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THE NICE

Symphonic Prog • United Kingdom


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The Nice biography
The NICE was the precursor to one of progs most influential bands - EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER. This band began their career at the dawning of rock and its sub genres, the closing of the sixties and an era of growing desires to challenge the boundaries of popular music. The four musicians branched out, utilizing and combining classical, jazz, blues and rock music to forge a new and dynamic sound - later to be known as Progressive Rock. The seeds were already sown for the Symphonic and Orchestral style of music that Keith EMERSON would champion throughout the decades to come.

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THE NICE discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

THE NICE top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.43 | 93 ratings
The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack
1967
3.25 | 90 ratings
Ars Longa Vita Brevis
1968
3.37 | 64 ratings
Nice
1969
2.91 | 63 ratings
Elegy
1971

THE NICE Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.42 | 83 ratings
Five Bridges Suite
1970
2.09 | 2 ratings
BBC Sessions: America
1996
3.86 | 3 ratings
The Swedish Radio Sessions
2002
2.00 | 1 ratings
BBC Sessions
2002
3.41 | 13 ratings
Keith Emerson And The Nice: Vivacitas
2003
3.96 | 9 ratings
The Nice Live at Fillmore East
2009
3.00 | 2 ratings
Diamond Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon
2010

THE NICE Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

THE NICE Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.56 | 7 ratings
Keith Emerson With The Nice
1970
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Nice (Compilation)
1970
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Best Of The Nice (Immediate Compilation)
1971
0.00 | 0 ratings
In Memoriam
1972
0.00 | 0 ratings
1967 - 69
1972
3.85 | 12 ratings
Autumn To Spring
1973
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Immediate Story: Volume One
1975
0.00 | 0 ratings
Amoeni Redivivi
1976
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Nice (Charly Compilation)
1976
0.00 | 0 ratings
Ars Longa Vita Brevis (Box Set)
1977
3.03 | 5 ratings
Greatest Hits
1977
0.00 | 0 ratings
Gigantes Del Pop - Vol. 52
1981
0.00 | 0 ratings
Historia De La Musica Rock
1982
0.00 | 0 ratings
Keith Emerson & The Nice
1983
3.00 | 3 ratings
The Nice Collection
1985
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Nice Featuring Davey O'List: 20th Anniversary
1987
0.00 | 0 ratings
Greatest Hits (Bigtime Compilation)
1988
0.00 | 0 ratings
Intermezzo
1989
4.08 | 4 ratings
The Best Of The Nice
1993
0.00 | 0 ratings
America
1994
3.51 | 3 ratings
The Immediate Collection
1999
4.08 | 8 ratings
Here Come The Nice: The Immediate Anthology
2000
3.95 | 3 ratings
Absolutely The Best
2001
3.00 | 2 ratings
The Immediate Recordings
2006
3.33 | 3 ratings
The Essential Collection
2006

THE NICE Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack (Single)
1967
0.00 | 0 ratings
Brandenburger
1968
0.00 | 0 ratings
America (2nd Amendment)
1968
0.00 | 0 ratings
Hang On To A Dream
1969
0.00 | 0 ratings
Country Pie / Brandenburg Concerto No. 6
1970
0.00 | 0 ratings
Country Pie - Brandenburg Concerto #6
1970
0.00 | 0 ratings
America / Rondo
1978
0.00 | 0 ratings
America / Hang On To A Dream
1981

THE NICE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Elegy by NICE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.91 | 63 ratings

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Elegy
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by alastairnc

