Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Nice

The Nice: Brian Davison (drums); Keith Emerson (organ, piano); Lee Jackson (bass, vocals); David O'List (guitar).


@ wiki
The Nice are an English progressive rock band from the 1960s, known for their unique blend of rock, jazz and classical music. Keith Emerson, a keyboardist, formed the group and released their debut, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (@allmusic) to immediate acclaim; this is often considered the first progressive rock album. The Nice is also the forerunner to the much more widely known band Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Besides Emerson, the group also included bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson, drummer Brian Davison, and guitarist David O'List, more commonly known as "Davy". All the members of the band are from England.

The band was formed in May 1967 to back soul singer P.P. Arnold, a performer who reached a far higher level of popularity in Britain than her native America. After performing with Arnold through the summer, The Nice soon gained a reputation of its own. In August, Davison replaced the original drummer for the Arnold group, Ian Hague. The first album by The Nice was recorded throughout the autumn of 1967. Early work tended toward the psychedelic sound, but soon more ambitious elements came to the fore. The classical and jazz influences manifested themselves both in short quotes from C.P.E. Bach (Sinfonietta) and in more elaborate renditions of Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" which The Nice called simply "Rondo", changing the meter from the original 9/8 to 4/4 in the process.

For their second single, The Nice created an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's "America" which Emerson described as the first ever instrumental protest song. It not only uses the Bernstein piece (from West Side Story) but also includes fragments of Dvořák's New World Symphony. The single concludes with a child speaking the lines "America is pregnant with promises and anticipation, but is murdered by the hand of the inevitable." The new arrangement was released under the title "America (Second Amendment)" as a pointed reference to the U.S. Bill of Rights provision for the bearing of arms.

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@ allmusic by Bruce Eder
The Nice only existed for three years, and in that time they went through many a false start as well as some membership and directional changes -- but in the process, they helped bridge the gap between the pop-psychedelia of 1967 and the more ambitious (and, ultimately, pretentious) brand of music known variously as art rock or progressive rock. They never sold many records in their own time, until near the end of their history as a band, but they were among the 1960s groups that had some of the greatest influence on the music of the early '70s. In the beginning, they were just supposed to provide backup, à la Booker T. & the MG's, for American-born soul singer P.P. Arnold, an ex-member of the Ikettes who producer/ manager/ music mogul Andrew Oldham believed he could make into the next Tina Turner. Keyboard player Keith Emerson had previously played in Gary Farr & the T-Bones, and the new group's rhythm section was filled by T-Bones alumni Lee Jackson on bass and Ian Hague on drums, while former Attack guitarist Davy O'List filled the fourth spot. They got together in May of 1967 and proved so powerful an ensemble on-stage, backing Arnold, that they soon earned billing on their own at the National Jazz and Blues Festival that summer, and by that fall had a recording contract of their own with Oldham's Immediate Records. Hague, however, proved a weak link in their lineup, in part owing to his devotion to the use of various controlled substances, and by the time they were ready to formally begin recording, he was replaced by O'List's onetime Attack bandmate Brian Davison.

They were an amazingly freewheeling outfit, in keeping with the times. Although Jackson handled most of the singing, O'List also took a lead vocal on occasion, and even Emerson would end up on the microphone. They played a strange mix of psychedelic blues, heavily laced with cadenza-like solos on the piano or organ, and dressed up in ornate, flashy guitar, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix -- amid the pop flourishes and heavy piano and guitar riffs, one could hear influences of classical, soul, and jazz. Their debut album was ready for release early in 1968 but was delayed getting into stores until much later in the year, at which point they had released a single to support it -- their chosen track was a driving, flashy, instantly memorable instrumental rendition of the song "America" from West Side Story that got them lots of airplay and bade fair to get them on the U.K. charts, until objections to a very tasteless picture-sleeve design, coupled with the complaint of co-author Leonard Bernstein that he'd never given the group permission to revamp his piece -- which led to their inability to get the single issued in America -- took the wind out of their sails. Their year's worth of work had begun to build the group, and especially the extrovert personality of Emerson, a following in England. The organist player would jam knives into his keyboards, set fire to various objects on-stage (including, at least once, at Royal Albert Hall, the American flag, creating a potential diplomatic incident for the government), and simulate sex with his instrument -- by 1968, he was known as the Jimi Hendrix of the keyboard. But amid the controversy over the single, the quartet's debut album, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack [@ allmusic]-- which actually sounded very different from the single, and already very dated, died a withering death on record shop shelves during the summer of 1968. In truth, the debut LP was probably held up too long and released too late anyway, its cheery psychedelia being a little old-fashioned by the summer of 1968. There was a distinctly unusual undercurrent to the music, however, beneath the trippy pop tunes and spaced-out lyrics, that could have saved the record. The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack [@ allmusic] sounded different from virtually anything else in music at the time -- spook-house organ solos and slashing guitar attacks that ran together and clashed, and heavily veiled quotations from Dave Brubeck, among other sources; "Rondo" was nothing less than a large-scale psychedelic rock adaptation of "Blue Rondo a la Turk.".....

