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


The Nice

Symphonic Prog

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5 stars Hello all you prog freaks out there!!! This is where Keith Emerson started!!! This is Nice´s second album ...and you can hear all Emersons classical influences out there...and its the beginning of ELP..... Its a great album and if you´re into´ll need this!!! Their first one is also great...but it more like early Floyd!!!
Report this review (#5129)
Posted Monday, December 29, 2003 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars 2,5 stars really!!! Unfortunately the departure of O'List drastically changed the sound , the power and the structure of this band and it was never the same after that. As Emerson had nobody else to dialogue with musically speaking to give answers to his lines, he became the true and unchallenged leader and soon let all of his excessive moods wander onto the vinyl. However a big improvement is the recording quality. gone is the muddy sound of their debut and every instrument is clearly heard - well there is only three left ;-)

Arabella , Daddy and Happy Friends are still the same kind of psychic tunes found on their debut and reminding of Floyd's debut. However , the Karelia Suite reworks as well as the whole of side 2 are the typical example of classical reworks I hold few interest in and are a bit pointless nowadays although at the time of release , they were influential. IMHO, this is exactly one of the cliché of prog I dislike : the classical Oeuvre rework or in some other cases the rip-off. On top of it , there is a lenghty drum solo in the Prelude to the suite. I can accept drum solos on live albums but I always cringe a bit when there is one on a studio album.

I regard this one as "Works-the preludes" as a wink to mid-era ELP discography! The first disaster in trying to rock the classics

Report this review (#5130)
Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
2 stars I tried very hard to like the "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" suite, but never quite managed. The only things lifting this one up from "Bad" are the Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite and the two moderately catchy throwaways, "Happy Freuds" and "Little Arabella."
Report this review (#5131)
Posted Friday, February 6, 2004 | Review Permalink
2 stars I would like to give this 2 and half stars as it is a notch up from their first album.The side long suite 'Ars Longa Vita Brevis' is the reason for getting this.This is where prog rock started.Unfortunately the production quality of the whole album is just plain awfull as Emerson even admitted at the time.Keith Emerson fans will already have this.Others should avoid.
Report this review (#5133)
Posted Sunday, May 9, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I've heard three albums by The Nice (Ars Longa Vita Brevis, Five Bridges and Elegy) and all three leave me with the same impression ... that The Nice was innovative for its time, but fatally flawed.

Flawed for two main reasons, the first being that budding genius keyboardist Keith Emerson was too talented and ambitious for his fellow band members, particular lead vocalist Lee Jackson. I've not usually fussy about vocals, but Jackson's singing is awful. While Jackson (as bassist) and drummer Brian Davison are a competent and occassionally creative rhythm section, there is a feeling of unfulfilled potential about The Nice's music.

Secondly The Nice was a band pulling in too many different directions and were not particularly outstanding in one style. A diverse combination of shorter psychedelic tunes, lengthy pomp-rock and whole classical suites (sometimes with an orchestra) coupled with a lack of true compositional skill (well, that was something that would eventually change) meant that The Nice are always going to be come a cropper when compared to the giants of prog that succeeded them.

Having said all that, The Nice are still worth listening to, even if most people coming to the band right now will probably be ELP fans who will need to readjust their expectations. Ars Longa Vita Brevis is probably my favourite of the three albums I've heard and if you bear in mind that this was released in 1968, it really is pretty damn progressive stuff.

The album commences with a trio of shorter, occasionally baudy tunes. Daddy Where Did I Come From? is a juvenile, slightly rude psychedelic tune, with some funky keyboard work that barely holds this piece together and a fair amount of narrative that really buries the piece. Little Arabella has some nice jazzy overtones with a great solo from Emerson, who does great organ work as well as some nice underlying piano stuff and Happy Freuds is probably my favourite tune of the first three opening ones. The verse sees Jackson singing at his best, and there's a nice psych interlude that complements the stately melody of the main tune.

Then we have Emerson's first stab at re-writing the classics. Sibelius' Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite is a song that The Nice would redo on Five Bridges Suite but I like it more in this version. You're not going to get prizes for guessing who the star of the show is ... despite the bombast I think this is one of Emerson's finest performances ever. A great mixture of clasical infections and rock vibes, it foreshadows in many ways the direction that Emerson would follow (to greater effect) in ELP.

The title track is a symphonic suite in six parts and while it's rather uneven, I think it deserves attention if only for the ambition Emerson shows. It doesn't get the best of starts as Prelude is just a rather pedestrian classical segment featuring an orchestra while the 1st Movement: Awakening is basically a failed Brian Davison drum solo (I am a fan of drum solos by the way, but this one doesn't make the grade). From then on in, it's generally marvelous stuff though. The 2nd Movement: Realisation is classic 60s rock with a cool riff apparently co-written with guitarist Davy O'List who left before this album. While Lee Jackson's atrocious singing makes an unfortunate appearance I really enjoy the progressive psychedelic jam that sees Emerson on piano. The 3rd movement: Acceptance starts off with some prominent brass work and there's an orchestral segment before Keith comes in ... if it seems all too familiar it's because the band and orchestra are doing a version of Allegro from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3! I know classical purists will be in tears, but I think most proggers should enjoy it, I certainly did. Keith kicks butt on this one. The 4th Movement: Denial is for the most part typical 60s organ-led blues rock although Lee Jackson comes in with vocals towards the end. Like that other classical/rock fusion experiment of the time ... Deep Purple's Concerto For Group And Orchestra ... it can be pretty messy yet is intriguing.