3 stars Recently remastered minus the Emerliststavjack tracks. It sounds so much better than the Virgin cd. No it wasn't the flagship Hammond C3 that Emerson abused, it was the smaller L100 spinet. Also he used a microphone to tap the piano strings and rub along them. So the album? A sweep up of left over and rehearsal tracks that were released after the Nice had disbanded. Mixed by among others Lee Jackson, hence the loud bass. Hang on to a dream is a nice find and trots along nicely with some nice improv from Emo, including a snatch of Summertime. My back pages sounded awful on the Virgin cd, but is cleaned up a treat here, but still a minor track, strating with piano then moving to Hammond. Side 2 is a run through of the track for 5 bridges minus the orchestra, interesting but not very different. America is the diamond. Lots of organ trashing and a full speed run trough the main riff. The energy is similar to the version of Rondo 69 on the third lp. Lots of clangers effects achived by turning the organ on and off. The Hammond tone wheels were driven by a motor that slowed down when the organ was turned off and took a while to regain a constant sped, hence the wails and whoops. The whole thing ends with an almighty crash and Emo running his nails along the reverb springs. Patchy then, but worth it for America

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 Keith Emerson And The Nice: Vivacitas by NICE, THE album cover Live, 2003
3.41 | 13 ratings

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Keith Emerson And The Nice: Vivacitas
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by spikey123

1 stars Som many bands call it a day, retire, form new bands, become carpenters. So why not the Nice? Several reasons. Lee Jacksons vocals always were dodgy, now they have no power or semblance of music about them, truly bad. Keith Emerson ditched Blinky and Lee years ago to perform with Lake and Palmer as The New Nice....er no ELP, but as Emerson said..he really wanted a new Nice. So umpteen years later and after Greg and Keith fall out again, Keith summons his buddies from obscurity to use them as part of a Keith Emerson Show. What riles me about this release is not just that it isn't very good, but that keith ditches his old pals and uses the next disc to retread some ELP stuff, but without the L or P. Talk about cynical and manipulative!!! He ditched Lee and Blinky before, now he doesn't even give them the benefit of a double cd...oh the ego. Anyway, this release is a long way from the Nice and ELP. Why get this when their other cds are available? No reason, like Prodigal Stranger by Procul Harum, this is the sound of old guys pension funds

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 The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack by NICE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.43 | 93 ratings

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The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by Guillermo
Prog Reviewer

4 stars I remember that I read an interview in the early eighties done with Tony Banks (GENESIS`s keyboard player) in 1979 by a Spanish magazine called "Vibraciones". He said that he went to see THE NICE playing in concert and that he liked the band a lot, and that he even wanted to play with them ("they were a very good band"), a thing that never happened, of course. But I listened to this album recently and I can see why Banks liked this band. I also remember that the Dutch band called EKSEPTION, in the liner notes from their debut album which was released in 1969, mentioned that one of the inspirations for their musical style was seeing THE NICE playing in concert. So, I think that THE NICE, while still sounding very influenced by Psychedelic Rock, were as a band pioneers of the Prog Rock music style, particularly of the Symphonic Rock music style.

Being recorded in 1967, I think that I can listen in this album to some very characteristical things which were similar to other albums from the same period. I think that the Psychedelic influences were by 1967 very prominent, and in that year maybe those influences were at their highest point. So, this album has some similar musical things to other albums from the same period, like from "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" by PINK FLOYD (but with more Baroque musical influences), "Mr. Fantasy" from TRAFFIC... I mean, those Psychedelic musical inlfuences were more in the use of sound effects and distortion, with somewhat "whimsical" and "crazy" arrangements and even some humour in some parts (in "Tantalizing Maggie", for example). But there are even some Pop Rock inlfuences in some parts (particularly in "Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack" and "Bonnie K "), with the use of some distorted heavy guitars. "Rondo" is as noisy as EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER`s version of this song which was recorded live years later, but even if I don`like this song very much Keith Emerson shows his classical music trainning very well in his organ playing. Lee Jackson sang and played his bass guitar very well in general in this album. Brian Davidson was a very good drummer, maybe playing with some excess in some parts, like David O`List. They were young musicians then, of course, so maybe that was the reason this album has some excess in volume in their playing in some parts.

Anyway, this is a good album with still some mixed musical styles which I can`t consider as a full Prog Rock album as a whole. But it shows the early signs of the musical direction that these musicians (particularly Emerson) were looking for then.