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@ Wilson & Alroy's
The Nice is one seriously obscure band - in the United States. In Europe, this short-lived late 60s British prog rock ensemble was a definite success, with most of their LP's cracking the Top 10 on the UK charts. Here, they're mostly known because their leader, Keith Emerson, went on to form the hugely commercial 70s British prog rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But the Nice is paid so little attention, in fact, that assorted liner notes on their first three records give no hint that the group released two live albums after their first record company - Immediate, which also handled the Small Faces - went belly-up at the end of 1969. While I can't admit to being a big ELP fan, the Nice turns out to have been quite entertaining. The main attraction was definitely Emerson, who had far better classical training than any other 60s musician and made damn sure you knew it. It seems that their lack of popularity here had more to do with Immediate's problems then with their own shortcomings; the Small Faces suffered similarly.

Intrigued by Emerson's huge success with the less ground-breaking ELP, I've tracked down and reviewed most of their records (which incidentally can be had for cheap on used CD, thanks to a recent remastering job that encouraged many fans to sell and replace their old copies). ELP was very much just a professionalized version of the late-period Nice, with better bass, drum, and vocal performances, plus all those famous synthesizers - Emerson was among the first to make real use of the new technology (see also Abbey Road). A lot of people find ELP overbearing and the critics can't stand them. There are reasons for this - Emerson came down with a bad case of synthesizer-itis just when the band formed; Lake sang his frequently pretentious lyrics like an overgrown choir boy; and it seemed like Palmer's only goal in life was to prove he could play really really fast without making any mistakes. Despite all this, ELP's quintessentially 70s sound often crystalizes around some good songwriting and fantastic musicianship, which explains their huge fan following. One problem, however, is that their records are relentlessly professional and mostly employ the same themes (some would say gimmicks). That makes it quite hard to rank them, but I've taken a stab at it...........

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@ Progarchives
The Nice was the precursor to one of progs most influential bands - Emerson, Lake & Palmer. This band began their career at the dawning of rock and its sub genres, the closing of the sixties and an era of growing desires to challenge the boundaries of popular music. The four musicians branched out, utilizing and combining classical, jazz, blues and rock music to forge a new and dynamic sound - later to be known as Progressive Rock. The seeds were already sown for the Symphonic and Orchestral style of music that Keith Emerson would champion throughout the decades to come.

@ The 9th National Jazz and Blues Festival
Highspot of Sunday was the merging of the talents of Keith Emerson, the brilliant young organist with the Nice, and Mr Joseph Egar, the enthusiastic and extremely hip conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

In a courageous blow against the huge barriers between pop music and the classics, the Nice played three pieces in conjunction with 41 string and horn players, including members of the London Symphony Orchestra.

It was a nerve-racking experience for the musicians and their fans. Many silent prayers were offered that (a) the music would work and (b) the bulk of the crowd would react favourably.
At the end of the experiment the cheers drowned sighs of relief. "It worked!" was the cry backstage later as Nice manager Tony Stratton-Smith bought drinks for Mr. Egar and Keith, Lee Jackson and Brian Davison were congratulated by fellow groups and journalists. =>>>>>>>>>>>

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