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


The Nice


Symphonic Prog

3.24 | 139 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars 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.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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