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 Elegy by NICE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1971
2.91 | 63 ratings

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Elegy
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

2 stars I honestly don't know how much the band members had to do with compiling this post-breakup hodge-podge, but this has all the markings of an attempt to cash in on the contemporary success of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. From that perspective, it actually kinda worked, peaking at #5 on the UK album charts, but I find it a maddeningly mediocre (and almost outright bad) album in its own right. It's another half-live, half-studio affair, though unlike Nice it sets the live material as bookends and puts the studio material in the middle, and both portions are essentially vehicles for semi-engaging Emerson noodling with little of note from the other members. Now, I like Emerson noodling as much or more than most people would, but he can only carry things so far, and this doesn't come close to representing him at his engaging peak.

The studio tracks are awful at worst and pointless at best. Once again the band decides to take on a Dylan cover, this time choosing my beloved "My Back Pages," and while I appreciate the band's efforts to embellish it during the instrumental breaks, I find that I just can't get beyond the singing. Dylan's vocals in the original might irritate some, but he conveyed a perfect balance of humility and majestic power in them. Jumping forward a few years, the version that The Byrds did on Younger Than Yesterday preserved the emotional heft of the original vocal part while adding some nice harmonies and making it a bit more tuneful. This version, though, is a vocal massacre, and whether the tendency to fall out of key repeatedly was intentional doesn't really matter to me. Among the list of artists whose work I generally respect, this is one of the worst Dylan covers I can think of (oddly, another contender for this title is a "My Back Pages" that The Ramones did on Acid Eaters).

The other studio track is the band's interpretation of the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony, done in live form on Five Bridges, and it's as dull and pointless as before. As I've said before, the movement is amazing and majestic and rousing and everything a scherzo should be, but it doesn't seem like the band (read: Emerson) really knew what to do with it. There's a distressing sense of auto-pilot here that wasn't really present on the band's "Karelia Suite" interpretation, and certainly wouldn't be present on Pictures at an Exhibition.

The live tracks are a little better on the whole, but not enough so to save the album. In "Hang on to a Dream," the vocal parts improve from "awful" to "anonymous," thanks to the elimination of the generic female chorus and Jackson's very quiet and timid delivery, so that helps some, though not a lot. Emerson leads the band through a lot of different styles over the course of 12 minutes, and it's fun to hear Emerson fully turned loose, but the mid- section could have just as easily been transplanted into any other song. Personally, for this sort of Emerson playing, I'd much rather listen to his piano improvisations in the Welcome Back live album a few years later. And finally, there's a 10-minute rendition of "America," which is a lot of fun for about 6 minutes, then gets a little too organ-stabby-feedback-y for a while, but ultimately is still a blast on the whole. If there's a reason to buy this album, it's definitely "America." That's not really a great endorsement for the album, though; the original studio version is ultimately superior.

I should note that the version I acquired, the 1990 CD release, has a bunch of bonus tracks, but these are just the studio renditions of a bunch of stuff from the first couple of albums. "Dawn," "Diamond-Hard Blue Apples of the Moon," "Daddy Where Did I Come From?" and the like. Were the people reissuing this were counting on the first albums going out of print, so that this album would be the only way to get those tracks? In any case, don't let these entice you into thinking you're getting live or alternate renditions of these tracks if you've already heard Emerlist Davjack and Ars Longa.

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 Five Bridges Suite by NICE, THE album cover Live, 1970
3.42 | 83 ratings

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Five Bridges Suite
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

