Thursday, May 18, 2017

Marc Tucker Reviews: Emerson, Lake, and Palmer - Once Upon a Time in South America

EMERSON, LAKE, & PALMER - Once Upon a Time in South America
4-CD Set, 2015 / Rock Beat
Review written by Marc Tucker - May 16th, 2017

ELP went through a number of phases. Essentially the New Nice, the threesome carried on Keith Emerson’s progressive and neoclassicalist visions much more thunderously, making the trio a byword for progrock, launching the group in the upper reaches of the prog stratosphere. One cannot even mention progressive music without referring to ELP and a couple dozen other bands. Keith was one of the three greatest keyboardists rock ever engendered, the others being Jon Lord and Rick Wakeman, all now sadly passed on. It was a shocking day when Emerson committed suicide, but this epic release, a four disc set of a nearly 25-year old reunion tour is one of the keys to his story. I’ll tackle that first.

ELP peaked with Brain Surgery Salad and then began a slow elegant quasi-neoclassicalist decline with Works, Vols. 1 & 2 (1977), bombing disastrously only a year later with Love Beach (1978), a wretched collection of opuses, followed a full 14 years later (1992) by Black Moon, an attempt to crawl back from the Beach and onto dry land. I know what happened, as do all sensible prog-hedz: the lads had tried to expand into the pop arena, where the real money was. Genesis, after all, was beginning to turn the trick (of the tail) into what would be a huge success, but Keith and the lads should’ve spoken to Gentle Giant, who’d tried and died on the same grounds. From Beach forward, ELP would never again attain to its erstwhile primacy.

What’s rarely mentioned, certainly not in this generous release’s weak liner notes nor anywhere else, is that, after this south-of-the-border tour, Keith was forced to take a year hiatus due to an unidentified form of arthritis similar to “writer’s cramp”. His bio, Pictures of an Exhibitionist, tells of a surgery that finally allowed him to, in 2002, regain full use of his hands, playing to strengths, once more. However, less than a decade later (2010), a colonoscopy revealed a dangerous lower-colon polyp. By the time of his death (2016), it was found he also suffered from a heart condition and depression aggravated by alcoholism.

The muses can be exceedingly kind to artists for a while…but they’re also notoriously fickle bitches, disdainful, vengeful, sociopathic.

That all said, we’re now prepared for the music on this sprawling nearly-5-hour previously unavailable diary of a too-brief three days (April 1, 5, & 16, 1993) in Santiago (Chile) and Buenos Aires, (Argentina). Think of Once Upon a Time as a very well recorded bootleg, something the group and label were refusing to issue for whatever odd reason until now but which you’re now suddenly slaveringly privy to. Think of it in line with Yes’ recent Progeny and King Crimson’s Road to Red and Starless box sets, but much later in time, as, like that trio of gems, it contains many repeated songs, and that’s precisely what we bootleg fanatix tremble for!

The 16:17 melange, “Fanfare for the Common Man / America / Rondo” (disc 4) is a long drink from the Nice’s fountain-of-youth apogee harking back to its incredible Elegy (released in ’71 but recorded in ’69) rendition of “America”, still one of the most riveting cover opuses prog can boast of, a cut I aver John Cage and Karlheinze Stockhausen must have heard and smiled upon (if not, I’m sending ‘em the YouTube extract via a couple of rogue angels I know). This carries into “Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 2” and then “Hoedown” with a completely different mutation of the Dick Hyman “Minotaur” lift that blew my mind on Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends. The extract continues on “Lucky Man” as well.

Even the songs I’m not nuts about in the studio renditions (WAY too sugary!), that post-’78 period, come across nicely here, more refined, often with somewhat differing arrangement, as evidenced by “Paper Blood” (disc 1) with its flashy jazz-rock organ solos, and, yes, it and its brethren are frequently powerful but not as in days of olde, as with the original Tarkus LP (and the “Tarkus” track recurs 3X through this set). “Black Moon” plods a trifle, but “Close to Home”, a solo piano piece, is, if you want to look at it that way, a continuo on the Nice’s Five Bridges Suite and Pathetique explorations. “Creole Dance”, a solo work with a debt to Ginastera, just about Emerson’s fave composer if not the, continues his virtuosity, showing, though an absence was ominously impending, he still had highly impressive chops. Once again, we’re dancing on the golden bridge from the Nice to ELP’s inauguration. The crowd, by the way, goes NUTS!!

Greg Lake is his usual self, bass and guitar work more than satisfactory though his voice comes close to cracking many times. Was he suffering from a cold? Had his pompous haughtiness caught up with him? Carl Palmer of course has always demonstrated perfection in percussionistics and this gatherum is no exception. That guy is indefatigable and never makes wrong choices.

