Keith Emerson – Three Fates Project (2012)

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There is a visceral power in these recordings, as the Keith Emerson Band performs within this orchestral torrent — blending the keyboardist’s long-held passions for rock and classical, finally, in the most complete of ways.

Emerson is, of course, best known for infusing elements of Bach, Dvorak, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky into stadium setlists via his association with prog-rock bands like the Nice and Emerson Lake and Palmer — and, appropriately, you’ll find tracks from ELP’s Tarkus, Trilogy and Works. This forthcoming album, however, moves well outside of those established environs, both in the way that it reimagines sometimes very familiar tunes and also how it incorporates them into a long-form narrative that includes originals from Emerson and guitarist Marc Bonilla, as well as a well-placed piece from Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera.

There are times, of course, when the album might seem more classical than rock, so muscular is the 70-piece Münchner Rundfunkorchester, conducted by Terje Mikkelsen. But the Keith Emerson Band, which also includes bassist Travis Davis and drummer Troy Luccketta (Tesla), are by no means bit players in this.

Three Fates Project features a trio of originals from secret-weapon Bonilla, including a far more quietly conveyed take on the title track from this 1993 solo project American Matador, as well as a pair of new songs — the soul-lifting “Walking Distance” and “The Morning Sun,” a darkly foreboding delight. Emerson’s “After All of This” is by turns pastoral, and then elegiac. In this rarified air, the inclusion of Ginastera’s “Malambo” makes perfect sense, being as he dabbled in his own kind of musical alchemy — blending his country’s indigenous sounds with high-brow European concepts.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Greg Lake goes in depth on songs from throughout his career, including “Court of the Crimson King,” “Lucky Man” and “Touch and Go.”]

But what, prog fans are no doubt wondering, about the Emerson Lake and Palmer stuff? These old favorites undergo dramatic reconstructions, as well — and not just in the sense that they are enveloped in chest-thumping micro-bursts of strings. Bonilla’s long, fluid lines often replace Greg Lake’s familiar vocals, and Emerson’s playing (always an eye-popping wonder) has taken on a more mature refinement. He’s long been one of the most technically brilliant keyboardists in prog, yet Emerson stays away from grandiose statements here, often working in miniature on Three Fates Project — preferring to say less but to have it mean more.

The title track from Tarkus actually finds Emerson’s charging, mid-song organ performance voiced by Mikkelsen’s orchestra, an inspired and amazing reformulation. There are also memorable elements from 1972’s Trilogy, including a soaring take on Parts 1-2 of “The Endless Enigma” (though, to my mild disappointment, not the Emerson fugue that originally connected the two segments), as well as “Abaddon’s Bolero,” the album’s original closing track. Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” initially adapted by ELP for their 1977 project Works, then closes things out in a thunderous two-part cacophony of sound and feeling.

I was struck, all over again, at the way Mikkelsen has his Munich Radio Orchestra playing like a rock band — with fire, emotion and drama. Taken of a piece, Three Fates Project goes as far as any recording I’ve heard in attempting to meld, rather than alternatively feature, these two disparate groupings of musicians; it’s feels very much like a collaborative experience.

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: KING CRIMSON/ EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER COFOUNDER GREG LAKE: Greg Lake is going it alone on an upcoming U.S. tour – playing songs and sharing stories of his time with King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer and as a solo artist. Fans can expect a generous dose of acoustic favorites from across his lengthy career in rock – including “Lucky Man,” “Still … You Turn Me On” and “From the Beginning” – but Lake says the concert experience will expand out from there to include personal memories and key cover tunes, as well. “Things that had a big influence upon me,” Lake told us.

ONE TRACK MIND: CARL PALMER, “FANFARE: DRUM SOLO” (2004; 2011 reissue): This tune begins, in its familiar way, with a soaring keyboard signature we’ve all come to associate so fully with Keith Emerson’s opening of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” as interpreted in 1977 by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But then the Carl Palmer Band, led by the drummer from that concept-rock trio, goes into a new place … and it’s loud. No, not loud. Make that furiously, bashingly, skull-crackingly loud.

KEITH EMERSON – THE KEITH EMERSON BAND FEATURING MARC BONILLA (2008) For vintage prog-rock fans, Keith Emerson is an icon for his trailblazing virtuosic and often flamboyant keyboard work that broke ground in the rock world. He made it possible for other rock keyboardists like Rick Wakeman to become stars in their own right. Beyond his work with The Nice, and more vitally, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Emerson has had an on-again, off-again solo career that’s focused more on soundtrack work, detours into jazz and classical, and other diversions that has attempted to show other facets of his artistry. Here, Emerson seems to finally be fully embracing his prog-rock past outside his association with those two bands where he first made a name for himself.

ONE TRACK MIND: GREG LAKE ON “LUCKY MAN,” “COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING,” “TOUCH AND GO,” OTHERS: Prog-rock legend Greg Lake, co-founder of King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer, describes what made Crimson’s initial lineup such an endlessly interesting amalgam, the special chemistry that Carl Palmer brings to Emerson Lake and Palmer, and how the legendary keyboard solo on ELP’s most memorable song almost got erased before anyone ever heard it. Lake also shares his memories his memorable initial encounter with ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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