I've heard complaints about the sound quality of the recordings and recommend the remastered versions from Castle which are awesome (I've got the Castle remastered version of Ars Long, but older versions of two other Nice albums, and the difference is amazing ... this disc also has two bonus tracks albeit in the form of single edits of tunes already on the album). ... 64% on the MPV scale.

Report this review (#5135)
Posted Monday, April 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars Actually a 2,5 stars. This album is weaker than the previous one and shows The Nice as a 3- piece band. As Hugues Chatraine pointed, David O'List's departure from The Nice left Emerson without a musical counterpart. Brian Davison and Lee Jackson are good musicians, although they're not as good as Emerson and pale by comparison to Palmer and Lake and Jackson is really a bad singer and his bass playing is a bit old-fashioned, more appropriated to a psychedelic band, not a prog one. The "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" suite is still a primitive attempt of a classical music/rock fusion, featuring some great moments and a bit underdeveloped at some times. "Intermezzo from Karelia Suite", IMHO, is the great track at this album, the one which I always listen to it more than one time when I play the CD. But overall this album is primitive ("Daddy, Where Did I Come From" is one of the most embarassing moments in all prog-rock history!) and appeals only to Emerson's fans and proggers interested at the roots of progressive music.
Report this review (#45019)
Posted Wednesday, August 31, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars It's another "proto-prog" album, whose interest is connected to a few orchestral scores in the vein of Brubeck or Thelonius Monk, the real music background of Emerson...nevertheless the songs sometimes are ingenuous and raw as well, in spite of appreciating the second side, the suite in which the contamination between the classic music language and the profane a bit irritating one, is well balanced.

True score: "2 stars"

"2 stars and an half-3 stars", as for its importance once again!!

Report this review (#46339)
Posted Sunday, September 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars I'm astonished to see such low ratings for this candy straight from proto-prog years. Is it a question of bad production? Or again, is it Lee Jackson's "anarchic" voice? Let's try focusing on ideas, and here you can find many of them, making this album precious and intelligent. I've always preferred The Nice to Emerson Lake & Palmer, because I find them fresher, straight in your face, as iconoclastic and anarchic as youth - or better, as rock should be (sometimes I find that prog rock suffers too much from its being "adult"). A song such as "Daddy, where did I come from" could kick out any punk piece: irreverent and ironic lyrics, aggressive riffing, and yet you can already find Emerson's tribute to Bach (before he starts raping his hammond). This is pure adrenalyn. "Little Arabella", I have to admit, is weak, but their rendering of the Intermezzo from Karelia Suite is pure brilliance, jazzy, rich in free form approach. Jackson playing his bass with a bow and the effects Emerson can create from his hammond are enthusiastic. "Happy Freud" features intelligent lyrics and an unconventional flare which make it sound really modern and powerful still today. And then you have the suite: "Ars Longa, Vita brevis" is pure punk-prog, with the harsh voice of Lee Jackson hammering your ears - and yet you couldn't find any substitute for this unique sound. Davidson proves to be an excellent drummer, while Emerson - most of all in the improvised section following their version of the third Brandenburg Concert - performs such incredible numbers with his hammond you'll never find in his following production. Come on, don't fear exploring this "dirty" side of our favourite music!
Report this review (#117660)
Posted Sunday, April 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars Nice try. but no cigar

The Nice's second album saw the band reduced to a trio with the departure of guitarist David O'List during recording. The band initially looked to recruit a replacement guitarist, with Steve Howe actually joining the band but for less than a day. Ultimately it was decided to carry on as a three-piece. This of course meant that the already heavy bias towards the keyboards of Keith Emerson was tilted even further in that direction.

The album opens with a trilogy of throwaway psychedelic songs which, while mildly amusing, do little to explain why the band is now held in such high esteem. It is only when we get to the band's interpretation of the classic piece Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite composed by Sibelius that we are reminded of Keith Emerson's true talent. It should be said that this is not the stunning live version which appears on the Five bridges album, the version here being devoid of the orchestral arrangement and Emerson's knife attack on his instrument being somewhat muted. This rendition is very much an organ recital, Emerson playing it pretty straight in terms of keeping to the original composition.

The feature track though is the suite in 4 movements which gives the album its title. This was the first time the band has worked with an orchestra, the piece being an ambitious undertaking which only works in parts. On the downside, we have a superfluous drum solo and some mediocre composing. On the plus side, the third movement is a fine interpretation of part of Bach's Brandenbuger concerto. In reality, this is rather a crude effort to combine band and orchestra, the two coming from completely different directions. As such, the piece of value as a historical item rather than a musical one.

In all, an album which demonstrates how the fusion of band and orchestra, and of rock and classical music was a more painful process than history might now indicate. While there is plenty of innovation and a genuine effort to break down barriers here, the results are patchy at best.

