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Keith Emerson - The Christmas Album CD (album) cover


Keith Emerson


Crossover Prog

2.92 | 21 ratings

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3 stars Traditional Christmas music - particularly the seasonal carols sung in abbeys across Europe and Britain - is some of the most beautiful and emotional written. Gabriel's Message, Hector Berlioz's The Shepherds Farewell, Boris Ord's Adam lay-ye Bounden, movements of evangelic salvation sometimes composed by men not particularly religious but who admired the music of the Church. Hymns created to warm the soul and lift the spirits during assuredly cold and difficult winters, and to generate worship if only in song. It is that tradition we hear on this album echoing up from not only Keith Emerson's childhood but from centuries of a magnificent ecclesiastic legacy in music. There are better Christmas records to be sure and Keith's fondness for modern recording techniques doesn't always do these interpretations justice, but for those of us who just can't seem to shake our affinity for this crown prince of Prog, this is a very cool release on a par if not better than his first, Honky.

"One Christmas", Emerson recalls in the notes, "I sat at the piano and discovered amongst my manuscripts a book of carols that my eldest son, Aaron, had brought home from school. I began improvising on some of the themes. Most of the Christmas carols I first played around with had a typically simple folk structure. I tested myself first on O' Little Town of Bethlehem and discovered so much joy in turning such a simple theme into an epic, that I was to look for other seasonal material with which to work." That inspiration is what props-up the better work here, both in Emerson's rearrangements of trad. music and the cuts he penned, as 'Snowman's Land' and 'Glorietta'.

A much expanded version of 'Troika' is a surprising treat incorporating Prokofiev's theme in its entirety, complete with yelling Cossacks and a hot guitar. An enormous six-minute variation on O' Little Town is a real pleasure with all sorts of neat modifications including an elegant jazz piano section from Keith, plenty of rock rhythms, and closes on Gloria in Excelsis backed-up by a completely bitchin take on 'We Three Kings' as it thumps in and jazzes out. Killer stuff. Original track 'Snowman's Land' allows Emerson a platform for piano which he eagerly drinks-in all through this great little number, sistered by almost Tarkus-like 'Captain Starship Christmas' tarnished slightly with oration but saved by the urchins of the West Park School Choir. 'Aria' from Bach's Christmas Oratorio is quite good, 'I Saw Three Ships' is a perfectly recorded electronic trudge, and 'Glorietta' pts.1&2 is a neoclassical cathedral-filler that represents the Rosetta Stone of the record, delivering big concert hall sound, booming chord walls, and the skirl of the British Isles as it finishes huge. The show closes with 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear' and a drowsy but beautiful gospel for 'Silent Night'.

The enjoyment time-lag for this album may be long but my pleasure with it grows exponentially each time, and it could be the perfect CD for a progster trapped at Holiday party forced to put on something wintry and seasonal but still prog. You say you didn't know Keith Emerson has a Christmas album? Well then Merry Christmas, one and all.

Atavachron | 3/5 |


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