Keith Emerson Variations 20 CD box Review

Keith Emerson Variations 20 CD box Review

Keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson, who we sadly lost in 2016, is largely responsible for the development of progressive rock, through the 1968 debut by The Nice. With them, and the supergroup Emerson Lake & Palmer, Emerson based a lot of the sound on classical pieces.

Outside of ELP, Keith has had a lengthy solo career, whether on his own, his own band, with Greg Lake, or composing film soundtracks. In fact, there’s more out there than the average fan will realise, and this set of 20 albums does well to bring a good chunk (but not all) together in one place, and it’s very well presented too.

Starting with the music, and in no particular order (and not the order on the box)

Best Revenge: A soundtrack to a 1985 film, and some great sounds here. A lot of quality synth work, some solo and some with a band, which includes drummer Aynsley Dunbar and vocalist Brad Delp. The disc is then filled with tracks from the film La Chiesa (The Church)

Beyond The Stars: an album of largely classical pieces, with Terje Mikkelsen and The Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields. A modern production, modern instruments, classical music and arrangements, and quite atmospheric at times.

Changing States: A 1995 solo album that features a range of feels. Some tracks (Another Frontier a standout) nod seriously to the Emerson Lake & Powell album, other tracks a little more whimsical

Emerson Plays Emerson: A 2002 solo album, largely just piano or clavinet, 24 shortish pieces, classically influenced. A good insight into Emerson’s mind

Honky: Emerson’s debut solo album from 1981, Largely piano centred with guitar, bass, drums and occasional saxophone. Some variations on a theme, and a lot of fun too, if off the wall at times.

Inferno: A 1980 film soundtrack, composed by Emerson and combining piano and orchestra, quite dramatic at times too. I’ve always loved the track Taxi Ride, a combination of a catchy piano and guitar riff.

Iron Man Vol 1: Soundtrack to the shortlived 2001 US TV animated series, not the RDJ film. Grandiose, a little abrasive at times, whimsical at others.

Harmageddon/Godzilla: Music for two Japanses projects that I think verged on Manga. Off the wall, strange, but lovely too.

Keith Emerson Band: A 2008 project featuring vocalist and multi instrumentalist Marc Bonilla. Some great sounds here, some bits nodding back to Karn Evil 9, and some more whimsical tracks. Bonilla doesn’t sound too dissimilar to Greg Lake in places.

Live At BB Kings: An excellent live show from New York, 2004, that opens with America/Rondo and takes in The Nice, ELP and solo. The show goes over to a second disc that also features some bonus tracks. Wonderful.

Boys Club – Live From California: Recorded 1988 with Marc Bonilla and Glenn Hughes in 1988, released 2009, much more of a rock set, really easy to get into.

Emerson/Lake – Live From Manticore Hall: Live set from 2010, mixes a King Crimson track and some ELP, great to see Emerson and Lake back together. Both are sorely missed.

Keith Emerson Band – Live In Moscow: Another great live set, 2008, featuring Marc Bonilla, and over two discs, a nice mix of solo and ELP material.

Murderock: A 1984 film soundtrack, some good tunes, quite pop oriented, and very much of the time, so a little dated now.

Nighthawks: A great soundtrack from 1981, mixing piano, rock band and orchestration, all composed by Keith Emerson

Off The Shelf: Compilation album from 2006, features a mix of work, including Up The Elephant And Round The Castle, the theme tune to a short lived Jim Davidson sitcom, also released as a single. Interesting, one for collectors only, really.

The Early Years: Does what it says on the tin, and opens with a medley recorded by Emerson aged just 14, followed by a track by The T Bones with Chris Barber. Material by The Nice and ELP follows. Some great material and a real insight too.

Keith Emerson Band – Three Fates Project: Originally released in 2012, this is music for rock band and orchestra, lovely and grandiose it is too. Very enjoyable.

So bar The Christmas Album, pretty much all (or at least most) of Keith’s solo work is here. Some of these albums, individually, are rare and/or out of print and this brings them all together nicely, in a 10” by 10” box.

The packaging really adds to value. The CDs are presented across 4 folders which the discs slip into. Easy access, but these are not the most robust and will tear or crease if not handled with care. Individual card sleeves would have been a real bonus.

The joy and gem, however, is the book/booklet which contains loads of rare photographs, extensive sleeve notes from Classic Prog’s Jerry Ewing, and a page or so dedicated to each disc with further more detailed information. There is also a smaller thinner booklet featuring lots of personal photos.

These booklets really do add so much to the package, and given the rarity of some of the material, as well as the cost of the set, really makes it worth while.

Much of the music is a great listen, but some is just not the kind of thing to spin on a frequent basis, but is of interest. If you are a Keith Emerson fan, you will love this, and it really does highlight how good he was as a composer as well as a virtuoso pianist.

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Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine

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