Report this review (#158150)
Posted Wednesday, January 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars It is not possible to overestimate the Nice's importance to Progressive Rock. In their moment, they were prog and if the eye-opening debut Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack didn't show that, this dazzling follow-up did. Sure they're so old and dated you'd never put them on unless alone in the house. Yes Lee Jackson is an intolerable singer, Davey O'List was a dreadful guitarist and the band couldn't seem to mix a record to save their lives. And of course some of the songs are, let's say, immature. But things were looking up for the band in the summer of 1968; halfway through the recording sessions for Ars Longa Vita Brevis, Dave O'List left due to personal issues (his career at this point strangely mimicking Syd Barrett) and Keith Emerson, finally divorced from this banshee of a player, took the lead and never let go. And though the first album hadn't done as well as hoped, Emerson, Jackson and Davison had become a well-respected underground pop/psych band looking forward to a fruitful new period of music and triumphs. Take a good listen; this is the prototype for what became the most well-known Prog supergroup the world has ever seen, and this second offering is a noticeable improvement from the first. The six-part, 20 minute, fully orchestrated title cut closed the deal. If this was psychedelic rock then it had spontaneously mutated into something quite a bit more, led by a gifted pianist/composer with a firmer grasp of music than anyone had seen in rock to that point.

A bit of boogie from Keith's piano go-go dances the inquisitive 'Daddy Where Did I Come From?', a twisted little creep tune with the organ on deep background and some troubled dialog. Fun if equally creepy 'Little Arabella' is completely mad, supported by a bridge of horns and Emerson's tea party strangeness, and pixied poke at psychobabble 'Happy Freuds' may bring a grin. But it's the moans of 'Intermezzo's cello that signal the start of something special. The band lumbers in, Jackson's less than light touch on bass and Brian Davison doing a typically good job, somehow holding this ambitious new venture together. Careful improvisation follows showing how jazz, classical and rock can meet and maybe, someday, even get along. Emerson was in an ideal position to do this-- no one could touch him and the title is extraordinary symphonic rock, the real stuff, covered in muck maybe, but there. Davison takes a four-minute drum set, Keith reveals his penchant for both American and Latin jazz - soloing beautifully through here and having a blast - and royal horns break to allow Johann Sebastian his due, woven quite nicely into the band's pumping jam with the orchestra's accents growing more frequent, culminating in a huge theatrical finish.

Posthumously imitated far more often than they're credited for and yet seen widely as a novelty, in reality the Nice were incomparable. Unrewarded trailblazers and rugged pioneers of those lean and treacherous early days of 'progressive rock' that they started but others would finish with much more flair and skill. But their memory deserves every bit of credit it can get its grimy hands on and their ancient, ridiculous, paisley-patched music seems to somehow get better with age. Go figure.

Report this review (#166506)
Posted Sunday, April 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars After the dynamics and colorfulness shown on their debut album, The Nice had to face their second recording endeavor as a trio (most of it, since O'List left after the sessions had already started), the result being Ars Longa, Vita Brevis. This was a tremedously pioneering album in the development of what was to be the symphonic trend of progressive rock. This is actually the album in which The Nice seems almost ending the transition from being a psychedelic art-rock band to a symphonic power-trio. And I emphasize the power-trio factor since Emerson saw himself in the position of adding extra power to his performative antics (including all the live paraphernalia) in order to compensate for the loss of the guitar as the natural coordinator: in this way, the reduced band could already start to function as a small orchestra of rock. But the aforesaid transition wasn't over yet, so we can still find lots of humorous and naive psychedelic structures, as you can tell in tracks 1 and 3. The former is, as the title explicitly indicates, a satyre about the uncomfortable first children's quiestions about sexuality and reproduction, while the latter is a not too flattering tribute to the pretensions of psychiatry. The use of funny vocalizations and catchy R'n'B rhythms properly fit the standards of British psychedelic rock: as a comparison, the band shows more finesse than Syd-era Pink Floyd and less finesse than Procol Harum on the joyful tracks from their first two albums, and a similar rawness to the first Mothers of Invention releases. 'Little Arabella', while keeping some unhidden relation to the spirit of the aforesaid tracks, is on another level. It is jazzier in its overall mood and it also includes some classical undertones in the interactions between organ and piano underneath the boogie-jazz scheme: this piece was clearly composed from a power-trio perspective despite tha fact that it isn't really as loud or pompus as your regular power-trio stuff. The symphonic side that has actually emerged in the band's ideology is present in the album's predominant parts: the 'Karelia' track and the namesake suite that occupied the vinyl edition's B-side. 'Karelia' offers a playful rendition of the Sibelius original, very akin to its cheerful essence. Emerson's chops are not too over-the-top, so the organ sounds manage to stay quite clean in the mix (the album doesn't have a great sound production, let me add at this point); the rhythm duo brings a reliable foundation for the organ constant colorfulness. The album's sidelong suite is the apex, and here's where things get as loud as can be at this moment of The Nice's history. Movements 1, 2 and 4 state a very cohesive expansion of basic ideas, while Movement 3 brings a different stage in the shape of a Bach-reconstruction with a heavy presence of orchestra: it does break the connection but instead brings a healthy dose of chamber pretension that symphonic rock can't normally do without, especially due to the elements of exquisiteness and elegance that it provides. Movement 1 brings the main opening motif followed by a drum solo before the Movement 2 brings a sung section and a classical-meets-jazz piano solo (yet another occasion for Emerson's chops). The last Movement retakes the ethusiasm started (then aborted) at the piano solo but reconstrued under the guidelines of organ with more emphasis on the rock than on the jazz factor. It goes all the way into the Coda, closing down the suite and the album with a plethoric mood. Almost excellent in itself, Ars Longa, Vita Brevis reveals itself as an excellent step for progressive mankind despite being just a small step for a trio who still had a few more works in store for release before their eventual breakup.

(I dedicate this review to the memory of the recently deceased Brian Davison).

Report this review (#168128)
Posted Saturday, April 19, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars lee jackson; greatest singer in the history of progressive rock.