Now for something a tad different: on the back cover of Edward Macan’s behemoth and definitive volume on ELP, Endless Enigma, you’ll find a quote from my OpEdNews days: “The gargantuan Endless Enigma emerges as the first and last word on ELP while echoing the entire genre as a contextual backdrop; no music aficionado of any stripe should be without it”. That, however, was not the whole quote, which originally read this way:

“Despite the treacley gushing of progrock crtics, who tend exalt anything even vaguely progressive no matter its massive deficits, there are those who write with clearheaded and well-researched vigor, and Edward Macan is one of these rare individuals, so rest assured you’re in good hands. The gargantuan Endless Enigma emerges as the first and last word on ELP while echoing the entire genre as a contextual backdrop; no music aficionado of any stripe should be without it”.

Eddie and Open Court Books decided to delete that first passage because it was feared I’d render offense to other critics. Oh heavens!! Well, good grief, of course! I’m a critic, not a pom-pommette like 99% of my “compeers”. Regardless, I cite the incident to mention that the individual who penned the notes to Once Upon a Time is too frequently way off base, and I advise consumers to ignore it lest their sanity suffer irreparably. Progrock has first and foremost suffered from its critics, not its fans, and there are damned few truly comprehensive, very well-written, and exhaustive treatises in the genre, but, if you dig proglit, after listening to Once Upon a Time in South America, grab that mammoth museum of artifacts. Clear your calendar for a week or two, you’ll need it, and Once Upon will serve as soundtrack, so you’ll never even notice the time passing.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Marc Tucker Reviews: Uzelli Psychedelic - Anadolu

2016 / Uzelli Stereo
Review written by Marc Tucker - May 16, 2017

An unabashed progrocker, I’m always on the hunt for new materials in the genre, whether recently issued or unearthed from exotic old archives. Back in the 70s, the radio music scene was pretty much as it is now when it came to rock idiomatics: 95% mainstream crap…with some good stuff leavened in…but then there were the very few and very hours-limited free-form dial positions like KPPC in Pasadena (Calif.). Me and my buddies would head out to Tuna Canyon, just off the Pacific coastline, a nice little wild spot with a stream running through. We’d settle in, drag out the alcohol and other intoxicants, get loaded (but we NEVER inhaled!!), and bliss out to the chiefly European nu-musics wafting through our pre-boombox boombox.

MUCH later, as exposure venues proliferated, came the discovery of old Pacific Rim psych and prog such as ignited Dengue Fever and other moderns, and thus new windows opened for those still adventurous enough to desire such materials…if, that is, no one else knew about it in order that one not be damned as a brainiac, that it didn’t damage career opportunities among the Republicans at work, and if such a level of aesthetics didn’t come across as some form of apostasy from groupthink. Well, that type of stuff is enjoying quite a bit of archaeological exhumation, and Anadolu opens wide the doors to a geography heretofore almost completely unrecognized in the West: the zone reaching from Istanbul to Frankfurt.

Brothers Yavuz and Muammer Uzelli in 1971 embarked on an epic project to document as much of the region’s psychedelic and other musics as possible. They succeeded magnificently, ending up with more than 1,000 albums from nearly 500 artists: psych, prog, folk, rock, etc. ‘Anadolu’ is the term for the psychedelic music emerging from the Anatolian peninsula/plateau in Turkey, and everything in this disc is 100% in-genre, featuring a good deal of stunning musics from way back when, and what few cuts there are which are not head-churning are extremely satisfying regardless. Psych fanatix and prog-hedz are going to be delighted with the array of bands and cuts.

Zor Beyler leads off the collection with “Intro” and “Gozundeki Yaslarina” (“The Tears in Your Eyes”), and aficionados will immediately recognize the Mythos-esque spoken lead-in (the late 60s / early 70s Mythos, not the New Age ensemble – doesn’t anyone do any research before they settle on band names any more??). Little is known of the Zor Beyler group, but it included electric baglama in their Arabesk, pop, fantezi, and Anatolian compositions. Skip forward to Asik Emrah’s “Bu Ellerdan Gocup” and treat yourself to an outrageous…um…well, honestly, I can’t tell if that’s a righteously distorted Ratledge-esque keyboard, a mutated guitar, an electrified oud, or what, but, Jesus!, is that guy wailing (though the 12-page booklet contains xlnt background data, not all bands are covered, this one of them, due to what is likely a complete absence of knowledge anywhere, so I cannot cite his name)! The plectrum sounds in portions of the attack phase of a number of envelopes there indicate a stringed instrument, but elsewhere, the axe appears also to morph into a ney or shenai. Excellent bass and percussive work provide a platform for the smooth and dizzying flight of the passage, and, had this appeared in Europe in its day, Nektar, Brainticket, and various other prog ensembles would've been sweating.

Anadolu is a treasure trove, a gift from the Earth goddess, a necklace of echoes from muses of decades past, a 10-cut antiquarian gift to the present lest we become too hubristic about the estate of modern exotica. Yes, we’ve much to beam about from Gen X forward, but CDs like this one remind us there were forebears, that the market was less than kind to most of them, and that technology and exposure platforms have now provided the means by which we can cast our nets backwards and become a tad humbler, remembering fresh springs existed in long forgotten valleys.