The prog trio's orchestral masterpiece featuring some legendary jazz names.
Sid Smith 2009-07-31
Rock and classical music fusions have often ended up being damned by both sides of the cultural divide. Those artists venturing into such areas can find themselves labeled 'pretentious' by rock purists or simply patronised by a condescending elite.
Not that such criticism stopped those trying to experiment and push the boundaries in the hothouse days of 60s popular music. The Nice had previous form with classical cross-overs. An incendiary version of Bernstein's America had led the charge on their 1967 debut, and in 1968 they rocked up Bach's Brandenburg concerto.
However Five Bridges represented Keith Emerson's first serious attempt in his own right to mix the oil and water which rock and classical music traditionally represented.
Commissioned by the Newcastle Arts Festival in 1969, with Geordie ex-pat, bassist and vocalist, Lee Jackson providing a bitter-sweet libretto about his hometown, Emerson's intention was to try and build bridges between the different forms.
Emerson bolted together a collection of stirring themes in the Romantic tradition, threw in a dash of jazz (with some of the best players of the day including Joe Harriott) and cranked up the volume all the way to eleven.
Whilst it's true the results are variable, there's probably a greater degree of integration achieved here than on the comparable effort by Deep Purple (Concerto for Group and Orchestra) from the same year.
By the time of its original 1970 release when it reached number two in the album charts, The Nice were history. Along with Greg Lake and Carl Palmer, Emerson would enjoy world-wide adulation and yet more grandiose symphonic adventures.
These days however, its the relatively humble musing of The Nice which often sounds the more adventurous and artistically satisfying of the two.