...and i mean it. there were reasons, my droogies, why the man was chirping for what at the time was sharp new edge of new music. those tobacco-colored tones still stand out against anyone you care to put before him. raw and thick, nasty and dry, lee was no less a instrument than keith's moog, with as many limitations and the same boundless potential. line him up with similar atonal crooners like beefheart, lou reed, tom waits or even dylan (which he covered in a brilliantly postmodern way) and watch how the passion comes forward.

i'm forever waiting for someone to compile a tribute to the nice, with proper vocalists re-interpreting his takes on the original nice tracks. the juxtaposition alone would be worth the effort (let's hear mirah, amy winehouse, or the girls from mum cover little arabella - ouch) . say what you might about his style, but find us another anything like him

on 'ars longa vita brevis we get the chance to hear him as well-produced as he ever will be with the nice, having what sounds like a blast with the all new multitracking tech and riffing off the symphonic psychedelics of the day. there is a freak range of sounds emanating from him on happy freuds that seriously challenges keith's antics.

so for this and other nice albums i say: please listen up all you shallow haters; jackson's vocals are as much a part of the experience as anything else in the mix. surely there must be someone out there who understands. oh, and he's a great bassist as well. and those other guys on keyboards and drums certainly sound pretty good too.

Report this review (#170391)
Posted Friday, May 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars The Life Expectancy of Fat Bottomed Girls

'Daddy Where Did I Come From?' - Rather an ordinary rock riff that stretches in protest at being the load bearing wall in this humorous construction sung by Emerson about the facts of life. The spoken voice of the uncomfortable 'parent' attempting to impart this knowledge to his inquisitive offspring is that of the band's manager Tony Stratton-Smith (and subsequent founder of Charisma records) The damning indictment hurled from the bridge section is really just a bit 'rich' from a band of hellraisers like the Nice could be:

Your back teeth rotting in a gallon of booze, you can't even work out how to fasten your shoes, you get yourself into such a state, it's no small wonder that you can't even answer questions

Similar musical materials were put to better use on Azrael Revisited on the next album. The vinyl pressing of the record I originally purchased had some guitar on this track which beefs things up considerably, but the CD reissue I own does not?

'Little Arabella' - Emerson dials up an authentically cheesy 'Errol Garner' organ sound for this knowingly louche swing pastiche that Lee Jackson delivers with insouciant charm throughout. I think all of us have met at some time or another exactly the sort of dippy hippy chick that they cruelly lampoon here.

Talks in riddles talks in rhymes, she is a problem of the times, I'm rather glad she isn't mine

The very impressive trumpet was contributed by a session player.

'Happy Freuds' - the obsession with the theories of Sigmund Freud was rampant during the late 60's and the Nice have clearly decided they've had quite enough of listening to the sort of psycho-babble that was endemic amongst the so called 'beat' intelligentsia. Even on this second album the band prove to be more than capable of crafting a memorable pop song. Keith's voice however, was never suited to the sort of material he composed and as spirited an effort as he makes here, it just don't cut it.

'Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite' - as a first hesitant step into the adaptation of a classical work this ain't bad, but my enthusiasm is always going to be tempered by the wonderful heights they reached on later attempts. Brilliantly played as always but suffers from a rather haphazard and sloppy arrangement which casts Sibelius in a rather insipid light. Nice use of occasional bowed bass from Jackson to authenticate and acknowledge the origins of the work. Roy Harper claims to have inspired the band to tackle this piece.

'Don Edito El Gruva' - The problem with all practical jokes is that they lose much if restricted to just the audio realm. Orchestra tunes up and someone blows a very loud whistle. Much giggling ensues. Guess you had to be there. (or had sampled the whistle beforehand) 'Don' being engineer Don Brewer.

'Ars Longa Vita Brevis' - (Art is long, Life is short- Lee Jackson's art school's motto)

This 20 minute 'suite' indicates a massive leap in ambition for the band and although it suffers from the lack of direction exhibited by all those swimming in uncharted waters, represents a pivotal moment in rock that ushered in a whole new climate of experimentation and adventurous risk taking. (Yippee!)

It was seeded by a riff that departing guitarist Davy O'List contributed and the rest seems to have snowballed from there. Much debate ensues about who actually plays the guitar parts on Ars Longa, but the prevailing view is that it is Malcolm Langstaff, a contemporary of Jackson and fellow Novocastrian who learned the parts by listening to a BBC session of an earlier version.

Brian Davison was well known to be reluctant to perform drum solos on stage, so it is something of a surprise to see one on this album during the Awakening section. 'Blinky's' speed, feel and touch are all well to the fore and it's refreshing to get to hear the subtle detail available on CD that was muddied on the original vinyl.

O'List's original riff appears in the Realisation Movement and it's 'eastern' tonality is exploited by the Nice in an incense filled song section sung with suitably oriental inflections by Jackson. His lyrics alas, remain as stubbornly cryptic as always:

Life's too short to paint a kiss, so sing a picture, paint a song, take it home and bang your gong (!?)

Keith then moves onto piano and embarks on a Latin percussion backed tour de force which runs the gamut of most of his avowed influences at the time i.e Charlie Parker, Bach and Jacques Loussier.