3 stars At the very least, this is better than Concerto for Group and Orchestra. The follow-up to Nice is a live album (as opposed to the half-live Nice) of the band playing with the London Symphony Orchestra, and the first half of the album is a full-fledged rock/jazz/classical-fusion suite (naturally called "The Five Bridges Suite" since it's about five bridges over the River Tyne). It's nothing special, but I don't feel myself getting stupider when listening to it the way I do when listening to the Deep Purple album released earlier in the year. The "1st Bridge" section (it should be noted that the track divisions are completely unrelated to the breakdown of the actual sections of music, which helps explain why I was a little confused as to the organization of the pieces the first couple of times I listened to them) is the longest, and it initially consists solely of the orchestra (playing a piece that sounds an awful lot like a knockoff of Copland's populist period, but there are worse things) before Emerson begins mixing in some piano interludes. The "2nd Bridge" (which is actually on the track labeled "High Level Fugue 4th Bridge") is basically standard solo Nice, with Jackson singing terribly over a decent organ-driven groove. The "3rd Bridge" (actually the first 3 minutes of "Finale 5th Bridge") isn't especially great because Jackson singing gently over an orchestra (with a little bit of background Emerson organ playing) seems kinda gross, but I like the jazzy trio bits in it. The "4th Bridge" section is Emerson playing a brief fugue on piano (with lightly tapping drums in the background), and finally the "5th Bridge" section reprises the "2nd Bridge" section but brings in some saxophones. All in all, the suite isn't amazing, but there are a lot of decent individual moments and little that outright sucks, and considering that this was Emerson's first attempt at large-scale orchestra writing, it's better than it could have been.

The second side is similarly ok, except for the out-of-place closing track "One of Those People," which largely features Jackson singing through a vocoder (it doesn't make him sound any better!) in a way that just makes him sound like a robot in need of a battery change. The live version of the intermezzo from Sibelius' "Karelia Suite" is probably a little better than the original studio version (which was fine itself), partially because of the inclusion of the LSO (which plays the opening portion as normal) but also because it seems like there's a little more energy this time around. Somewhat less successful is the album's interpretation of the scherzo from the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony; the original movement is one of the all-time great scherzi, a complete misdirection before the emotional steamroller of the 4th movement, but hearing it in this context makes it seem cheap and gimmicky. The orchestra plays the opening themes solo (aside from some drum taps from Davison) for a very long time, and while the band does work its way in eventually, the two entities never combine in a way that's very satisfying. And finally, the band finds a way to combine the Nashville Skyline Bob Dylan number "Country Pie" with portions of Bach's 6th Brandenburg Concerto, and while it's actually somewhat slick (and it's way more entertaining than the "She Belongs to Me" bore on Nice) it never really leaves me wanting to listen to it again. I really wish Jackson sang better.

This album is ok, but while it was probably intended to appeal to both rock fans and classical fans, I'd have a hard time recommending it to either. There's a such a long distance in quality between the classical music the band (well, Emerson) was writing and the classical music the band was covering that it should have left everybody involved feeling a little embarrassed, and while the band's efforts are noble in spicing up the pieces with organ solos and a rhythm section, they just don't work that well. Still, it's worth hearing a couple of times, and it's actually one of the easier Nice albums to get a hold of, so that's a plus.

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 Nice by NICE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1969
3.37 | 64 ratings

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Nice
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Self-titled albums, especially mid-career self-titled albums (though some debuts qualify as well), are generally treated as an opportunity for a band to make a confident "statement of purpose," indicating that they believe that they are firmly at the peak of their powers and they have established their own unique style. While I believe that The Nice absolutely felt this way when they recorded and released this half-studio/half-live album, I instead find myself listening to this as, in essence, an odd dress rehearsal for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Unfortunately, there are two main problems with this: Lee Jackson isn't Greg Lake, and Brian Davison isn't Carl Palmer. Jackson's voice continues to be a serious problem, and while he has songwriting credits, he doesn't come across as having the same genuine songwriting gift and ability to counter Emerson that Greg Lake would soon be showing. As players, Jackson and Davison are fine, but they're not electric in the same way that Lake and Palmer would be in regards to making the technical prowess of ELP into the stuff of legend. Overall, this album isn't exactly bad (though it is in parts), but it's weirdly bland for having so much stuff going on.

