Tago Mago, early Tangerine Dream, spacey Sun Ra, Matching Mole or Zappa's more atonal extravaganzas, you may well be in hog heaven with this album but failing that, these air miles won't even refund your fare.

FRANK ZAPPA One Size Fits All (as Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention)

Album · 1975 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.51 | 45 ratings
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The Limbo Variations (Frank, Incense and Mirth)

I had dismissed Zappa long ago as the 'smart arse's smart arse' until I accidentally stumbled upon a transcription of his statement before congress from 1985 in response to attempts by the PMRC to instigate a ratings system for all rock albums with regards the suitability of their lyrics for children. Much to my surprise, his comments revealed a mature, witty and responsible individual who had thought deeply about the perils of censorship for an industry he clearly held in disdain but still felt compelled to protect the rights of its artists. Zappa may have considered Sheena Easton and Prince's projected tantric offspring to be the beneficiaries of a ban on their parents pillow talk but he defended their right to free expression regardless:

The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years, dealing with the interpretation-al and enforce-mental problems inherent in the proposal's design. It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment Issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC's demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation. (Frank Zappa)

This is a political act in stark contrast to Frank's routine dissent which up to that point amounted to merely rubbing the noses of middle class US suburbia in their own clandestine droppings for our entertainment. There are so many different faces to the perennially moustachioed one that with over 60 albums to choose from, which Frank you meet beneath the covers is about as predictable as a 5 headed blind date. I find his contemporary classical music wilfully impenetrable, his scatological pastiches to be scribbled prurient adolescence, his musique concrete works don't and his feature length movies strike me as a slapstick and plagiarised take on 'Dada and Surrealism grab a burger from the Psychedelicatessen'. Which of course leaves One Size Fits All where we experience the fusioneering Frank who for me, is representative of Mr Z at his most endearing and loveable.Together with Hot Rats and Zoot Allures these are the only records I ever find myself playing. This is neither 'Rock from Heaven' or 'Jazz from Hell' and occupies a middle ground where the giggling schoolboy is expelled, the contrapuntal sadist is at the very least on a Roman holiday while the adventurous and irreverent composer/musician holds sway.

Inca Roads - One of the most enduring of his compositions that landscapes quite ingeniously a forbidding developmental structure beneath an accessible and attractive surface.The first hints of the subject matter are revealed by Duke's sci-fi synth atmospheres which paint suitably gaudy technicolor images of Martians invading the earth under the command of Emperor Sun Ra. Zappa speculates if aliens could have assisted the ancient Inca people of the Andes in their incredible feat of construction and although you know he doesn't buy this hokey for a second, he loves the Von Daniken storytelling opportunities it affords immensely:

Did a vehicle Did a vehicle, Did a vehicle Fly along the mountains And find a place to park itself Or did someone Build a place To leave a space For such a vehicle to land?

Like many of his 'large scale' melodies, this one does not resolve itself over a couple of bars as is the norm for rock. We are so used to bite sized packets of information in popular music that when anyone steps outside this convention, we're left exposed as tone deaf budgies with A.D.D. Similar to classical Indian ragas, Frank's tunes are certainly not of the 'theme and variation' type so endemic in our culture and, as if things needed to be any harder, he has a consuming fetish for breaking up such lengthy strands of melody with unrelated short 'shocks' of dissonant frisson or musique concrete sound effects and tangential dialogue. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds this irritating:

George Duke: This is such a beautiful melody, do you have to mess it up? Frank Zappa Yeah, but it needs some messing up

Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke and the composer all sing on this number but as to whose voice belongs to whom I'm really none the wiser. Zappa certainly exploits the 'other worldly' quality of Duke's analogue synths on the album and rarely have I heard similar devices receive such a pronounced role in his sound palette as they do here. Then something rather unusual occurs: Zappa plays a guitar solo using a tone that has body, texture and clear articulation. Normally I find his guitar timbre a brittle tinny froth that completely undermines his virtuosity on the instrument. Here he exploits the embouchure of a subtle wah-wah effect to create an exquisite lyrical solo that builds gradually in intensity all the while supported by some stellar bass playing which outlines and gently implies the harmonies without ever sacrificing the hypnotic pulse. This reciprocal dialogue is underpinned by the sparing groove of Chester Thompson who provides a salutary example of how a drummer can create space rather than just fill it.

The final section of the track veers headlong into an up-tempo electronic jazz hybrid featuring the marimba of Ruth Underwood (a brilliant and sympathetic player certainly, but Frank overcooks the chromatic percussion on practically everything I have ever heard that bears his name.) Still, say what you like about both Dylan and Zappa, at least they invented their own clichés (and Frank's are practically impossible to plagiarise without the hand and eye co-ordination of a contortionist ping pong world champion) Unfortunately when the vocals return in a different meter and faster tempo Zappa seems to get cold feet and the story lapses into one of his who dipped that hairy chick from Finland? in-jokes. Shame, as this is a number that otherwise represents everything commendable about the man and his music. (BTW I won't say who it was but his initials are C.H.E.S.T.E.R.)

Can't Afford No Shoes - Transparently silly but great fun all the same. Even on a joke at the expense of heavy rawk riff merchants you sense that Zappa is a little bit too fond of the thing he is lampooning for there ever to appear genuine vitriol in his delivery. He will also never be accused of ingratiating himself to a destitute and needy audience on this evidence either:

Hey anybody, Can you spare a dime? If you're really hurtin', a nickel would be fine

I suspect that the harmonica of 'Bloodshot Rollin Red' is a contractually expedient pseudonym for Captain Beefheart.