'Acceptance - Brandenburger' - Emerson's choice of vehicle here is Bach's 3rd Brandenburger Concerto (a series that has served the Nice well, see - Country Pie) with which to extemporize on and contains some of his greatest organ playing to date. The opening statement of the theme on Hammond never fails to raise the hairs on the back of your humble correspondent's neck. The Nice even manage to tease a performance out of the orchestra that borders on 'swinging' a rare feat from classical players.

'Denial' - It's a relief to be able to hear this finally resurfacing from the murk that cloaked it on the vinyl version. Alludes in places to phrases and motifs that would appear on Hoedown by ELP and reprises O'List's original riff in a very satisfying symmetrical conclusion to the whole suite.

This record probably captures the Nice 'halfway up the stairs to the observation bay' that they were able to look out from on it's successor, and although it could be described as very patchy, it is an incredibly far sighted work that blazed a trail where no others had dared to set a Beatle boot.

Report this review (#171130)
Posted Thursday, May 15, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars This first ELP album mainly prevails thanks to the two reworked classical themes Karelia Suite and the title track Ars Vita Longa Brevis.

They hold everything one loves (or hate) from the later works of the and. Self indulgence from dear old Keith; but not only. After an obviously pompous "Prelude", the next "Awakenings" holds a drum solo which was probably not the best musical idea that the band has ever had.

There is nothing to say about the musicians of course, the drumming from Palmer is excellent. What! It is not Palmer, hum.Davidson? Are you sure? Oh, it is an album from "The Nice" and not an ELP one. I'm sorry about that! I guess that you got the idea.

Realisation holds all the pomposity of the later trio as well as weak vocals. The "Acceptance" part is way better, and offers a very pleasant interplay between each band members while "Denial" is my favourite section of this long suite. Great keyboards playing from the master and strong backing from the rhythmic as well.

In all, I consider the title track as the best part of this album.

From the first three songs of this "Ars Longa." only "Daddy..." is worth a mention. A fine psychedelic track well in line with those late mid-sixties and strongly early Floyd oriented. The jazzy Little "Arabella" and the childish "Happy Freuds" can be considered as pure fillers IMO.

This album is just a rehearsal of some pictures at an exhibition. But very pale in comparison. Still, it must be considered as highly innovative at the time of its release. Five out of ten but I upgrade it to three stars.

Report this review (#187918)
Posted Tuesday, November 4, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Life is short, art long - Hippocrates

Although The Nice tinkered with the classics on their first album, The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack, this second work, released in late 1968 after guitarist Davy O` List was dismissed from the band without being replaced, acquired a more distinct underlying attitude towards the classics and jazz in the context of rock as exemplified by the ambitious juxtaposition of a rock trio and orchestra on the side long title pîece.

Even though the first side contains much more of the same Floydian psychedelia found on the previous record the presence of the ghosts of JS Bach and Jean Sibelius are even more pronounced on the zany Daddy Where Did I Come From and the jazzy Little Arabella which features some of Emerson`s early keyboard layering with the piano and Hammond organ. A sequel to Rondo, Intermezzo from Sibelius`s Karelia Suite once again uses original classical motifs as the Nice continued to blow the simplicities of pop off the graph helping forge the way towards much more panoramic artsy music of the early 70s.

While the showy 20 minute title track Ars Longa Vita Brevis ( Symphony For Group & Orchestra ) with it`s 4 movements has it`s moments it doesn`t jive all the time and the orchestrations don`t always work well with an energized rock ensemble ( as Deep Purple would also find out a year later). If one also can overlook the rather uneccessary drum solo early on (drum solos were never that effective on record) and the weak vocal section, the third and fourth movements which contain the nucleus of the work, a take on Allegro Bach`s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, make the piece a worthwhile listen. Emerson sounds like some sort of possessed madman and conjures up some cool jazz textures on the grand piano switching to the Hammond where he offers some snippets that foreshadow ELP pieces such as Hoedown and Tarkus and is supported forcefully by the powerhouse rhythm section of Lee Jackson and the late Brian Davidson. However, the impact of their neo-classical designs were not to be fully realized until the release of The Five Bridges Suite in 1970 shortly before the dissolution of the band. It is ironic that a band that was so ahead of their time turned the clock back over 200 years for inspiration. Despite the flaws in the extended title "symphony" it certainly did influence other bands into composing longer more complex compositions based on classical motifs that continued to give popular music more depth and sophistication.

It will be remembered that Yes in their infancy actually opened for the Nice in the late sixties and that Steve Howe was even briefly considered as a replacement for O`List. Yes finally consolidated the extended suite-like rock epic with their 1972 Close To The Edge masterwork and without doubt are indebted along with other early seventies prog bands from King Crimson to Triumvirat to the visions of the Nice and their innovative 1968 album Ars Longa Vita Brevis.

Report this review (#212591)
Posted Monday, April 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" is the 2nd full-length studio album by UK psychadelic/progressive rock act The Nice. The album was released through Immediate records in November 1968. The Nice is often considered as one of the most important proto-prog acts of the 60s because of how they mixed psychadelic rock with classical influenced piano, organ, and harpsichord playing (courtesy of Keith Emerson who would later become a member of prolific progressive rock act Emerson, Lake and Palmer). While the debut album by The Nice titled "The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (1967)" is truly a groundbreaking album, the classical influences are much more pronounced on "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" and fans of Emerson, Lake and Palmer are adviced to take a listen to this album. There´s been a lineup change since the debut album as guitarist David O'List left the band during the recording sessions leaving The Nice as a three-piece without a guitarist. Guest guitarist Malcolm Langstaff do play some parts on the album though.