It's a little disconcerting that the best material on the album by a good distance comes from recycling earlier classics. "Azrael Revisited" is indeed a reworking of "Azrial," only without the great guitar playing of the original (the initial riff is played by piano), and the tune is still quite entertaining, and the long piano-centric jam that occupies much of the second half of the song is pretty rousing. The opener of the live half is "Rondo (69)," and it's basically exactly what you'd expect from a live version of "Rondo" with no guitar. It's a blast, of course, and the rhythm section is still awfully tight, but it seems pretty soon to be getting into releasing stuff like this.

The other studio tracks all leave me with the strong nagging wish to hear them redone by ELP (in their prime). "Hang On to a Dream," a cover of a Tim Hardin number, is utterly beautiful when centered around Emerson's majestic piano parts, and is flat-out abysmal when centered on the vocals. Jackson decided to go the route of using a timid whimper, and the attempts to prop him up with angelic female backing vocals are awfully tacky. Lake probably could have made this into something rivaling "Take a Pebble" if he'd sung it in the early 70s, but this doesn't come close. It should be noted that ELP actually did do a version of this eventually, but this was in the early 90s after Lake had largely lost his voice and Emerson had glommed onto digital synths for all they're worth, so it's not really worth hearing. "Diary of an Empty Day" is worth it for all of the playful and energetic organ/piano work, but it would have done better as an instrumental; the sung parts go in one ear and out the other for me. Finally, the nine-minute "For Example" is an interesting horn-laced mix of blues, jazz and classical, with silly quotes of "Norwegian Wood" and "America" stuck near the end, but the sung parts are pretty unbearable. The first portion is mostly hurt by the unintentional comedy of the whispered "pianissimo" backing vocals, but the mid-section is primarily obliterated by Jackson's hoarse voice bellowing out at full force. Emerson is a blast, though.

On the live side, the concluding track, immediately following "Rondo (69)," is a 12-minute cover of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me," and oh this is not good. I'm not offended in principal by the idea of a jammy expansion of a short Dylan song, but this particular jam is all kinds of tedious, and not at all on the level of, say, the extended versions of "Aquatarkus" that ELP would be playing in a few years. Maybe Emerson suddenly made a big leap between this point and when he joined ELP, but it seems more likely to me that the big leap came solely from his collaborators.

I had a harder time acquiring this particular Nice album than any other, and while it's got its good qualities, it has enough bad qualities that I can't especially recommend that anybody else go through the same trouble. This was the final studio recording from the band, and it's just as well; it's just as likely that the band was only going to get less interesting from here on out. If you can get "Azrael Revisited" and "Rondo (69)" without too much difficulty, though, be sure to give them a listen.

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 Ars Longa Vita Brevis by NICE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.25 | 90 ratings

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Ars Longa Vita Brevis
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

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.

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 The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack by NICE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.43 | 93 ratings

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The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

4 stars In 1967, when there was a seemingly constant trickle of new albums that were proposing new possible directions for rock music to take, it wouldn't have been especially apparent that this was going to have any sort of significant lasting impact; by contrast, when In the Court of the Crimson King came out in 1969, pretty much everybody knew that a Big Thing had happened, even if there was disagreement as to how good a thing this was. Much of this album bears the unmistakable imprint of having been recorded in 1967; the mixture of Moody Blues-ian harmonies (at least as much as could be attempted with such weak individual vocalists) and Hendrix-style guitars (in heavier parts and lighter parts alike), the whispered recitations in "Dawn," and the general approach of mixing all of the genres they could get their hands on into a single album all help date the album's release into a very specific six month window. That said, it would be a mistake to accuse this album of being nothing more than a derivative aping of the band's betters, because the album does bring something new to the table, and that is Keith Emerson's keyboard playing. He's not in full flight on this album, obviously, and it's not as if The Nice were the first band of significance to prominently feature a keyboardist, but it seems obvious to me from listening to this album that Emerson was going to end up as something special. The hyperactive aggression of his style creates an odd menace in the tone of the album even in moments when he's playing few if any notes; there's a constant threat hanging over the album that he's about to lead the band into a long noisy instrumental passage, and even if this threat materializes only a couple of times in the album, the vibe this threat creates gives a fascinating dark edge to it on the whole.

