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

ARS LONGA VITA BREVIS

The Nice

 

Symphonic Prog

3.25 | 77 ratings

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Ivan_Melgar_M
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Prog Specialist
4 stars It's always hard to review a 1968 album in the 21st Century without making an effort of imagination and situate yourselves in the era, and only then you can realize the importance of THE NICE. Lets remember that when Ars Longa Vita Brevis was released, Psychedelia was the most developed musical genre, most bands were experimenting with sitars and oriental sounds while others were adding artificial orchestral intros and codas to Pop songs like THE MOODY BLUES, but THE NICE were releasing pure keyboard oriented Prog (with some Psych remains) adding the classical / Orchestral components, as an integral part of their music, in other words, they were far ahead of the musical movement.

The album starts with "Daddy, Where Did I Come From?", a song criticized as some sort of 12 bar comedy relief, but hey, ELP made similar songs like "Benny the Bouncer" that everybody accepted. Honestly I like THE NICE track much more, mostly because the Baroque oriented organ blended with Psychedelic elements like shouts, moans and strange voices. Good experimental material.

"Little Arabella" stats wit a nice keyboard and percussion intro which leads to a jazzy section interrupted by pompous Hammond eruptions which most people consider a filler, but in my opinion makes an excellent intermezzo before the strongest material begin to appear with the extremely weird "Happy Feuds" which sounds as music from the 60's British Invasion blended with pompous Hammond.

But the real stuff begins with the excellent "Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite", a fantastic adaptation of the vibrant Sibelius work. This theme is a predecessor of what ELP would base their career, with the difference that Brian Davidson is better keeping the tempo than Palmer ever was (Not saying a better drummer), in other words THE NICE were doing music from the mid 70's in the late 60's with great success.

On an interview PETE TOWNSHEND confessed he wanted to make a long suite around this era, but the producers convinced him that it was madness, because Rock songs had to be 2:30 to 3:00 minutes long at the most, so instead he worked the concept of Rock Opera with 2 - 3 minutes songs interconnected, but in 1968, THE NICE dared to release the 20 minutes multi-part suite "Ars Longa Vita Brevis", I can't assure is the first one of it's class, but I haven't heard an older one.

The track starts with the classical oriented instrumental "Prelude", a short section that announces what can we expect of the 19 following minutes, but as soon as it melts with the "First Movement Awakening" (Mostly a Brian Davidson drum solo), we know there's more than what can be expected, not the best one I ever heard, but surely unexpected.

For the second movement "Realisation", the band recruits the guitarist Malcolm Langstaff with whom they create a well elaborate and complex piece that mixes several different genres and styles, from Classical to Jazz and even pompous Symphonic in a style that would be rescued by ELP.

The third Movement "Acceptance "Brandenburger" where Keith Emerson explores Johan Sebastian Bach's music and gives us a preview of what he will be doing for the next ten years with the music of artists as Mussorgsky, Bartok, Ginastera, etc. Simply brilliant

The Fourth Movement "Denial" is more a Jazzy experiment of the whole band with a fantastic bass work by Lee Jackson supporting Emerson's wonderful excesses (somehow reminiscent of "Rondo"). Complex, elaborate, frantic..What else can we ask?

The Epic and the album end with the 49 seconds "Coda-Extension To The Big Note", an extremely pompous epilog that takes us 10 years into the future, because it reminds me of the spectacular sound of "Fanfare for the Common Man" (I heard Fanfare before so Coda reminds me of it, despite being released before).

Now, Ars Longa Vita Brevis is not only a versatile album, but also one of the first expressions of Symphonic Prog and probably the first Prog Rock Suite, in other words a pioneer in al senses, if THE NICE had released this album today or even in 1973, nobody would had cared, but in 1968 it was revolutionary, so I would be absolutely unfair if I rated it with less than 4 stars, that would be 4.5 if the system allowed us.

Ivan_Melgar_M | 4/5 |

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