Review – Fanfare For The Uncommon Man – The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert 2CD/2DVD – by John Wenlock-Smith

Keith Emerson needs little or no introduction, he was a monster keyboard player for Emerson, Lake and Palmer of course, though he was also successful in his own right as a composer. Sadly, as he grew older Keith lost some of his astounding dexterity and, despite operations to his hands, sadly felt that his abilities to perform had become diminished significantly. This resulted in him falling into in severe bouts of depression and even alcoholism, which all became too much for him and he took his own life by gunshot on 11th March 2016 in Santa Monica, California. The world was shocked that one of the finest keyboard players of recent times was no more.

Well, that was five years ago now and his life was celebrated in style in 2016 when an all-star band of LA’s finest musicians assembled at the El Ray Theatre in Los Angeles to play his music and remember and acknowledge the inspiration that he had been to many of them over the years. The upshot of this is a concert movie and 2CD set of the event being released this year by Cherry Red Records in a lavish package with simply amazing artwork and production values, along with interviews with the various band members and photo galleries of Keith and his life and times, all of which together chronicles this very special and memorable night for posterity.

The list of musicians featured is mighty impressive including members of Toto and Dream Theater along with Eddie Jobson (UK and Roxy Music), Jeff Baxter (Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan), Brian Auger, Rachel Flowers, C J Vanston and many others, like Marc Bonilla of Keith’s old band and his close friend who was a major mover in getting the show together. The event also featured Emerson’s son Aaron, and members of his solo band and his Three Fates Project group.

The CDs capture live recordings of all the songs featured in the movie although sometimes in a truncated version. The sound is excellent throughout and the material is largely drawn from the first Four ELP albums, with four songs from the self-titled debut, two from ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, three from ‘Tarkus’ and three from ‘Trilogy’ plus Karn Evil 9: First Impression – Part 2, Touch and Go (from ‘Emerson Lake and Powell’) and Fanfare For The Common Man in two versions, one with brass orchestration and the other with Blue Rondo A La Turk improvisation.

I have to say that, whilst this is a fabulous set, there are a few pieces that I would have liked to have seen covered, namely Jerusalem, Trilogy and Piano Concerto to name but three, also there is a marked lack of anything from the latter days’ reunion period, but this is most probably me just nit picking. What is here is perfectly fine and has some incredible musicians performing some extraordinarily complex pieces with skill, style and panache. Everything is played in a very sympathetic manner, with great respect to Keith, who was obviously a much loved, and now sadly missed character.

Marc Bonilla sings very well indeed throughout, as do the other vocalists, Marc also delivers some great guitar lines on here, mirroring and adding to what the various keyboard players are playing. The Performances are all exceptionally good indeed, those of C J Vanston and Rachel Flowers shine especially. Brian Augers interpretation and improvisation on Fanfare For The Common Blue Turkey is quite different and really captures one’s interest. Another highlight is the delight of seeing Eddie Jobson playing the modular Moog synthesizer on Lucky Man.

Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater delivers a powerful performance on the 20 minutes plus rendition of Tarkus, a track he gleefully states as a major influence on his playing. Here he revels in the performance of this in a suite of songs where Tarkus is the penultimate track before the encores are offered, namely Lucky Man/The Great Gates of Kiev and Fanfare For The Common Man, with Are You Ready Eddy? concluding the show.

I know in some quarters that ELP have become a dirty word full of excessive showmanship and not offering much for the listeners of today. However, I disagree completely and suggest that this music needs to be rediscovered again and given its rightful place in the annals of progressive rock. 

So, if you like the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Keith Emerson then this set offers you both two excellent CDs and a full length DVD (plus a second DVD of bonus features) that captures this magnificent concert in all is spectacle and power, just sit back, turn the volume up and let the Moogs fly again. Best played loud, just as Keith would have wanted, this certainly is a most enjoyable stroll down memory lane, if you have 3 hours or so to spare. Brilliantly filmed, well presented and produced, the music offered on these discs reminds us of just how great a keyboard player and composer Keith Emerson truly was, along with why he should be remembered as such. I applaud all who took part for the great music they made and are now are able to share with us, sit back relax and enjoy this again and again.