This dark edge is especially prevalent in the first half of the album, which is great enough to prompt me to give this album a high rating despite that the second half only strikes me as pretty good. "Flower King of Flies," which opens the album, starts off as a shuffling psychedelic ballad that can't help but remind me a bit of "(Listen to the) Flower People," but it quickly adopts a darker guise once Emerson's keys start flickering in the background, and the track becomes rather intense in the instrumental passage between instances of the chorus. The Hendrix-y jams are a lot of fun as well. Jackson's vocals, as would become the standard, aren't great here, but the parts where he sings solo are kept slightly quiet, and the louder moments hide him behind a thick wall of harmonies. O'List takes over on vocals in the following title track, and he isn't really an improvement, but the main features of that song, namely the playful melody repeatedly sung by the backing vocals and the bouncy harpsichord parts, more than compensate, and I enjoy the track a lot. Then there's "Bonnie K," which reminds me in all sorts of ways of the kinds of Hendrix-y rockers that Procol Harum would do back before Robin Trower left the band (granted, a lot of them would happen after this album, but my point is that The Nice and Procol Harum were of a similar mind in regard to rockers of this kind); Jackson works as kind of a poor-man's Gary Brooker in his vocals, Emerson's keyboards are full of life and energy, and O'List's guitars rawk out in the best way that pre-Zeppelin 60s hard rock could offer.

But really, all of this is just a warmup for "Rondo." Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo la Turk" was an established jazz standard even at this point, and one may scoff a bit at the idea of the band making a cover of this into one of the centerpieces of its repertoire, but the band claims the piece as its own as much as one could reasonably expect. The band simplifies the 9/8 time signature of the original into 4/4, and through this and other arrangement tweaks the band de-emphasizes the tricky intricacy of the original and amplifies its power and majesty, and in the process they basically turn this track into one of the horsemen of the apocalypse. Emerson's downward Hammond swishes in the climactic portions are the moments that jump out the most, but there are great noisy guitar passages here and other enjoyable keyboard passages as well, and the powerful steadiness of the rhythm section throughout holds everything together perfectly. Given that I'm somebody who greatly enjoys the extended versions of "Space Truckin'" that Deep Purple would be doing in concert in a few years, it's hard for me to see why I wouldn't adore this track, and I consider it an essential part of my collection.

The second half of the album, then, isn't especially great, but all of the tracks are at least decent. "War and Peace" is another instrumental built around active Hammond organ and guitar work, and while it doesn't live up to "Rondo" in terms of memorable themes or an especially tight rhythm section, it's a rousing blast while on, and I'd definitely take this over a lot of the instrumental passages in some of their later work. "Tantalising Maggie" is an odd take on the style of the rest of the album, with the guitars showing a lot jangly twang amongst the hyperactive keyboards (which suddenly go into a classical piano mode near the end), and with Jackson's vocals confined to one channel in a mildly psychedelic way (until the vocals get all chaotic and weird in the last minute or so, making the psychedelic elements more pronounced). "Dawn" is an odd combination of Hammond noodling (eventually harpsichord noodling), noisy distorted guitar chords and noodling, and lots of whispered vocals that make the track sound very pompous. The track is probably a good example of the bad sides of 1967 in a lot of ways, but I don't especially mind it, and it's yet another interesting change of pace (if there were another track like this on the album then I might view it less favorably). And finally, "The Cry of Eugene" has a muffled vocal part that doesn't allow for the vocal melody to resonate as deeply as it could with better singing, but there's an odd gentleness in the combination of the Hammond and the psychedelic guitars (with a brief frenetic section as the song transitions into a more bombastic conclusion) that I find rather enjoyable (the sudden cutoff at the end is amusing as well). Yes, the album takes a clear step down in the second half, but it's not a crippling one; the first half would be in the range of a *****, and the second half would be in the *** range, and the combination lets the album settle into a solid **** range.