Sofa No 1 - has the stately swaying gait of gospel music but as if penned by either a defrocked or cross dressing priest who has pawned the collection plate to finance both his sling-back habits. There is something vaguely unwholesome cooking beneath those swishing vestments but Zappa defies my expectations by playing this one straight as a very beautiful piano dominated instrumental. My suspicions are not entirely unfounded as we shall discover later on.

Po Jama People - As a swipe at middle class mores this comes across as plain half hearted in the extreme. Frank sounds as bored as the people he ridicules and despite a grudgingly memorable chorus hook the whole undertaking is just gauche stereotyping. Since when did someone as avowedly anti establishment as Zappa allow himself to be hoisted by his own hippy petard? Their fans presumably found in the Mothers a kindred spirit, 'bright young thangs' who realised that people should not be judged solely on appearance (Man). So why this creaking excuse for the equation that dressing for bed makes you a square and unthinking conformist ready and willing to gun down the longhairs in their drug infested groovy love shacks? The fact that this song was seldom if ever played live on subsequent tours should tell you that even its author realised he had shot himself squarely in the foot.

Florentine Pogen - I can tell you that a pogen is a Swedish cookie but cannot find any reference to an importer in Italy. More fool me for taking Frank seriously I suppose. It hardly matters that this is verbal gobbledygook as the music is of such a high quality that singing the entire zip codes of Florence over same would have an identical effect. This is another example that like Inca Roads, has what could be described as a 'through composed' melody i.e. the habitually short thematic statements of popular and classical music which are subject to elaborate variations are dispensed with altogether. This is just one of the ways Zappa conspires to avoid what he surely felt was the burdensome gravitational pull of the diatonic key system. In other words, he treats chords merely as a means to 'colour' the melodic contour and thus frees himself from the requirement of harmonising a tune within conventional triad based devices to navigate to a predetermined tonic. (Guess that's what 'chromatic' originally meant?) If you play Em and Bm and whistle a certain tune over the top people might say, if they're old or drunk enough, hey that's Epitaph by Crimson ain't it? You can't do that with Frank's music which explains why you will seldom be regaled by Buskers from the FZ songbook.

Evelyn, A Modified Dog - Those of you who have heard Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and survived the ordeal may detect a whiff of sprechstimme (spoken voice) in this. Rest easy however because Zappa's deadpan tone poem inhabits a cheerier and more melodic realm where his delivery for the most part is redolent of 'talking on pitch' as exemplified by Rex Harrison in the musical My Fair Lady (No I'm not gay) He does however run out of steam towards the end and his lyrics starts to crib from 'Beefheart for Dummies, lesson 1' - dazzle them with shadows:

Evelyn, a dog, having undergone Further modification Pondered the significance of short-person behaviour In pedal-depressed panchromatic resonance And other highly ambient domains. Arf she said

San Berdino - After the punishing but rewarding obstacle courses represented by the last two tracks it's something of a relief to inhabit more traditional territory. This is as conventional as any blues based boogie under the baton of a lover of the avant garde could reasonably be expected to approach. The track radiates fun in spades and carries several resilient vocal hooks and instrumental disembowelments of blues clichés along the way. Listen to the joy displayed by Zappa's hand picked band, who by this stage could play anything he cared to throw at them and return it with interest, getting 'down and dirty' on a pumping shuffle fade that would put the Allman Brothers to shame. For reasons I'm at a loss to explain I cannot help laughing audibly whenever I hear this line:

She lives in Mojave in a Winnebago His name is Bobby, he looks like a potato

Andy - Possibly as close as Zappa ever came to music that in places is traditional bombastic prog. George Duke's declamatory synths certainly contribute to that feel and I can even imagine someone like Yes tackling this number to impressive effect. However, before we all get carried away this is Frank Zappa remember? and he will not let 6 minutes pass without stamping his contrary carbon footprint on any 'eco friendly' piece of music. Once again the chromatic percussion of Ruth Underwood is everywhere and she starts to resemble a precocious toddler who insists that these 'pussy kiddies instruments' need some serious attitudinal correction. If Andy Devine is the actor typecast as the cowboy sidekick with that distinctive raspy voice, what on earth did he do to merit the caustic bile in these lines that relegate Po Jama People to a spat in the rumpus room?:

Is there anything good inside of you If there is, I really wanna know

Sofa No 2 - Just when you thought it safe to go back on the psychiatrist's couch. The Sofa No 1 music is reprised but this time the latent sedition is released in the rather disappointing form of 'Goons' style German language vocals. Perhaps I just don't get Zappa's humour but why is 'I am a sofa' sung in a schoolboy Teutonic accent deemed hilarious in some quarters?

Given the sheer mass of material that Zappa produced and contributed to in his lifetime, it's very difficult to form an overview of his music so I'm not even going to try as it would undermine the breadth, depth and scope of his undoubted talent.

I'm not a Zappa fan by any stretch of the imagination but this is my favourite album of his by quite a considerable distance.For this reviewer One Size Fits All captures a rare sincerity, a heartfelt anger and a strain of his humour I can at least enjoy.


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