Encores, Legends and Paradox,

A Tribute to the Music of ELP

various artists

Magna Carta MAX-9026-2, 1999
1. Karn Evil 9 1st. Impression (Emerson/Lake/Sinfield) *****
2. Bitches Crystal (Emerson/Lake) *****
3. Toccata (Ginastera; arranged by Emerson) *****
4. Knife Edge (Janacek; arranged by Emerson/Lake/Fraser) *****
5. A Time and a Place (Emerson/Lake/Palmer) *****
6. Hoedown (Copeland; arranged by Emerson/Lake/Palmer) *****
7. The Sheriff (Lake) *****
8. The Endless Enigma (Emerson/Lake) *****
9. The Barbarian (Bartok; arranged by Emerson/Lake/Palmer) ****
10. Tarkus (Emerson/Lake/Palmer) ****

(1, 4, 6, 9, 10) arranged and produced by Robert Berry; (2, 3, 5, 7, 8) arranged and produced by Trent Gardner. Executive producers: Peter Morticelli and Mike Varney

Robert Berry: bass (1, 4, 6, 9, 10), guitar (1, 9), vocals (1)
Trent Gardner: keyboards (2, 3, 5, 7, 8), vocals (7, 8)
Wayne Gardner: bass (2, 3, 5, 7, 8), acoustic guitar (7)
Simon Phillips: drums (1, 4, 6, 9, 10)
Marc Bonilla: guitar (4, 6, 10)
Jordan Rudess: keyboards (1, 6)
Pat Mastelotto: percussion (2, 3)
John Wetton: vocals (2, 7)
Igor Khoroshev: piano (2), keyboards (9)
Peter Banks: guitars (3, 7)
James LaBrie: vocals (5, 10)
Mike Portnoy: drums (7, 8)
Mark Wood: violin (1)
Matt Guillory: synth (3)
Glenn Hughes: vocals (4)
Erik Norlander: keyboards (4)
Doane Perry: drums (5)
Martin Barre: guitars (5)
John Novello: organ (5)
Jerry Goodman: violin (6)
Mark Robertson: Hammond (7)
Geoff Downes: synth (8)
Derek Sherinian: keyboards (10)

I was very dubious about this album when it was first announced. Magna Carta's reputation has not been greatly enhanced by a succession of tribute albums: for Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Rush... It was something of a mystery that ELP had not been done before!

I am something of a fan of the Yes tribute, Tales from Yesterday, and one factor that seemed to be to that album's benefit over subsequent tributes was that the songs were, for the most part, performed by a range of real acts. In what looks suspiciously like a cost-cutting exercise, on later tributes, Magna Carta switched instead to the use of a core of jobbing prog musicians with a smattering of big name guest stars on overdubs. That's precisely what we have here.

Half the tracks were given to Trent Gardner (recording with brother Wayne), half by Robert Berry (recording with Simon Phillips on drums). They then recruited a panoply of prog stars and the pieces were assembled on tape. It sounds like a recipe for some bland, cheap nonsense. Bizarrely, it works really well. No-one will believe me, but it does. I think it's to do with the kind of music ELP made. They were always a band that allowed for virtuoso playing within their music, especially from Emerson. That structure suits guest stars playing over backing tracks.

The classical or mock-classical pieces are just as you would want from ELP: big music, with outrageous playing, but with the performers' putting their own styles on instead of Emerson's, Lake's and Palmer's. Even the lighter pieces work well: "A Time and a Place" has been fleshed out; and the humour of "The Sheriff" comes through well, with a wonderful lounge funk outro contrasting the earlier country stylings.

Moreover, Emerson's keyboard playing took on so many musical roles that it's possible for not just keyboardists but guitarist (praise here for Bonilla on "Knife Edge" and "Hoedown", Banks on "Toccata") and violinists (notably Goodman on "Hoedown") to replace him here. What struck me more was the intriguing drum work (e.g. Phillips on "Karn Evil 9", Portnoy on "The Sheriff"and "The Endless Enigma", Perry on "A Time and a Place"), especially the use of varying drum timbres, quite unlike Carl Palmer's approach. In fact, some of the performances here rather show up Palmer and Lake.

The vocals were somewhat uninteresting in comparison. Wetton turns in an OK "Bitches Crystal" (something he has since been performing live within his band with Carl Palmer, Qango) and a better "The Sheriff". LaBrie is perhaps the most interesting on "A Time and a Place".

It's a couple of prog's new boys who put in some of the best work: Yes's latest keyboardist Igor Khoroshev and King Crimson's Pat Mastelotto. "The Barbarian" concentrates on Khoroshev's playing (he has subsequently recorded a solo piano spin-off from this piece as "Barlegro" on his Piano Works album), while he also has a fab piano solo to begin "Bitches Crystal". It's interesting how both Khoroshev (notably at the end of "The Barbarian") and Jordan Rudess sound more Rick Wakeman-like at times than Emerson-like. Mastelotto commands the beginnings of "Toccata" and (after Khoroshev's solo) "Bitches Crystal" with a range of acoustic and electric percussion.

Both Robert Berry and Trent Gardner sensibly leave room for their guests. However, their contributions are not wholly overshadowed by the soloists': they both create interesting forms in which those guests can shine and play some nice work themselves. Berry is mainly on bass, but has a couple of good guitar solos. Trent handles the less flamboyant keyboard parts and a few vocals, while brother Wayne turns in some very earthy bass. Trent plays some nice keyboard work on "A Time and a Place", "The Sheriff" and "Tocatta", but his showpiece is "The Endless Enigma" (save for a solo from Geoff Downes in the coda), where he effectively uses a range of keyboards to create different atmospheres and sounds remarkably like Lake in his singing voice. Still, he is rather outshone when it comes to soloing by his guests on other tracks.

The last two tracks, both Berry's, I found the least impressive. "The Barbarian" features great soloing, but the rhythm section seems to slow it down, while the metal stylings on a plodding "Tarkus" veer towards cliche.

Earlier Magna Carta covers albums have had members of the band in question or people associated with them. Here of course we have Robert Berry of 3, Carl Palmer's colleague in Asia John Wetton and Keith Emerson's recent collaborators Glenn Hughes and Marc Bonilla. None of the three themselves appear, although Emerson says he enjoyed the album in the liner notes. Well, so did I.

Henry Potts, 29 Dec 99, revised 3 Jan 01

Originally posted to rec.music.progressive, alt.music.yes and alt.rock-n-roll.asia.

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