In my edition of the album, there are five bonus tracks, and except for the single version of the title track (it's just as long as and I think it just has a slightly different mix from the original), all of them are worth having. "Azrial (Angel of Death)" combines a solid grumbly guitar riff with bits of atmospheric piano and pompous (but fun) lyrics before briefly turning into a psychedelic freak-out near the end (then returning to the original riff), and it would have been a fine inclusion on the original album. "The Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon" bases itself primarily around a gentle line doubled on Hammond and trumpet (from O'List), and the keyboard passages that grow out of it are rather lovely. The best of the group, though, come in the form of the full-length and single versions of "America," the band's instrumental take on the West Side Story number. The bombastic organ introduction and the closing recitation from a three-year old are a little ridiculous, but the bulk of the song shows The Nice at its very best. The main riff, played by the organ, is used as the launching pad for all sorts of rousing guitar work and inventive keyboard work, and I never find myself getting bored or tired when listening to it. It's too bad the band didn't use this as the album's conclusion, as a sort of balance to closing out the first side with "Rondo" (I get that "War and Peace" is the "Rondo" counter but I'd be fine with swapping that out for "Azrial").

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 Five Bridges Suite by NICE, THE album cover Live, 1970
3.42 | 83 ratings

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Five Bridges Suite
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by No quarter given

5 stars The war to determine the best rock band ever (certainly of the progressive rock era) was settled many years ago. As the smoke cleared, looming ever so large over the fields of glorious battle were . . . "The Nice".

The "Five Bridges Suite" album may very well be the equivalent of the super weapon that ended W.W.II. In July/August 1945 very few people seem to have been cognisant of the big one being dropped. A large communications effort was launched to inform of what had occurred. With respect to "The Nice", several factors came together to keep music fans from the path of illumination set down by "The Nice".

Firstly, A poor fit with a production team more suitable to the Bee Gees than Classical Rock. Then followed in rapid succession by other causes such as: an uncommunicative label, the brief period of existence of the band, an incomprehensible critique against the lead singer, low output of albums, an immediate rise of ELP to super stardom after the breakup of The Nice.

To convert the barbarian hordes of singleminded drones that blindly adore the tired gods of progressive rock is my life's work. I feel the daunting task of what lies before. Even now I can sense the massing of gigantic armies to divert (nay prevent) me from my righteous quest to communicate to the world the good words: "The Nice are the one true rulers of the Progressive Rock universe".

One listen to the FIVE BRIDGES SUITE album could possibly be all that is needed with some. But it is a sneaky opus. My task, however, is made a little easier with this expanded edition (with bonus tracks). But I would still wholeheartedly have accepted the quest if I only had the original vinyl pressing. My favourite song of the last 12 months is contained herein, "Country Pie/ Brandenburg Concierto No. 5". I can't imagine my recent life without it. But contained within these words I have also invited an increasing array of enemies to form an axis against my undertaking. For the main dogma most anti-Nice zombies have is the very voice of bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson. So often maligned by those who have no inkling of being the first at the beginning of a movement, a genre. Certainly there is a more pleasant voice. But there are non more perfectly balanced with the subject and the content. The rough edges are an actual advantage, not a hinderance to the music. This music at it's time was new category. It was primitive, rustic and pastoral, and yet herein lie the roots and trunk of ELP. (You might be forgiven to think that you stumbled upon a long lost early ELP album).

If you have never heard a single note by THE NICE, you are in for a treat of a lifetime. I know that each new listener will join my small, ragtag fellowship and will happily accompany us to the fires of Mt. Doom, to throw in the old script: "that of the tired dinosaur bands ruling the progressive universe". I have gone as far as to leave my comfortable home at Bag End and set out on my ultimate objective of having THE NICE discovered by all. Great aural enjoyment is waiting.

Pastoral. Primitive. Rustic

Fresh New Clean

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 Ars Longa Vita Brevis by NICE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.25 | 90 ratings

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Ars Longa Vita Brevis
The Nice Symphonic Prog

Review by Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer

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.

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