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4.7 out of 5 stars18
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on 17 March 2002
If there was any doubt as to the benchmark of rock keyboardists, look no further than Keith Emerson. Always the musical focus of both The Nice and ELP, his innovative arrangements of well known (and not so well known) classical pieces were as mind-blowing as they were cheeky; his self-penned work totally setting the standard for others to follow. Yet at the same time moving the goalposts for keyboard technology year after year until we are almost blase about acquiring polyphonic instruments for under £50 these days!
This excellent 3 CD box set gives as good a history of where it all began as any, and at an amazing price. Covering both their recordings for Immediate and some rare live tracks from both sides of the Atlantic, there are some diamond moments. Check out the two live tracks from Newcastle 1968 on CD no. 3; you see the contribution O'List made during his brief stay as guitarist - completely missing his cue on "America" yet providing some dulcit tones for "Rondo" - a completely different experience with some wayward rhythm guitar added.
Other key moments would the the superlative "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" - a self-indulgence of almost 1970s quality - which introduces us to the excellent "Brandenburger" (a twice repeated track in it's own right); "Flower King of Flies", a psychedelic track in a Small Faces sort of way; the two live tracks from the Fillmore in NYC (flawless); "Azrael" - two versions, with and without O'List; and for sheer novelty value the promo for "The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack" with it's Pythonesque humour.
Despite Emerson being the focal point for much of the time, the rest of the band shines in their own right too - Davison's jazz-drumming background showcased on many occasions; Jackson's thumping Vox bass driving every tune at the low end; O'List's bizarre yet unique lead/rhythm on the first CD broadening the already stretched musical boundaries.
The effect they must have had live when they first hit the stage must have been dramatic. Even the master of stagemanship, Jimi Hendrix, was so impressed that he arranged a meeting with Keith Emerson with a view to forming a new supergroup! It was not mutual and Emerson formed ELP instead.
Buy and enjoy, and roll on the release of "Live at the BBC"!!!
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on 15 February 2002
Pre-ELP, Emerson with Jackson and Davison had a far more adventurous, experimental, rough-edged band in The Nice, unafraid to exhibit a sense of fun and danger. This set has enough variety to satisfy those interested in early prog rock (discs 2-3) as well as late 60's underground psychedalia (material from 1st album on disc 1). Incidentally they also bring out what's exciting about getting into classical music. Jackson's odd vocals are a taste worth acquiring, almost punky at times, and a unique foil to Emerson's ingenius classical/jazz quotations and harmonisations that underpin the Nice's music (in contrast to Greg Lake's "tuneful vocals" with ELP). The single America (disc 1) remains the quintessential prog rock/instrumental track. The "rarities" on disc 3 are largely for the completist, but well worth it for hearing alternative live versions of Rondo and America. The last 2 tracks (4th movement from Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony with Jackson reading poetry! Lt. Kije: The orchestra play bits of Prokofiev's Lt. Kije suite's Troika movement interspersed with snatches of the Nice playing Rondo) are truly bizarre, and of novelty value only. But then they go to show that the Nice would push their experiments to all sorts of limits, and like all good experiments, some fail.
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on 25 January 2003
This three CD set is an absolute must for anyone interested in the music of the nineteen sixties. It is difficult to understand that there was an awful lot more to music in the 1960's than the West Coast rock which dominated the latter part of the decade.
Some of that music re-emerged with the new Van Morrison album of May 2002 with it's early sixties r'n'b styles evocative of the music that the Beatles, Stones and Them were listening to and playing and the jazz of the period. The Nice were part of a trend that came to be known as Progressive in Britain which grew out of the growing number of musicians who were influenced by a wider musical heritage. If Fairport Convention were the progressive side of folk music then the Nice were the progressive side of classical - long before Yes got the idea.
The music on the CDs is not all of the legacy of the Nice. Other recordings for other labels still exist but some of the most powerful compositions and performances of the Nice are contained here on these three discs. There are some novelties to be sure but in the main each one is packed with excellent songs, playing and virtuosity. The Nice were a band with an awesome stage act not just because of Emerson's dagger throwing antics. Only Steve Winwood could coax better sound from a Hammond organ.
Standout tracks for me are the incredible 'Rondo' especially the live version from Newcastle upon Tyne. A crowd favourite this was a regular at the Mecca in Sunderland well into the early 1970s; and the spectaculr live version of 'America' at the same venue.
Emerson Lake and Palmer, and the much inferior Atomic Rooster tended to obscure the music of the Nice as the 1970s eclipsed much of the sixties music but as the passage of time allows for greater scope for investigation their seminal work in the progressive area is at long last being recognised and given the credit it deserves.
This is an awesome collection which certainly bridges (sorry about the pun)the worlds of classical and rock in a way that no other band has done either before or since. It certainly is a clear signal to other labels to dig out those other Nice tracks out from the vaults to perhaps give audiences access to a fuller recording of the 'Five Bridges' for example.
