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Emerson Lake & Palmer - A Time And A Place CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

3.41 | 31 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars On paper it looks great: a three-CD retrospective of ELP's career, drawn entirely from live performances, with a fourth disc of bootleg audience recordings (subtitled "a fan's view", but honestly aren't they all?)

Even better, and unlike the comprehensive but completely haphazard "Return of the Manticore" box from 1993, the selections in each set (official and illegal) are arranged in chronological order. When heard from start to finish the program follows the entire trajectory of the band's life span, from Progressive supergroup to dinosaur has-beens to their bittersweet rebirth on the nostalgia circuit in the 1990s. All in all an invaluable history lesson, in just over four hours.

So I had high hopes for this package. But the experience of actually listening to it was more than a little frustrating, for a number of reasons. Even before arriving at the bootleg tapes on Disc Four the audio quality is wildly inconsistent, because the material comes from so many sources. And the standard of the supposed re-mastering is lackluster at best: much of the music here has been previously (or was subsequently) released, and sounds better elsewhere.

Not surprisingly, the gems are all front-loaded onto the first half of Disc One, dating back to the band's "first debut performance ever", according to a confused emcee at the Isle of Wight Festival in August of 1970 (it was actually ELP's "second debut performance ever"). Robert Fripp, who at the time expressed an interest in joining the new group when the future of KING CRIMSON was looking bleak, puts the embryonic trio in perspective: "For a while it looked as if ELP might hold the possibility of carrying forward the aspirations of Crimson. The while was very short."

Sour grapes, perhaps, after his advances were spurned by Keith Emerson. But you can hear what he meant in these recordings: the excitement of those early gigs is still palpable over forty years later. The CD cheats by including separate excerpts from "Take a Pebble" under different titles ("Ballad of Blue" is Greg Lake's acoustic section, with singing; "High Level Fugue" is more of the Emerson solo spot in the song), but it's fascinating to hear the pianist test driving riffs from "Tarkus", "Tank", and Aaron Copeland's "Hoedown", long before they appeared in studio form.

That initial, innovative spirit was too soon sidetracked by success, and in retrospect the Prog Rock pioneers didn't actually progress too far after 1971, except in sales and surplus equipment. The "Works"-era gigs on Disc Two drive that point emphatically home: it's easily he weakest of the first three CDs, and doesn't even include any samples from the full orchestral leg of the tour.

The band's comeback in the '90s, represented on Disc Three, at least exhibited more vitality (if not originality). And the fan recordings on Disc Four include some rare performances ("The Endless Enigma"; "Abaddon's Bolero"), small consolation for the not unexpected and sometimes quite poor bootleg sound.

My advice to consumers, for what it's worth, is to skip this four-disc box altogether and go straight to the individual live releases from each era in ELP's checkered history: "Welcome Back My Friends..." for the classic '70s stuff; "Live at Nassau Coliseum '78" for the "Works" material; and "Live at the Royal Albert Hall" for the '90s reunion shows. Throw in the "Live at the Isle of Wight" concert CD or the original "Pictures at an Exhibition" and the band's history is more or less complete. You'll get the benefit of complete performances and better sound, both of which are conspicuously missing from this package. The legacy of ELP deserves something more than the fan's scrapbook presented here.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |


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