The opening three track on the album are in a psychadelic rock style (with vocals) and they remind me a bit of the sound Pink Floyd had on their debut album "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)". They are all decent tracks but seldom reach excellence. The last half of the album is much more classically influenced (with full orchestra parts) and progressive, and as a result also quite a bit more interesting. "Intermezzo from the Karelia" Suite is an 8:57 minutes long interpretation of a part of the "Karelia Suite" by Finnish classical composer Sibelius. The closing title track on the album is an 18:20 minutes long classically influenced and mostly instrumental (although it does feature some vocals) piece of music and should be considered the centerpiece of the album. Keith Emerson shows the full arsenal on this one. It´s pretty impressive for the time.

"Ars Longa Vita Brevis" features a well sounding production, which suits the music perfectly. The production is of a much better quality than the case is on the rather weak produced debut. The musicianship on all posts is on a high level. While Keith Emerson clearly outshines both drummer Brian Davidson and bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson the latter two´s performances are very good too. So overall "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" is another pretty groundbreaking album by The Nice. Sometimes the compositions tend to be more interesting than they are actually great, but a 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong.

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Posted Saturday, July 4, 2009 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars With singer/guitarist David O'List leaving the band before this, only the second album by The Nice, was released, this record became the precursor to Emerson Lake & Palmer's music. And for 1968, it's quite good.

The album starts with the strange Daddy Where Did I Come From?, a throwaway piece, that starts out as a ditty about how a parent reacts to a child asking about sex, and bizarrely turns into an indictment against drinking. If you thought Benny The Bouncer was out of place... But Emerson saves this with a couple of nice keyboard interludes.

Little Arabella is a jazzy number, with Emerson providing cool Hammond licks. Then comes Happy Freuds, easily the worst song on the album. Lee Jackson's vocals make it almost painful to listen to.

The remainder of the album is worth the price of admission. Starting with Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite, and continuing through the six movement Ars Vita Longa Brevis, the band does an excellent job of playing classical music adapted for the power trio. If you didn't know better, you might think you were listening to very early ELP. This is highly recommended for the ELP enthusiast.

Report this review (#295532)
Posted Friday, August 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars When this was released in late 1968, this album was quite innovative as it was the first true collaboration between a symphonic orchestra and a rock group. That said, it certainly has not aged all that well, but is still a good listen. The US version tacked on a censored, stereo version of the single "America" (here it lacks the "America was pregnant with promise and anticipation..." bit from the single) while the European release opens up with "Daddy, Where Did I Come From" (the second track on the US album) which features Keith Emerson on vocals, not Lee Jackson (although you can now see why Jackson was picked as the vocalist). The majority of side one is filled with psychedelic oddities including their attempt at copying The Mothers Of Invention with "Happy Freud" and a early stab at jazz with "Little Arabella" which features some rather terrible vocals from bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson.

The end of side one is really where this album begins to take off with a psychedelic rendition of Jean Sibelius' "Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite" which begins as a fairly faithful adaption for organ, drums and Jackson's signature bowed Vox bass. Side Two is filled with the title suite for rock band and orchestra. This is quite an ambitious piece although Emerson mostly relies on combining quotes from a whole variety of classical composers (the "Acceptance" movement is a rock & orchestra rendition of J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3") and jazz musicians. It's rare that he uses his own original themes, although he does approach other peoples work creatively.

For better or worse, this is one of the true beginnings of symphonic progressive rock. While many can credit Moody Blues "Days Of Future Passed" which was released a year earlier as the first classical rock album, the Moodies did not really collaborate with the orchestra so much as have orchestral interludes which were more Montovani than Mozart. Check this one out and remember, this was quite innovative in 1968.

Report this review (#377548)
Posted Monday, January 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#507435)
Posted Monday, August 22, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars I'll be honest: "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" is not a masterpiece but it is probably the first true Prog Rock album in history. The Rock arrangement of Sibelius' "intermezzo from Karelia Suite" caused a scandal at the time, but today it still sounds like a piece innovative, fresh and magic. Although it was not the first example of such a mix (classic Music and Rock). Also good is the long suites in 6 parts that is the last track of the original album that contain the version of rearranged 3rd movement of "Brandenburg Concerto". But today this suite sound not so good as in 1968. For the rest "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" remain a good album but too typical of late 60's mentality in music.

Remain the fact that "Ars LOnga Vita Brevis" is a good example of early Prog and Symphonic Prog, also if in an embrional phase. But, sure, a good album.

Report this review (#615992)
Posted Monday, January 23, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars 9.5/15P. This time the album doesn't drown in awful production, but rather in weird arrangements. Still, it's fairly essential due to the longer numbers and Keith Emerson's unexpectedly good and unexpectedly vast lead vocal presence!

On quite a lot of proto-prog albums the tiny pieces of magic rather unfold in the more unconspicuous moments than in the elements destined to make a magnum opus out of the respective album. Days Of Future Passed features some amazing short song parts (Evening, Time To Get Away, most importantly) along with some plainly awful orchestral arrangements which bother me a lot. Beggar's Opera started out in 1970 with an enormously ambitious debut album - a complete failure, in my opinion - but really grabbed me one year later with the brief Nimbus, still one of the most beautiful 'ambient' pieces I have ever listened to.

Ars Longa Vita Brevis is a completely different matter. It's beautiful in some of the more lightweight tracks, it's stunning in big portions of the longer tracks, but in total it's not really less of an inconsistent mess than the pretty unlistenable The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack debut record. And curiously it's really the pretentious experimentation which makes considerable parts of the album really captivating and rousing.