Released March 19th 2021

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Fanfare For The Uncommon Man: The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert, 2CD/2DVD Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – Spirit – Son Of America Reissue – by John Wenlock-Smith

Last year I spent a lot of the time rediscovering and collecting music by the legendary Californian Band Spirit who had been very successful in their early days notching up a string of classic albums such as ‘Spirit’, ‘The Family That Plays Together’, ‘Clear’ and ‘Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus’. Their initial run of success on the Epic label preceded the inevitable split and loss of two of the founders who left to form Jo Jo Gunne. The remaining members soldiered on on the Mercury label releasing several more fine albums before a low period and the resumption of activities in 1979 with a live album, there then followed a period of Randy California solo releases.

Spirit sadly are no more as Randy California was drowned in a riptide in Hawaii while successfully saving his then 9-year-old son. Since that time, a series of releases of archival material has been released by various labels but now much of this has been acquired by Esoteric who, in conjunction with Mick Skidmore, are re-releasing these albums in newly remastered versions, often with extra material.

Now some may see this is as dreadful or shocking but I personally find these reissues worthy and of note, which bring us to this latest instalment – Spirit’s ‘Son of America’ in a 3CD set with a bonus live disc of a three-piece set recorded live at KPFK on 4th April 1993.

In my opinion, this reissue is worth it for this last disc alone which contains 16 hitherto unreleased pieces recorded live in the studio on an 8 track recorder and now transferred to a shiny new compact disc and it also includes a solo Randy California/John Locke live take of Animal Zoo from 1989.

The main album, ‘Son of America’, was originally issued in 2005 and has long been out of print so to have it in a remastered format is very fine indeed. The album has 25 songs on CD1 and 19 Songs on CD2, which makes this a value set of some sublime Spirit songs and instrumentals. Most of this is in the form of home recordings, mainly by Randy California on guitar and vocals, Ed Cassidy on drums and percussion and Scott Monahan on keyboards, with occasional appearances from Mark Andes, Steve “Liberty” Loria, John Locke, Matt Andes, Rachel Andes, Bruce Gary and Janet Wolfe.

Some of these songs have surfaced on earlier albums or are live Spirit staples like The Times They Are a Changing. Most of the songs come in around the three-minute mark but still shine with their creativity clearly apparent and, rather than do a deep review, I have chosen a few highlights that will hopefully show you why this is worthy of your listening.

The opening track Space Jam is exactly that, a loose sounding jam with some spacy guitar lines and a gentle melody. It is all very ambient sounding but certainly impressive as is the next track, Prophecy, which is a mid-tempo rocker with some lively guitar, prominent bass lines and a good strong vocal from Randy. Everything chugs along nicely with a slinky guitar line and a solo thereafter on which Randy gets to wail a bit towards the end of the song.

Thomas Q and Jennifer is also a good song with its piano backing and great ensemble playing which, along with a good use of dynamics, brings this song to life with these excellent performances. Much of this music is acoustic, embellished with keyboards and bass and this approach works very well as the songs are given chance to breathe and are not overproduced at, all a clear case of less is more.

The Times They Are A Changing is a shorter, spiritualised version of the Dylan classic, sung with feeling and much in the spirit of the original. It features Randy on acoustic guitar and harmonica along with some sympathetic keyboards and drums in tow. This is a fairly chilled and mellow take but with some great double tracked guitars on it that bring it to life. Also worthy of note is an excellent reading of Lennon and McCartney’s Let It Be that is beautifully rendered with a very appealing vocal from Randy and an unidentified male vocalist.

However, I guess for most that it will be the third Disc – ‘Spirit Live at KPFK in 1993’ that will be the big draw as it really is a unique record of a very obscure radio show and one that features great in-between-song chat and some dynamic performances of some old classic Spirit songs and material.   

Son of America, the title track, was penned for Vietnam veterans and is a protest song of sorts detailing how a son goes off to fight a war to defend America’s freedom. This has a fine guitar solo in support of the song as he talks of losing his friend last night. It is quite a sad and moving song, especially when you consider how America has treated those same veterans so badly over the years.    

All in all, a worthy collection for completists and fans alike.

Released 26th March 2021

Order from Cherry Red here:

Spirit: Son Of America, 3CD Remastered & Expanded Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – Samurai – Samurai – Remastered, Expanded Edition – by John Wenlock-Smith

This review is of the recently issued re-release on CD of the 1971 album by early UK progressive rock band Samurai. This was originally issued by the Greenwich Gramophone label and featured Dave Greenslade (who later found further fame as a member of Dave Greenslade’s Greenslade which, oddly enough, also included Greenwich’s creative director Tony Reeves).

