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Colosseum - Those Who Are About To Die Salute You CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.66 | 141 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
4 stars First article in series of five

Coming from the British RnB (via the Graham Bond Organization), the blues boon (John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers), the general countercultures via Beat poets (Pete Brown of Cream lyrics fame), came to be this amalgam of musicians but the group was clearly lead by drummer John Hiseman (a self-confessed control freak) and his partner in music Dick Heckstall-Smith. Joining the group was ex-Thunderbirds (Chris Farlowe's backing band) Greenslade with his astounding organ playing and Reeves, and finally young blues singer/guitarist James Litherland. Saxman Dick Heckstall-Smith (DH-S for sort) is also known for his ability to play two wind instruments at a time, in this respect equalling VDGG's Dave Jackson, but both being strongly influenced jazzman Roland "Rashaan" Kirk (who will also greatly influenced Tull's Ian Anderson) actually managing three wind instruments at a time. While the brass was an important part of the Colosseum sound, over the years, critics and writer have tended to over-emphasise this aspect and some even claiming that they had invented Brass Rock, something that I would like to dispel a bit here in these reviews. Sure Colosseum had a jazzy sound (Hiseman although quite a rock drummer was also jazz-inspired and lead the group like many jazz band leaders were drummers), but jazz influences + wind instruments does not make brass rock like Chicago or B,S&T.

With such a RnB-rooted line-up most would not expect a very progressive group, but the chemistry that came out from those five was such that their music, that seems to flow so effortlessly, quickly became groundbreaking, while staying amazingly accessible. Their debut record on Fontana came out and sold in good quantities and good management got them countless gigs, so these guys had an excellent chemistry plainly heard on this album. It should be noted that this album and the next came out across the Atlantic with fairly similar artwork, but with titles and track list completely shambled. The debut album in the US holds Valentyne Suite. We now will review the Cd rather than the vinyls to avoid the confusion. Whatever the version of the vinyl, both artworks were slightly different but stunning gatefold sleeves and its title a citation of gladiators saluting the Roman emperor in the Coliseum.

Lead-off track Walking in the Park (a cover from Graham Bond) is the band's signature tracks with its exhilarating good moods, but so proud of its RnB roots and its very brassy feel (DH-S gets some help from a buddy). Plain-bluesy Plenty Hard Luck is a great showcase of Litherland's vocals and Greenslade's organs. With Mandarin, we now reach a definitely more serious level of composing with bassist Reeves showing us the way to enlightenment and the path to many rhythm changes and time sigs, this instrumental track is the first sign that this group had something really special and culminating in an unrefined (as in unpolished) guitar solo. Following tracks called debut is according to them, the first thing they played, and is again quite happily-communicative and it does sound like the ideal training ground for a band to get their stuff and tricks together.

Ides of March is one of the first musical crime that they commit and clearly it was a first draft of the Valentyne Suite to come in the next album. Based on the same Bach chord sequence than Procol's Whiter Shade of pale, the tracks evolves into a harpsichord and searing bluesy guitar wailings while D H-S is wailing freely on his reeds (like a lover;-). Poly-rhythms dictate a fairly paced and atmospheric track, while remaining very swingy as the piano takes over in boogie constrasting strongly with the wordless vocals scattings. Slow blues is again showing where Litherland's strengths were but ultimately, this would also prove his own undoing in the band as well. For a proghead, this track overstays a bit too much its welcome, but in its own genre this track is a killer. Title track closing off the album is a very up-tempoed jazzy-laced RnB with plenty of rhythm and sigs, Hiseman driving his musos like footsoldiers through marshes and swamp alike as the Roman emperor would if he was out to conquer new grounds. RnB does not really get much better than this baby, guys.

Although only partly interesting for the proghead, this album is a stunning debut, definitely groundbreaking but not really jazz-rock in the form of Miles Davis or Nucleus

Sean Trane | 4/5 |


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