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The Nice - Elegy CD (album) cover

ELEGY

The Nice

 

Symphonic Prog

2.97 | 54 ratings

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ExittheLemming
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Free to a good and loving home, please adopt these abandoned Space-hoppers in the Sahara

Although admittedly a posthumous release, I was very surprised at the rather dismissive tenor of many of the reviews of this album to date. Hopefully this record will be reappraised soon as being a release worthy of anyone's consideration as I feel it does enhance an already rich legacy left behind by this very fine and innovative band. (So what if Charisma wanted to ride the slipstream of the lucrative ELP juggernaut?)

'Hang On To a Dream' - I may be wrong, but I think the two live cuts featured on Elegy were from the same Fillmore East concert recorded by the Nice for their self titled 3rd album? Here we get Tim Hardin's melancholic waltz tune expanded and inflated beyond anything the original composer would have ever dreamed of (or perhaps feared) The trio set forth on a very arresting and lengthy jazz jam at it's centre that contains some wonderful piano from Keith and tasteful support from Lee and Brian on bass and percussion respectively. We also meet here the technique of plucking the piano strings with a guitar plectrum from inside the soundboard which Emerson later exploited on Take a Pebble with ELP. In the live environment the effect is that of a rather splendid psychedelic 'cimbalom/zither' which provides some contrast to the eloquent piano jazz so effortlessly realized beneath Keith's nimble digits. He also employs some Celeste with which to further broaden the tonal palette of textures and all things considered, this is perhaps one of my favourite acoustic dominated pieces by Emo ever.

'My Back Pages' - By all accounts Jackson was a certifiable Dylan 'nut' and persuaded Emerson to cover some of Mr Zimmerman's tunes during their brief but glorious career together. Other examples would include the sublime adaptations of Country Pie and She Belongs to Me of which only live renditions are available unfortunately. Given the meagre harmonic materials afforded by Dylan's music, Keith must have approached these entreaties with some scepticism but he was able to embellish very simple chord progressions with a dizzying array of modulations and stylistic departures that surmounted the modest scope of the originals. The piano introduction is particularly inventive and showcases that Keith could get from A to Z by every conceivable route in the musical roadmap. Lee's vocal on this tune is one of his most assured, and he obviously relished the relative simplicity and modest range that the melody encompassed, in comparison to many of the more arduous vocal tasks Emerson had set him previously. I am normally a fan of Dylan's lyrics but on this particular song 'Big Nose' is guilty of burying same in a trough of knowingly cryptic and impenetrable conceit that communicates precisely zilch:

Crimson flames tied through my ears Rollin' high and mighty traps Pounced with fire on flaming roads Using ideas as my maps We'll meet on edges, soon, said I, Proud 'neath heated brow

The transition from piano to organ on the heavier improvisational section of the tune is enervating and the interplay between the three is 'Goosebumps R Us' thrilling as they sprint into the distance leaving Dylan's tune quite appropriately as a tiny speck on the distant horizon. There follows a very haunting passage of achingly poignant sustained organ chords before the Nice reprise the opening verse section of the song to a very inventive and satisfying bluesy tag-line ending:

Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

A very underrated adaptation of a very overrated song which probably is deserving of a compositional credit in it's own right. This track was originally going to be included on the Five Bridges album but was left off at the last minute.

'Third Movement, Pathetique' - As good as the orchestral version of this Tchaikovsky piece on Five Bridges is, I actually prefer this trio only rendition, as it illustrates the massive leap in skills the Nice had developed in tackling classical works compared to their first rather tentative steps as heard on Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite on the 2nd album. Towards the end Brian Davison punctuates the underlying groove with a delicious ride bell cymbal pattern that still sends a shiver of delight down my spine every time. Blinky was a very fine player and his performance on this track is all the evidence anyone should ever need as to his credentials of being one of the greatest jazz influenced rock drummers on a par with the more widely celebrated Ginger Baker et al.

'America' - Perhaps the 'mother' of all live versions of this Nice signature tune which contains some Hammond organ playing against which all others must surely shrink in yielding supplication. There is a ferocity and primal energy throughout this that will have the listener feeling quite drained at the conclusion. As a vehicle for improvisation, I suspect that Keith was attracted to the possibilities afforded by the hybrid 6/8 and 3/4 meter more than the melody itself and the band nail this relentless groove for all its worth during this incendiary performance. Employees of the Hammond Organ Co really should be escorted from the room before this starts as their flagship product is subject to the sort of sadistic torture that no diligent craftsman should ever witness. Emerson impales the creature, strips it of it's teeth and treats the umbilical innards as a sort of visceral banjo in places. At one comical moment Keith's perverse sense of humour is evidenced by his coaxing the vocabulary of 'Baby Clanger' from the kiddies TV show from the organ (which must be where I got the expression from in some my reviews?)

Those rather wince inducing comparisons at around this time of Emerson being the 'Hendrix of the organ' do have some foundation here but perhaps 'Hammond Taxidermist' may have been a more fitting analogy.

Don't let this guy anywhere near ANY of your furniture.

ExittheLemming | 5/5 |

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