Fanfare For The Uncommon Man: The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert by Various ArtistsRelease date: March 11, 2021
Label: Cherry Red Records
2016 was the year we had lost some of the most amazing talented artists; David Bowie, Prince, Sir George Martin, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Greg Lake, and the one and only, Keith Emerson. For me, Keith Emerson, wasn’t just a member of The Nice and ELP, but he pushed both the boundaries and envelope on how the Organ, Piano, and Synthesizers should be handled in a whole new form.
In an article from PROG Magazine issue no. 66, Sid Smith described this about Keith on how he was blessed through the ambition he’d taken; “Emerson was a visionary an innovator, keen to forge a sound that possessed both the grit of rock and the grandeur of the classical composers that both inspired and fueled him.”
His classical arrangements were taken from Mussorgsky, Bartok, Copeland, and Ginastera, he was like a machine gun ready to go off at any second. Say what you want about ELP, but they opened the doors to the progressive rock genre like no other. And while the so-called rock critics despised them, they were adored by their fans. And now in this incredible 2-CD/2-DVD set released on the Cherry Red label, is honoring the legacy of Keith Emerson’s music of saying thank you for nearly 50 years of this amazing ride that he embarked on with his arrangements and broke the door down in the legacy of the Progressive Rock genre.
Recorded on May 28, 2016 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, it captures the two-hour event with help from Joe Travers (Zappa Plays Zappa), Keith Emerson Band, Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, Curved Air), and the one and only Rachel Flowers. Also including Keith’s son, Aaron and the Three Fates Project, lending a helping hand to get the rocket ship ignited for lift-off at the venue.
From the moment Kae Matsumoto’s overture-esque introduction to the Tribute concert with ‘Prelude to a Hope’ starts everything off and into the sci-fi second part, first impression of ‘Karn Evil 9’ with the Keith Emerson Band with Marc Bonilla singing “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends/we’re so glad you could attend/come inside, come inside”. It is an adventure that the audience will never forget.
When Rachel Flowers comes kicking in on both ‘The Barbarian’ and the instrumental symphonic melody of ‘The Endless Enigma’ we are rooting for her. Because it shows not only how much Keith’s music has touched her life as an instrumentalist, but understanding that his spirit is watching over her, knowing that he would have wanted her to continue and move forward with her future that is awaiting for many doors to be opened for Rachel.
Brian Auger really goes into town with a ‘60s psychedelia take for the ‘Fanfare for the Common Blue Turkey’. There’s a bit of The Nice’s inspiration that flows into the arrangement. Mixed in between Sibelius’ ‘Karelia Suite’ and Brubeck’s ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’, Brian is going into town on his organ exercise to get the audience on the train riding into the unknown while it is off to the wild west with Ed Roth & Jeff “Skunk” Baxter for a bit of the ‘Hoedown’.
You can tell that Bonilla, Roth, and Baxter are having a ball trading these duels at the O.K. corral of Copeland’s arrangements with a bit of fun with some heavy bluesy, country-esque grooves to see who can make it to the finish line in the hot, blazing sun of a ragtime-like solo appreciation.
Aaron Emerson goes forth to honor his Dad’s music with his composition, ‘Ride’. You can feel the emotions inside him playing this mournful arrangement to know that while we honor his music, Aaron’s piano work is very gentle, soft, and warm. It lifts you up at times to give that one last spark inside of him to push those keys that go a little loud, but coming back to the final ride into the long and winding road moving forward.
Philippe Saisse brings in his own smooth jazz arrangements for a walk into this bossa-nova arrangement of walking into the city of Brazil with a laid-back take of ‘From the Beginning’ before he goes into this Gershwin-esque finale that is like a swinging vibration as they tackle the mid-tempo rocking version of Kim Fowley’s ‘Nutrocker’. It starts off with ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ as this metallic prelude before it gets the audience pumped up for Saisse to bring the roof down with this heavy pumping piano exercise while Bonilla blisters his way throughout the frets on the guitar to shine some light as Eddie Jobson honors the attack mode on his keyboards by almost going haywire for ‘Bitches Crystal’.
But it’s the 21-minute epic of ‘Tarkus’ where it becomes a show-stopper as Jordan Rudess tackles one of the most challenging epic battles for the giant armadillo on tank treads to raise hell one more time for Keith. For Rudess, it is quite an honor for him to be a part of this incredible family to play this incredible piece from ELP’s second studio album by creating his own ideas on his instrument to push it further.
However, ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ brings everything to a standstill. Terje Mikkelsen of the Three Fates Project conducts the first part of the fanfare intro before Jobson returns once more on the second part as the blaring horn synths and galloping grooves bring the punches even harder.
Jobson really nails it down for the beast to unleash its prey even more before the ‘La Grange’-esque midsection gets right down to the Classical turned Heavier Blues Rock, even electrifying with more insane synths going haywire again! Closing it out with the 50s rocker of a Little Richard-esque take of ‘Are You Ready Eddy?’, which is a tribute to engineer Eddie Offord, brings it full circle.
In the words of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poetry of Ulysses, “It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, and see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” This live album wasn’t just an event with an incredible line-up, but a family occasion to have Keith’s legacy go full circle.