Emerson Lake and Palmer – Trilogy: Deluxe Edition (1972, 2015 reissue)

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The Emerson Lake and Palmer catalog have been going through the remix treatment lately, with the first two Emerson Lake and Palmer (1970) and Tarkus (1971) album already done and out. Former Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson had undertaken those projects but had handed off the baton to veteran guitarist, singer-songwriter and music producer Jakko Jakszyk, a staple of prog-rock recordings for decades. Though Wilson stepped aside because he lacks the enthusiasm for ELP records, he asserted that Jakszyk will “do a great job” for the Emerson Lake and Palmer studio album next in line, 1972’s Trilogy.

The fruits of Jakszyk’s labor are being made available to the public, and Trilogy, Deluxe Edition (June 29, 2015, Sony Music) is a three CD extravaganza that presents ELP’s classic long player three times, in three ways: the original masters produced by Emerson Lake and Palmer singer/guitarist/bassist Greg Lake, another one with a sparkling new high resolution stereo mix, and another remix for 5.1 surround sound systems. One album, three discs, three audio renderings.

But first, a survey of the art itself.

Progressive rock was still very much forming in 1972; there were so little in the way of established ‘rules’ that defined what prog rock was supposed to sound like, and musicians were given more leeway in the studio by the Majors (remember, in these days Columbia didn’t flinch when Chicago’s Terry Kath made a bunch of noisy feedback on his guitar for seven minutes). This meant that for adventurous rock musicians like Lake, keyboardist/pianist Keith Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer, nothing was off-limits. Including anything that, well, wasn’t really rock. Emerson Lake and Palmer formed this partnership in 1970 explicitly to fully exploit these wide-open attitudes of the time with their limitless capabilities.

By the time the trio convened at the beginning of 1972 to record their fourth album, they had moved beyond getting to know each other and forged ahead as a fully integrated and telepathic unit. Following up on 1970’s pop-minded “Lucky Man,” Lake contributed another acoustic guitar rendered radio-friendly hit “From The Beginning,’ a genteel folk vibe not representative of the rest of the record but notched the group’s only Top 40 hit in the USA. Crossover or not, it’s a gorgeous showcase for Lake as a composer, singer, and instrumentalist. But here, Lake provided only a few of the many facets that unfolded on Trilogy.

Their love of classical music far exceeded a passing fancy, and they earnestly worked it into their material, such as in the 4/4-rendered ‘Abaddon’s Bolero,” Emerson’s solo piano meditation “Fugue” and the creative synthesizer and organ driven adaptation of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown,” which became the favored Trilogy track performed live by the band. A Western theme is also the basis for delightful “The Sheriff,” beginning with Palmer’s ‘cursed’ but memorable drum intro and ending with Emerson’s honky tonk saloon piano. Lake turns in a sinister vocal performance a little reminiscent of his King Crimson days on “Living Sin” that effectively adds a competitor to Emerson’s prowling Hammond B-3.

The tracks that initiated each side of the vinyl are what today might be regarded as straight up classic prog rock and are arguably the best songs of the album. “The Endless Enigma” (Parts 1 and 2) changes up in mood and direction with such unpredictability, yet stays connected. Palmer gives a clinic on slo-mo drum fills while Lake brings a guitarist mentality to his bass parts. And Emerson, as he does throughout the album, finds roles for the Moog synthesizer within rock that were trailblazing while not abandoning in the least the organ or piano. Most importantly, he knew when it’s time for grace and when the situation calls for fury. The title song begins with a delicate melody gorgeously carried out by Lake’s vocal and Emerson’s piano, sometimes in perfect unison. The song picks up steam with a menacing variation on the theme played out on Emerson’s Moog over Palmer’s machine-like odd meter, topped by a legend-making wailing synth solo.

This isn’t one of those box sets that contains concert boots of live versions of these songs performed in support of the album, nor is there some previously unearthed treasure trove of unreleased tracks; there’s just one. That one is an alternate take on “From the Beginning” that is all but certain only different from the chosen version in Emerson’s gossamer synth solo, confirming that the one selected for the original album was the superior one.

Jakszyk couldn’t (or simply didn’t) bring to light any more material from the sessions, though the liner notes reference the difficulty he encountered sorting out the original material. Just figuring out which bits were part of the final takes was no small task. In any case, Jakszyk’s alterations to the original mix were subtle enough to maintain the original feel but now you’ll hear Lake’s voice better defined and his bass lines a bit more pronounced. Little details like the heartbeat and the eerie synth figures that begin “The Endless Enigma (Part 1)” are easier to make out, too. The Surround Sound treatment is ideal for Emerson Lake and Palmer music, since the separation only illuminates the musicianship of each of these exceptional performers.

Maybe at some level, I get Steven Wilson’s misgivings about declining to take on the project that was ultimately undertaken successfully by Jakko Jakszyk. Emerson Lake and Palmer might be polarizing compared to the other classic prog rock groups because instead of setting parameters with a ‘signature sound,’ they put no limits on what style to play. They were a band that was not only capable of playing anything, they actively went out and did just about anything.

Of course, that’s part of the appeal of Emerson Lake and Palmer, too. There might not be no better exhibit from the studio of how their vast potential could be realized than the music that came from Trilogy.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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