Let's start with the one piece in which everything is perfect: the Sibelius adaptation Karelia Suite Intermezzo. It already was a marching and rolling piece of music in its original orchestral version, and it also was framed by atmospheric fanfare parts in Sibelius' own score. This means that the modifications by The Nice do not mainly affect the form, but rather the plain substance. And this is the point which decides if a classical adaptation is bound to fail (e.g. classical melodies paired with a stupid rock beat) or if there's a chance that the adaptation might be a success. Since the Nice version consists of jazz-inflected 'fantasies'/variations on the Sibelius melodies to a large extent you may definitely expect the latter. The mixture of Emerson's inspired organ improvisation, Brian Davison's swinging drum groove, Lee Jackson's easy-going and rumbly bass lines as well as his atmospheric bowed bass guitar counterpoints makes up a lot of entertainment over the complete piece. Maybe this is also the track on the album which has dated least; it still sounds quite fresh today, even after a lot of listens.

The A-side of the album is a huge surprise for a very different cause: Keith Emerson handles all lead vocals on Happy Freuds, Daddy, Where Did I Come From?, on the bridge of Little Arabella and backing vocals on Ars Longa Vita Brevis. This means that Keith Emerson actually (temporarily) was chief lead vocalist of the band - and he doesn't do a bad job at all in the context of these lightweightish and psychedelic pop songs. Hardly anyone seems to notice this matter of fact as most reviews usually suspect the vocals to be yet another facet of Lee Jackson's unpredictable vocal capabilites.

Happy Freuds stands out as one of the rare songs which appeal to the same corners of my mind as some of the Pink Floyd songs from 1968-1970 (Richard Thompson's guitar solo in John Martyn's Go Easy and Kevin Ayers' Margaret, for instance, have the same effect). Think Summer '68 or See-Saw. This doesn't mean that Emerson tried to copy the atmosphere in any way. Actually, the atmosphere is very different, but the effect is similar. The opening riff of Happy Freuds is still rather quirky, but as soon as Emerson brings these dreamy organ carpets into this jaunty psych-pop tune I'm totally happy. Amazingly, he's composed a pretty complex baroque-style vocal arrangement here and sings all those high-pitched parts with full power in spite of his wobbly sense of pitch. In the end, the vocals turn out to be perfectly alright and even downright beautiful in places.

In spite of Emerson's good vocal job, the long album version of Daddy, Where Did I Come From? isn't a tremendously satisfying listen - especially if you know the alternative version which comes along as a bonus track on some reissues. The album version simply is too fast, too long and too overladen with pianos, acoustic guitars, orgasmic moaning and stoned babbling. The shorter alternative version still features Dave O'List on a fuzzy electric guitar, and played by this line-up you really understand how genuinely great the riff of this song is. This time, Lee Jackson handles the lead vocals, and if you listen to this version you know how well songs like these are suited to Jackson's hoarse voice. (Three years later, Dave O'List would perform Re-Make/Re-Model with Roxy Music in their first BBC session - both the guitar work and the overall sound of this session highlight in what way Dave O'List actually shaped the sound of both bands.)

Little Arabella - just like the more hectic Tantalising Maggie - wanders around dangerously on the ridge between messy lounge jazz and classicistic organ pomp. I don't like either of the two tracks mentioned too much, although later Little Arabella would become a fun live track due to Brian Davison's fabulous jazz drumming. In the studio he mainly sticks to a tambourine and some uninspired snare flams while Lee Jackson sings the stanzas. The bridge, however, makes up for the messy stanzas and reliably prevents me from skipping this track. Curiously, it again features Emerson on lead vocals and gives the song a sudden majestic note, including some mighty trumpet fanfares which might well be remnants of sideline-trumpeter Dave O'List's sparse contributions to the sessions. This brief part conveys a pretty strong wistfulness, but unfortunately it's really brief and soon leads back into the relaxed jazz shuffle. Emerson's organ improvisations in the second half are indeed pretty good, but the additional piano work distracts a bit from the nice organ tone. As I said: the sparse live version recorded at the Fillmore in 1969 is far superior to the studio recording. That's what I meant with my 'arrangement' remark in the review introduction.

This leads us to Ars Longa Vita Brevis. It's hard to explain how a combination of a muddy piece of beat-poetry-laden proto-jazz-rock, a lengthy drum solo and a swinging adaptation of one of Bach's Brandenburger Concertos can go together that well. But they do, in a way. And they do without one elaborate interlude and without any arc of suspense. So why does it work? Firstly, the drum solo (which usually is a safe means to ruin a longtrack) can be regarded as a percussive piece with closer touch points to Richard Strauss than to Ginger Baker. It still ain't 'ambient' to the extent of the percussive melodicism of Nick Mason's Grand Vizier's Garden Party, but it's a lot more than the typical showcase drum solo. Secondly, the pop song part is based around a catchy 3-3-3-3-2-2 jazz shuffle with lots of space to improvise around, and it features a rudimentary and gruff, but nicely jangling rhythm guitar part a bit along the lines of the first The Who albums. It's played by Malcolm Langstaff, a fellow Newcastle musician who played in some minor beat bands until his death in 2007; seemingly, Ars Longa Vita Brevis was his only session work, although he was part of the plethora of musicians who played with Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages. (Did you know that this band served as a professional diving board for Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, Nick Simper, Nicky Hopkins, Mick Abrahams and Danny McCulloch?)