Two thumbs up
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on 6 November 2000
A superb collection of all of the Nice's recordings for the Immediate label. This material has been reissued countless times, but never in as definitive a set as this. The first 2 CDs consist of `Emerlist Davjack', `Ars Longa Vita Brevis' and `Nice' with the bonus of a promo for the debut album voiced by John Peel which would cause the great man to blush to his roots. It is disc 3 however, which holds some wonderful surprizes for the seasoned Nice fan. There are 4 live recordings hitherto unheard totalling 40 minutes and alone justifying the purchase of this collection . 'America' and 'Rondo' from Newcastle City Hall when Dave O'List was still in the group, and 2 extremely unusual recordings from the `Five Bridges' concert in the form of `Pathetique No4' (an orchestral piece with Lee Jackson reading a poem over it !) and a bizarre hybrid of `Lt Kije' and `Rondo' which has to be heard to be believed. These recordings are all of the highest quality and where they have been lurking until now is anyone's guess. The rest of this disc is made up of the alternative versions of tracks from the first album. For the price of a single CD you get three and a poster sized booklet, the only bugbear being the failure to include the two different studio edits of `America' despite there being two versions here. The one with the vocals over the intro is missing at the expense of two versions with the whipping and screaming ! A wonderful piece of archeology nonetheless
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on 22 October 2001
The Nice: the band that gave us Keith Emerson. Really, it's Emerson that this set's all about - the rest of the band are at best competent and at times toe-curlingly awful, but all the way through these three discs you know you're only ever a few seconds away from some serious keyboard mania - huge dense thunderclouds of chords at earsplitting volume, intricate solos or plain psychedelic weirding-out.
In a less spacious environment than ELP, Emerson's vast slabs of Hammond and piano are utterly dazzling - especially during the corny, pretentious and absurdly brilliant versions of classics.
Yes, it's silly. Yes, it's overblown. Yes, the rest of the band are journeymen. Yes, the recording quality is pretty poor in places. And yes, you'll find yourself playing it over and over again (particularly the live version of "America".....)
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on 22 November 2000
Looking back now, The Nice didn't have much going for them. A poor singer, a guitarist who can't play lead to save his life and no real songwriting talent. It no suprise then, that the highlights of this set are keyboard led instrumentals with tunes 'borrowed' from the likes of Bach and Brubeck. Make no mistake, despite their shortcomings, The Nice were hugely influencial, the inspiration behind the soon to blossom prog rock era. The pre synth Keith Emmerson never sounded better both on organ and piano, Blinky Davidson drums with the fever of Keith Moon and Lee Jackson underpins with some fine bass playing. At this price you can skip the dross (Daddy where did I come from, Dawn etc.) and still end up with good 90+ minutes of good music. It's a shame that more reissues can't be done this way, i.e. complete and in the right order, and that the last two albums(Five Bridges and Elegy) which were issued on Charisma could not have been included as well, but as it is this box set is highly recommended.
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on 21 December 2000
I'm a great ELP fan, but to be honest, I prefer The Nice with all their shortcomings. This is a brilliant collection, and shows that when Keith Emerson had a very limited selection of sounds (piano and Hammond organ), he could be extremely creative and imaginative. Compared to Lake and Palmer, Jackson and Davison have great limitations vocally and technically, but there's an excitement about tbese tracks which is missing from most of the ELP work. Listen to this, together with Five Bridges (full of flaws but very ambitious)and hear to the masters at work!
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on 23 March 2012
I must agree with some of the comments already made. Rondo blew me away when I bought the original "Nice" LP on vinyl in 1969. I was already a fan of popular classical stuff and had just discovered prog rock too. Then I heard this and was totally amazed at the fusion of jazz, rock and classics all in one package coupled with the sheer energy of Emerson's keyboards and the incessant pace of Ian Hague's drums - wow.
This was also the era of King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King In The Court Of The Crimson King (Original Master Edition) based on Grieg and then there was Deep Purple's (John Lord) Concerto for Group and Orchestra produced in conjunction with Malcolm Arnold. Concerto For Group And Orchestra
This for me, at that time, was the future of music being forged before my ears! Whatever happened to that - oh well at least I can wallow in this excellent 3 CD set, certainly the best anthology of their work to date. I would recommend that if you are interested in the classically linked stuff that you buy a complete version of "Five Bridges" too - get the version with the bonus tracks on for added value. Five Bridges [with 5 bonus tracks]
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on 30 August 2013
A bit dated but quite charming in it's way. I wasn't much of a fan of the Nice in the 60's. I must have listened to them when they appeared on Saturday Club, John Peel's Top Gear and tracks on Pete Drummond's Saturday programme which I can't remember the name of. Probably they were too classical for me in those days as a teenager but that all changed with tastes in the classics and jazz rock. This improves with repeated listening, some tracks remind me of early Floyd and later Zombies. An essential part of one's Progressive collection and interesting to hear prior to Emerson Lake & Palmer - indeed there are some tracks which remind you of a couple of songs from ELP.
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on 22 May 2014
You can always get this box set a lot cheaper on the auction site. I had a pickwick LP of The Nice as a kid with all the hits on it. I love British psychedelia and Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack is my Whiter Shade Of Pale. What a fantastic record! One of those that stops you in your tracks. It was keyboards not guitars (Jimi withstanding) that made the psychedelic sound and Keith Emerson was right up there with Richard Wright. I love the way the notes drip like a Dali clock on Cry of Eugene and the way he paints the sun's rays on Dawn. Great stuff that is possibly overlooked because of future ELP excesses.
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