Review – Esoteric Antenna Reissue Round-Up by James R Turner – Keith Emerson, Colosseum & Nirvana.

Keith Emerson: Off the Shelf

This is a remastered edition of an eclectic collection of more than just ‘odds and sods’ originally released back in 2006 and reissued last year after Keith’s death.

Never one to do anything by halves there’s nearly 70 minutes of music here, which runs the gamut from Keith’s classical inspired compositional work, his TV and film work and the contributions he made to progressive music via both The Nice and ELP.

The earliest recording on this alternative ‘best of’ is a BBC Radio session from the early days of The Nice, where their psychedelia meets proto-prog image belies the fact that they had a diverse inspiration, and here (complete with Davy O’List on guitar) is their unique cover of Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy.

For ELP fans there is a rousing version of Abaddon’s Bolero performed by Keith with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which is as grand and OTT as anything they ever did, I mean if you get an orchestra to go nuts with you, why the hell not? There’s also a 1980’s excerpt from a solo rendition of Pictures at an Exhibition, showcasing Keith’s unique style.

His solo work is well represented on the smoky blues room piano piece And Then January, with its late-night vibe and plaintive mood shows the more reflective side of Keith’s musical personality. Straight Between The Eyes (featuring Levon Helm and Garth Hudson) is the first from the soundtrack to the film Best Revenge and, while being a bit 80’s in its style and execution, has a wonderful drawled vocal by co-writer John Doukas. Also from the sessions but which didn’t make it to the soundtrack, is an interesting version of the old Elvis classic Don’t Be Cruel, where they slow it right down and funk it up, complete with fat bass and slabs of chunky 80’s synths, all of which turns it into an MTV big hair ballad.

Mixing his influences and genres, the interpretation of Walter L (featuring the London Jazz Orchestra) and some moog soloing shows how proficient and comfortable Keith was across all genres and is a testament to how easy he fitted into big orchestral pieces or solo piano work. With solo synth pieces like Motor Bikin’, a reworked version of America featuring Pat Travers on guitar and then the theme tune to Jim Davidson’s sit-com Up the Elephant and Round the Castle finishing off on a cover of Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll, this is no ordinary compilation album. More a snapshot of a career, and one that was always deeper and more musically diverse than the work he was famous for with ELP.

Released 28th April 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

Off The Shelf: Remastered EditionKeith Emerson

Colosseum II: Wardance

This, the third album from the late Jon Hiseman’s revitalised Colosseum, was originally released back in 1977 and see’s Hiseman joined by some of the greatest musical talents of that era. Gary Moore on guitar, John Mole on bass and Don Airey on keyboards.

When you get 4 superb musicians in one band then creative sparks will fly and, as is mentioned in the liner notes, the band didn’t have the luxury of rehearsal times. Instead, the taut and driving fusion of jazz and rock that is on display here was honed to perfection on the road and then recorded as live in the studio due to the limited time available.

From the opening title track, Hiseman proves how effective he is as a band leader, choosing some superb band members to bounce of and work with. His death recently was a massive loss to the musical world as he is as powerful a drummer as anyone around and the way he propels the groove, allowing both Airey and Moore to spar, is exemplary.

Throughout this album it’s hard to pull out a star player, as all 4 work the groove and play round each other with deftness and skill, and, while Moore and Airey moved on to other things, they sound so hungry here. It is a shame that the hard work they put in seemed to be forgotten as band/label decisions ultimately scuppered this line up.

Hiseman returned with the original Colosseum line up later but this line up and era shouldn’t be overshadowed and should be recognised as important to the fusion sound as the original band.

Released 27th April 2018

Order from Cherry Red:

Colosseum II: War Dance, Re-Mastered EditionColosseum II

Nirvana: Black Flower

Originally released in 1970, the third album from Nirvana duo Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropolous was arranged and produced by Tony Visconti and Mike Hurst (who was previously a member of the Springfield’s). Unfortunately, as is always the way, when the tapes were delivered to Island Records Chris Blackwell turned it out, feeling it wasn’t suitable for the label, not to mention the fact he was concerned the title was too similar to the phrase Black Power.

The lush orchestration and sublime production enhance the duo’s compositional skills which were maturing nicely. From the wonderfully uplifting The World is Cold Without You, where the orchestration and the chorus genuinely swells, to tracks like Excerpt From “The Blindand The Beautiful”, where the orchestration drives the music, takes this beyond mere pop psych and into new rock classical crossover sounds.

