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The Nice - Ars Longa Vita Brevis CD (album) cover


The Nice


Symphonic Prog

3.28 | 114 ratings

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4 stars It is not possible to overestimate the Nice's importance to Progressive Rock. In their moment, they were prog and if the eye-opening debut Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack didn't show that, this dazzling follow-up did. Sure they're so old and dated you'd never put them on unless alone in the house. Yes Lee Jackson is an intolerable singer, Davey O'List was a dreadful guitarist and the band couldn't seem to mix a record to save their lives. And of course some of the songs are, let's say, immature. But things were looking up for the band in the summer of 1968; halfway through the recording sessions for Ars Longa Vita Brevis, Dave O'List left due to personal issues (his career at this point strangely mimicking Syd Barrett) and Keith Emerson, finally divorced from this banshee of a player, took the lead and never let go. And though the first album hadn't done as well as hoped, Emerson, Jackson and Davison had become a well-respected underground pop/psych band looking forward to a fruitful new period of music and triumphs. Take a good listen; this is the prototype for what became the most well-known Prog supergroup the world has ever seen, and this second offering is a noticeable improvement from the first. The six-part, 20 minute, fully orchestrated title cut closed the deal. If this was psychedelic rock then it had spontaneously mutated into something quite a bit more, led by a gifted pianist/composer with a firmer grasp of music than anyone had seen in rock to that point.

A bit of boogie from Keith's piano go-go dances the inquisitive 'Daddy Where Did I Come From?', a twisted little creep tune with the organ on deep background and some troubled dialog. Fun if equally creepy 'Little Arabella' is completely mad, supported by a bridge of horns and Emerson's tea party strangeness, and pixied poke at psychobabble 'Happy Freuds' may bring a grin. But it's the moans of 'Intermezzo's cello that signal the start of something special. The band lumbers in, Jackson's less than light touch on bass and Brian Davison doing a typically good job, somehow holding this ambitious new venture together. Careful improvisation follows showing how jazz, classical and rock can meet and maybe, someday, even get along. Emerson was in an ideal position to do this-- no one could touch him and the title is extraordinary symphonic rock, the real stuff, covered in muck maybe, but there. Davison takes a four-minute drum set, Keith reveals his penchant for both American and Latin jazz - soloing beautifully through here and having a blast - and royal horns break to allow Johann Sebastian his due, woven quite nicely into the band's pumping jam with the orchestra's accents growing more frequent, culminating in a huge theatrical finish.

Posthumously imitated far more often than they're credited for and yet seen widely as a novelty, in reality the Nice were incomparable. Unrewarded trailblazers and rugged pioneers of those lean and treacherous early days of 'progressive rock' that they started but others would finish with much more flair and skill. But their memory deserves every bit of credit it can get its grimy hands on and their ancient, ridiculous, paisley-patched music seems to somehow get better with age. Go figure.

Atavachron | 4/5 |


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