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The Nice - Elegy CD (album) cover

ELEGY

The Nice

 

Symphonic Prog

2.97 | 55 ratings

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NetsNJFan
Prog Reviewer
4 stars

The Nice's posthumous collection (not really an album), "Elegy", is in my opinion their most mature and significant work. After pioneering band folded due to their label's shrinking finances and Keith Emerson's burgeoning ego, their manager, (Tony Stratton-Smith of later Genesis fame) managed to salvage enough tapes to scrap together "The Five Bridges Suite" album and this one. And despite Mr. Emerson's chagrin, boy am I glad that he did. On "Elegy", we see a band with severely underrated Jazz sensibilities and chops that are too often overshadowed by their successor, the brobdingnagian Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

The album kicks off with a live rendition of what is in my opinion the Nice's signature tune, "Hang on to a Dream". Borrowed from folk-ster Tim Hardin, this track features some faux-classical flourishes from Emerson on Piano mixed with choir tapes and some of Lee Jackson's (Bass) most tolerable vocals. After the grandiloquent phrasing of the opening (which is quite beautiful, an adjective not often associated with Mr. Emerson), the song really begins to pick up. While the actual song part in the beginning is pretty and pleasant, the next eight-or-so minutes are what really dazzle the listener. We are presented with some of Mr. Emerson's best keyboard work on record. Emerson fluidly skirts the line between modern Jazz and prog-rock showboating, all while remaining tasteful. Its best quality is that it sounds nothing like Mr. Emerson's later work - it is straight piano, no ghastly Moog. While I cannot sing the praises of Emerson's half-improvised/half-composed dexterity on this track, the rhythm section of Lee Jackson and Brian Davidson (drums) are hardly slouches. Jackson lays down a bass line which is as close as one can come to sounding like an upright double bass on an electric. Davidson is no Carl Palmer, but who else is? (Bill Bruford excluded). This track alone is worth the price of admission.

Next we have "My Back Pages" a Bob Dylan cover. The nice were often more interesting as coverers than as composers in their own right. Here we have one of the most grating vocal performances known to civilized man, in which Mr. Jackson sounds constipated and half-drunk. Once one gets past this, however, the remainder of the song is excellent, with Keith Emerson delivering some fantastic piano and later organ solos, this time in more of a rock vein.

And, for another cover, we get the obligatory classical-rock piece, this time a reworking of Tchaikovsky's ""Pathétique" Symphony No. 6, 3rd Movement". This version is actually quite lively, far more so than the version released a year earlier on "Five Bridges". This piece sounds much less like the Nice however, and much more like proto-ELP which is unfortunate. The musicianship throughout it top-notch, and despite its complexity, it simply doesn't deliver the excitement of the much simple Dave Brubeck reworking "Rondo" and "Rondo '69" that they did on earlier albums. The song is perhaps a little overlong, but certainly isn't bad, just pedestrian (for these musicians). We are treated solely to Mr. Emerson's organ, and the lack of Piano is noticeable. (In light of the ELP onslaught not too far in the distance, one wishes Emerson had more Piano recordings).

The record closes with the umpteenth rendition of The Nice's biggest (only?) hit and signature number, "America", notable for both its music and politics. Here we are given one of the more distorted and less melodic renditions of Leonhard Bernstein's "West Side Story" number. It is certainly interesting, and will get you in a certain head-banging groove, but it certainly begins to drag at around the six minute mark. There simply isn't anything there that the Nice hadn't said better and shorter earlier. It is a feast for anyone who loves heavily distorted and discordant Organ feedback, but is only of passing interest to the rest of us.

In conclusion, "Hang on to a Dream" and "My Back Pages" certainly make this album a worthy acquisition for anyone interested in Keith Emerson, 60's prog-roots, or Jazz Piano. Side One is incredible, but Side Two drags down the proceedings. 7/10 stars.

NetsNJFan | 4/5 |

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