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Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Works, Vol. 1  Hear it Now

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Emerson, Lake and Palmer present their first new material in more than three years in an interesting format: one album side for each man as a solo player, and a fourth side for the group. The musically divergent solo ventures don't often live up to the group's past successes, which isn't surprising. But the final side triumphantly demonstrates that as an ensemble ELP has lost none of its expertise.

Carl Palmer's is by far the most varied and successful solo side. It's especially interesting since the drummer is ordinarily the least visible of the three. Here, Palmer uses his drums as rhythm instruments that can simultaneously emerge with so-called lead phrases; he is not content merely to keep time, however imaginatively. He's never too loud, and his few solos are short—a rare and welcome accomplishment among rock drummers.

Palmer's orchestration of an excerpt from Prokofiev's "The Scythian Suite" is suitably powerful and threatening, an approach more classical than rock. However, his other classical adaptation, J.S. Bach's "Two Part Invention in D Minor," while intriguing, is ultimately tepid, due to inappropriate use of marimbas and vibraphone.

"L.A. Nights" moves with speed and biting polish, the mix smartly accentuating Palmer. Keith Emerson's hard, futuristic synthesizer distinguishes the start, but the piece later slips into common rock chord changes and horn charts. "New Orleans," on the other hand, is a syncopated, guitar-dominated funk exercise—spare but effective. "Food for Your Soul," with its contemporary big-band approach, is a tour-de-force arrangement, with Palmer again exploring lead/rhythm possibilities. Palmer's remake of "Tank," his and Emerson's menacing composition from the group's first album, is similar in style, but Emerson's excellent electronics are replaced by cold brass and weak strings. The uncredited soprano saxophone section lends an exotic touch—but altogether too many different ideas fight for space.

The Emerson and Lake sides contain dissimilar music, yet suffer from the same shortcoming: flaccid scoring. Emerson's "Piano Concerto No. 1"—arranged by Emerson with John Mayer, who conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra for the piece—avoids the heavy-handed and the pretentious, but is finally too watery. As agile and mature a technician as Emerson is, such a mammoth undertaking seems beyond his reach at present: the moods here change too abruptly and radically, even within the individual movements, and the jazz-influenced insertions are obtrusively cold. The concerto's finest moments are during the unaccompanied piano passages.

Greg Lake's side consists of five melodic interpretations of Peter Sinfield's poetry, but the orchestration (by Godfrey Salmon and Tony Harris) turns their delicacy and romanticism into fluff. "C'est la Vie" and "Closer to Believing" are little more than dull string washes, while "Hallowed Be Thy Name" has an unaccountably angry arrangement. Lake's loudly mixed voice—too loud, really—helps minimize these errors in some spots, but when the songs depend so much on scoring, the damage is difficult to cover.

The group side contains two long and brilliant pieces. Emerson's stunning, eclectic keyboard acrobatics highlight the adaptation of Aaron Copland's celebratory "Fanfare for the Common Man." Because he doesn't use pyrotechnics for their own sake, Emerson is as practical as he is flamboyant. Copland's work is treated in a manner much like the groundbreaking approach of Emerson's earlier group, the Nice. The three players state a theme with a grandeur and fullness seemingly beyond the range of their few instruments. A long solo passage from Emerson follows, with Palmer and Lake filling in subtly but solidly with, of all things, the familiar Canned Heat "boogie" figure. After building to an explosive coda, the piece returns to its initial theme before fading out. It's not a new or particularly complex tack, but it is rich and exact.

"Pirates" stands as one of ELP's finest achievements. Taking the best instrumental ideas from all the previous sides of Works, the orchestration is more varied, percussive and aggressive, perhaps because of the firmer (if simpler) compositional structure. Brass, strings and woodwinds all appear more prominently and brightly, as does the fuller integration of the scoring with the three players: Emerson's electronic mastery fits with the acoustic instruments remarkably well; Lake throws more emotion and technical excellence into his vocal phrasing here than elsewhere; and again Palmer spiritedly punctuates the proceedings. "Pirates" thus presents a musical (and lyrical—with Sinfield's wonderful poetry) pastiche of majesty and sheer mastery that continues to set Emerson, Lake and Palmer apart from most of their peers. (RS 240)


(Posted: Jun 2, 1977) Icon Photo Add to   digg Photo DiggThis  



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