This album is new to me even though, as a youngster, I was enthralled by Greenslade’s music and covers. This stemmed from hours spent in a local record shop in Sutton Coldfield (called Preedy’s) who sold records in their basement and in which I discovered Greenslade. Whilst I loved the band, I knew little of the members earlier previous musical heritage or history, which is probably why this album passed by me unnoticed, so now is the chance to rectify that situation.

One thing that rapidly becomes apparent is that Dave Lawson certainly added far more to Greenslade’s sound than I had previously thought. Here his vocals are really impassioned and interesting and as rich as his keyboard playing in fact. Whilst this music is of its time and has many of the attendant deficiencies, what it does have is lots of energy and, musically, a lot going on.

The album opens with Saving It Up For So Long, containing a meaty hefty bassline from John Eaton along with swirling keyboards from Dave Lawson, a complex  guitar line from Tony Edwards and sax from Tony Roberts and Don Fey. The use of the brass section makes this very unusual and certainly interesting. The next song, More Rain, is a far mellower affair and shows what Dave bought to Greenslade. Being mellow in its tone and mood doesn’t mean that the song is dull, far from it, the song had a casual pace to it but it still swings nicely making it a fine listen.

Next up is another sax fronted piece, Maudie James, which sounds somewhat sultry and moody before some fine piano leads the song forward again. Another fine Lawson vocal propels the song along with brass incursions parping at various points making this sound very good indeed.

This really is an interesting album and one that deservedly gets a fine reissue from the lovely folks at Esoteric Arts, who once again live up to their image and policy of remastering and reimagining the classics well. They have done a great job with a great sound and have included three hitherto unreleased live tracks from a show in Sweden in 1971, along with an informative booklet with comments from Dave Lawson.

Give A Little Love opens with some rather urgent guitar backed up with horn blasts creating a solid wall of sound. This is done in a good way, some interesting keyboard tones adding to this song and a fine guitar riff with its subtle wah-wah usage driving the song forward before a jazz sax solo comes to the fore. The next two songs are the longer Face In The Mirror and As I Dried The Tears Away, both of which offer room for the music to stretch out a bit more. In the case of Face In The Mirror, this allows the bass to carry a walking beat to proceedings interspersed with subtle keyboards and guitar lines.

The song is quite different in tone, again being mellow in parts but the instrumentation is certainly striking and interesting as is the guitar solo from Tony Edwards who uses his effects pedals well, with the precise drums of Lennie Wright offering solid support for his efforts, making this track a real winner. As I Dried The Tears Away utilises its longer length to good effect, opening with some jazzy keyboards and a growling bass. Good use of vibes offer a shimmer to the sound, again very similar sounding to Dave’s later sounds, and his unusual voice and tone are well displayed herein. A nice brief guitar part as the song proceeds helps gather momentum and pace before a more jazz sounding passage is played with swirling organ parts and bells and whistles being employed, very psychedelic sounding in parts with excellent keyboard passages used.    

The last three songs are live versions of album songs, of which the extended version of Holy Padlock comes out strongest as its extra couple of minutes are used wisely and to maximum effect. The sound takes up an urgent and strident pace halfway through that really swings well. The vocals are somewhat buried in the mix but the band certainly seem to be playing up a storm here. Final Live track is More Rain and, again, this live version really shines, the horns work well creating the sound and making noticeable inserts to the song. The guitar line is also carried well with subtle wah-wah really making it sound very good indeed.

The live tracks show this band could deliver in a live setting although, sadly, that opportunity to develop was cut short as key members became disillusioned and left, leaving Lawson and Reeves free to join Dave Greenslade’s project Greenslade, where their talent would blend to create new magical music over their four album career. 

Tracks: Saving It Up For So Long 3:47, More Rain 4:29, Maudie James 4:59, Holy Padlock 4:45, Give A Little Love 3:42, Face In The Mirror 6:46, As I Dried The Tears Away 8:25, Give A Little Love (Live) 5:12, Holy Padlock (Live) 7:49, More Rain (Live) 4:30.  

Released 25th September 2020

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/samurai-remastered-expanded-edition/