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

ARS LONGA VITA BREVIS

The Nice

 

Symphonic Prog

3.24 | 87 ratings

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Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars After the dynamics and colorfulness shown on their debut album, The Nice had to face their second recording endeavor as a trio (most of it, since O'List left after the sessions had already started), the result being Ars Longa, Vita Brevis. This was a tremedously pioneering album in the development of what was to be the symphonic trend of progressive rock. This is actually the album in which The Nice seems almost ending the transition from being a psychedelic art-rock band to a symphonic power-trio. And I emphasize the power-trio factor since Emerson saw himself in the position of adding extra power to his performative antics (including all the live paraphernalia) in order to compensate for the loss of the guitar as the natural coordinator: in this way, the reduced band could already start to function as a small orchestra of rock. But the aforesaid transition wasn't over yet, so we can still find lots of humorous and naive psychedelic structures, as you can tell in tracks 1 and 3. The former is, as the title explicitly indicates, a satyre about the uncomfortable first children's quiestions about sexuality and reproduction, while the latter is a not too flattering tribute to the pretensions of psychiatry. The use of funny vocalizations and catchy R'n'B rhythms properly fit the standards of British psychedelic rock: as a comparison, the band shows more finesse than Syd-era Pink Floyd and less finesse than Procol Harum on the joyful tracks from their first two albums, and a similar rawness to the first Mothers of Invention releases. 'Little Arabella', while keeping some unhidden relation to the spirit of the aforesaid tracks, is on another level. It is jazzier in its overall mood and it also includes some classical undertones in the interactions between organ and piano underneath the boogie-jazz scheme: this piece was clearly composed from a power-trio perspective despite tha fact that it isn't really as loud or pompus as your regular power-trio stuff. The symphonic side that has actually emerged in the band's ideology is present in the album's predominant parts: the 'Karelia' track and the namesake suite that occupied the vinyl edition's B-side. 'Karelia' offers a playful rendition of the Sibelius original, very akin to its cheerful essence. Emerson's chops are not too over-the-top, so the organ sounds manage to stay quite clean in the mix (the album doesn't have a great sound production, let me add at this point); the rhythm duo brings a reliable foundation for the organ constant colorfulness. The album's sidelong suite is the apex, and here's where things get as loud as can be at this moment of The Nice's history. Movements 1, 2 and 4 state a very cohesive expansion of basic ideas, while Movement 3 brings a different stage in the shape of a Bach-reconstruction with a heavy presence of orchestra: it does break the connection but instead brings a healthy dose of chamber pretension that symphonic rock can't normally do without, especially due to the elements of exquisiteness and elegance that it provides. Movement 1 brings the main opening motif followed by a drum solo before the Movement 2 brings a sung section and a classical-meets-jazz piano solo (yet another occasion for Emerson's chops). The last Movement retakes the ethusiasm started (then aborted) at the piano solo but reconstrued under the guidelines of organ with more emphasis on the rock than on the jazz factor. It goes all the way into the Coda, closing down the suite and the album with a plethoric mood. Almost excellent in itself, Ars Longa, Vita Brevis reveals itself as an excellent step for progressive mankind despite being just a small step for a trio who still had a few more works in store for release before their eventual breakup.

(I dedicate this review to the memory of the recently deceased Brian Davison).

Cesar Inca | 4/5 |

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