This cross fertilises elements of singer-songwriter work, the reinterpretations of Brecht by Scott Walker, and the dramatic Gothic rock of singers like David McWilliams, all filtered through the Anglo-Greek pairing of Campbell-Lyons & Spyropolous, whose disparate influences weave together an intense musical experience.

Chock full of catchy tunes, well observed lyrics, a whole spree of bonus tracks, this is recognition at last for an album that slipped under the radar on release and led to the demise of the original Nirvana line-up. Which was a shame, as on tracks like Black Flower or Love Suite, the duo were really pushing themselves forward together, it would have been interesting to see where they went next.

Released 27th April 2018

Order from Cherry Red:

Nirvana: Black Flower, Re-Mastered & Expanded EditionNirvana (UK)

Review – Robert Berry & Keith Emerson – 3.2 – The Rules Have Changed – by Jez Denton

One of the more underrated and occasionally much maligned, outside of those that know, musicians of our time was the keyboard genius Keith Emerson. From being at the very onset of British psychedelia with The Nice and progressive rock with E.L.P., Emerson was both an innovator of new music and interpreter of more traditional and classical works; bringing those works up to date and opening the eyes and ears of multiple generations of listeners and musicians to the possibilities of truly clever brilliantly played music.

Emerson was able to create work that kept alive amazing composers such as Mussorgsky, Bernstein and Copeland and introduced them to new and receptive audiences. Keith was also a prolific writer, performer and musician that led him, in the late 1980’s, along with Carl Palmer, to work with another musician with a prodigious lust for creating music, Robert Berry. This led to a band called 3 and an album ‘To The Power Of Three.’ Despite the critical acclaim the band went their own ways before, in 2015, Emerson and Berry came together again and began to create new music for a reboot of the 3 project, to be known as 3.2.

In 2016 tragedy struck, however, as Keith took his own life at his home in California. No-one can truly say for why he took this tragic step, but, from interviews with his partner, Mari Kawaguchi, the doubts he was having (with all the criticism he was receiving) about his ability to play and perform at the high standards which he set himself was, obviously, weighing heavily on his mind. But what is for sure, is that his untimely death left a hole in the musical world and for Berry not only that, but also a body of work for which a decision was to be made on what to do with it.

Thankfully Berry, after a long period of contemplation and grieving, was able to take the snippets of melodies recorded over the telephone, the arrangements written and shared between them, and to put them together not only in tribute to, but also a celebration of Keith Emerson’s life and music. The first thing to say is that this is a ‘proper’ album. It isn’t scratchy recordings or half formed demo’s put out to ‘cash in’ on an artists demise; it isn’t the hackneyed old cliche ‘great career move’, it is a proper album of eight great songs put out with Keith Emerson’s artistic aura breathing through every chord, bar and note. Robert Berry has crafted an album that reads like a love letter to the unique talent that was Keith Emerson. It is full of the trademark keyboard organ sound that marks out a Nice or E.L.P. recording; there’s more than a passing note to The Nice’s version of ‘America’ throughout, there are moments of classical virtuoso playing. I’d say there is (if I wasn’t as cynical a disbeliever as I am) a guiding hand from another place directing the music and production along. Is the spirit of Keith Emerson on this album? well I should say so.

This comes, though, as much from the playing and production of Berry who, obviously, through his friendship and working relationship, has an understanding of where he would have taken this in partnership with Keith, had he been with us all still. This is the great beauty of the album, with production very much in the polished school of late 80’s progressiveness, the sound gives an evocative feel both looking back at a time when Berry and Emerson first worked together and while looking forward to create a fitting end to the career of Keith Emerson.

If, as it has been suggested, Keith was struggling to keep going not knowing whether he would be able to produce and perform work at the standards he set and expected of himself, this album should have proven to him those doubts were unfounded. However, as this album now marks the end of Emerson’s prolific career, it stands as a fitting tribute to and celebration of one of progressive music’s very best exponents, innovators and performers. Wherever Keith Emerson is looking down from, he should be very happy with this work. The fact he is alive and brilliant in this album should also be of great comfort for those of us who loved his music, and, for that reason alone, Robert Berry should be both applauded for and proud of bringing this work to fruition.

Released 10th August 2018

Order the album direct from Frontiers Records here