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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Jesus Christ Superstar: An Australian Cast Recording, Live at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, 1973 CD (album) cover

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR: AN AUSTRALIAN CAST RECORDING, LIVE AT THE CAPITOL THEATRE, SYDNEY, 1973

Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)

 

Various Genres

4.00 | 1 ratings

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sl75
4 stars Since the original release of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970, there have been many re-recordings - various cast recordings, cheap rip-offs, reinterpretations, etc. In Australia, there were two releases in the early 70s - one of the aforementioned cheap rip-offs, and the official (studio recorded) cast album from the production presented here (featuring only selections, not the full show), and we've since had the (in my view awful) David Hirschfelder re- arrangement from the 1990s (the one with John Farnham in the title role, later presented as an arena concert).

Unlike the official cast album released at the time, this new release contains the entire score, recorded as a live performance. As far as I know, it's the only recording of Marcia Hines in the role of Mary (she took on the role after the original cast album had been recorded), alongside Jon English's famed performance as Judas. For added interest to prog-leaning collectors, the bandleader was Michael Carlos, formerly of Tully - Ken Firth from Tully is also in the band.

The original album is of course a classic, but I think the biggest criticism that can be made of it is that in many places it sounds rather stilted, as though everyone was sight-reading the material for the first time as they were recorded (that may even have been the case?). This is certainly true of most of the singers on that record - although there are are some memorable vocal moments, no one sounds like they are connecting to the material as a character. The instrumentalists fared better (particularly in those pieces that gave them the most scope for improvisation), but in general the original album still sounds like the music has not really been played in yet. Yet modern day productions are still largely expected to reproduce the sound of that album - I say this having played in the pit for several productions myself - the older orchestration had a lot of chord charts and remaining scope for improvisation but transcribed much of the original recording, while there is a newer orchestration from the 1990s which fully notates all parts to sound pretty much exactly like the record. That made me particularly interested to hear what Carlos and co did with the score - remembering that Tully had notoriously been the house band for the earlier production of Hair, where they were infamous for their digressions from the score - and especially to hear what they sounded like after a full year of playing together.

They do not disappoint. The band is tight at all times, and creative, rarely directly aping the sound of the original album. The star is pianist Jamie McKinley, who enlivens every single track with his contributions. Carlos takes more of a back seat than you would expect, but his Hammond and Moog contributions are always welcome. I also enjoy the work of the Firth/Henson rhythm section. They have completely their own take on Judas' death, making no attempt to replicate the improvisation from the original record but substituting one of their own (similar basic idea but completely different notes) - similarly with the opening guitar solo to Damned For All Time, or the Crucifixion. Parts of the score are fleshed out with extra material where needed. In general, a much more confident, fully realised performance than the original record.

Vocally? For me, the 1973 film cast (Ted Neely/Carl Anderson etc) are the gold standard, but there are some notable performances here - Jon English killing it as Judas, Marcia Hines as Mary, and Reg Livermore stealing the show with his brief spot as Herod. Stevie Wright (ex-Easybeats) makes a notable cameo as Simon, as does the future pop star John Paul Young as Annas (though he isn't one of the standouts). Elsewhere, Wayne Matthews (Peter) repeats his problematic performance from Hair, singing in a too-classical tone that doesn't suit the material; and Peter North as Caiaphas trys for menace but only delivers gravel and questionable diction. The chorus performance is uneven compared to studio recordings, but that is to be expected - they are actor-singers attempting to be a choir, probably while simultaneously dancing, unlike the professional choristers in the studio. Importantly though, every single singer here is fully inhabiting their character.

Worth noting that Michael Carlos assembled largely the same band for albums he produced at this time, including English's debut Wine Dark Sea and, potentially of more interest to readers here, the first three albums of Jeannie Lewis, including her masterpiece Free Fall Through Featherless Flight. Jeannie may never make it onto this site, since her discography taken as a whole would be a hard sell for the teams here, but those three mid 1970s albums are arguably the high point of Australian art rock - mostly because of her unique singing voice and grand concepts, but also in large part because of Carlos's arrangements and the quality of this band.

sl75 | 4/5 |

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