Before I miss the point completely I'd like to point out that the Brandenburger part is really cool. Admittedly, Emerson's 1969 combination of Brandenburger and Bob Dylan's sketchy Country Pie is a lot more adventurous (I mean - who thinks up such a combination?), but both the idea and the slight discrepancy between the stiff playing of the orchestra and Davison's loose swing guarantees some amount of fun. Unfortunately (or rather 'unconsequently'), the orchestra is used neither in the song parts nor in most of the instrumental work-outs. This could have been a severe deficit, but fortunately there's a pretty gorgeous introduction part with Hammond organ, drums, bass and orchestra (also reprised as a 'Big Coda' in the very end) which placates me a lot. I would have loved to call it an 'exposition' or an 'overture', but it's neither; it's just a really decent classical work-out around some little motives which only share faint traits with the melodies of the vocal parts, augmented by a non-boring variation on the popular A-G-F-E passage which has been used quite often in progressive rock as a rewarding jam vehicle.

All in all I have to admit that The Nice stroll around on very thin ice on this record, but somehow they always bravely manage to keep away from overly pretentious pomp; instead there are some moments of great beauty here, though sadly they are a bit lost in the messy concept. The album would have profited a lot from the slower and less maniac version of Daddy, Where Do I Come From?, the addition of the gorgeous psychedelic pop song The Diamond Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon (including Keith Emerson's only recorded use of the much-detested Mellotron) and the mighty progressive rock classic America; the latter, by the way, seems to have appeared on the US version of the LP. I'm a bit helpless about the final rating, but I think that a good 3 star rating will do best - combined with an honest recommendation for those with a certain amount of interest in recent music history, in interesting psychedelia/proto-prog and - of course - in Keith Emerson's vocal talents.

Report this review (#1013653)
Posted Thursday, August 8, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars Just as Emerlist Davjack reminds me in broad strokes of Procol Harum's debut album (though I admit that this comparison doesn't hold up very well once I start thinking of specific details of the two albums), so this album reminds me in broad strokes of Shine on Brightly. Both albums feature a clear expansion in ambition over their respective previous albums, as manifested in the presence of a messy sidelong track in the second half; both feature a reduction in the importance of guitar (in the case of The Nice, guitar is almost completely gone thanks to the departure of O'List, though there's a small amount of it in the title track); both albums have a chunk of material in the first half that's more in line with the previous albums and is probably better than the more amibitious material that follows. While these albums strike me as having some parallels, however, I end up preferring Shine on Brightly by quite a bit over this one, even if I think that SOB is possibly the weakest album of Procol Harum's "classic" period.

The 19-minute title track, innovative though it might be, is a complete mess. There are interesting individual passages, especially in the jazz-piano section that follows the main vocal section of the piece, but this mix of jazz, classical (featuring a long excerpt from the 3rd Brandenburg Concerto), drum solos and long keyboard passages strikes me as having little, if any, coherence. Yes, "Tarkus" would be longer than this in a couple of years, but "Tarkus" is one of the most cleanly organized large-scale prog pieces ever written, and I enjoy all of the elements within it greatly. Yes, "Karn Evil 9" would be much more sprawling than this, and have some stupid aspects near the end, but that was at least split into three distinct large-scale sections, and each of them had its own clear personality. This one just keeps going and going, dumping in idea after idea with no clear rhyme or reason, and I find it very tedious. Then again, to the band's credit, it's not like they had clear models to base the piece on, so they deserve some credit for the effort.

The first half is more conventional on the whole, and splits between the psychedelic art-pop of the debut and some more excursions into the world of classical-rock synthesis. The latter is represented by the 9-minute interpretation of the Intermezzo from Sibelius' "Karelia Suite," and it's easy to hear the origins of Pictures at an Exhibition in this. The track starts with the trio playing the basic themes of the original more-or-less faithfully, but this turns into a launch pad for some "explorations" that maintain thematic ties to the original piece, eventually culminating in Emerson squeezing all sorts of unhealthy noises from his organ in the end. This is definitely the peak of the band's attempts to fuse classical and rock, though it does sound a little tame compared to Pictures or "The Barbarian."

Ultimately, though, it's the psychedelic art-pop that I like most; at worst, the first three tracks on this album would have been middle-of-the-pack amongst the Emerlist Davjack material. The opening "Daddy Where Did I Come From?" is a great blast of piano-fueled psychedelic rock, with a mid-section consisting of dad making quite the awkward attempt at explaining procreation to his son (among other things he describes how he fornicated a flower). The son's final response to him is hilarious as well. "Little Arabella" is a cheery jazz-pop ditty (with surprisingly decent Jackson vocals) with lots of subtle organ in the beginning and with a brief bit of bombast in the middle. And finally (since I'm not counting the brief 13-second track that precedes the title track) "Happy Freuds" uses all sorts of interesting treatments on the voices of the various band members as they sing about universal love or something over Emerson's organs. This description may make the song seem kinda stupid but the song is quite nice.

This album is difficult to hunt down, and while it's decent enough I'm not sure it's especially worth the effort. As much as a pretty good album can be, this album strikes me as much more interesting than good, but the "interesting" aspects still end up paling to much of what would start happening over the next couple of years in the world of prog rock. Still, it's worth listening to once or twice.

Report this review (#1281840)
Posted Monday, September 22, 2014 | Review Permalink

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