It’s been an interesting week for me with Walk-Off-HBP sending me this link of one Rachel Flowers. Ms Flowers is a 17 year old high school student who happens to be blind but is also a piano prodigy. Having run out of things to play, she has seized upon the catalogue of Keith Emerson recordings and made it her internet repertoire. The results are simply astounding.
…and so on. There are more videos of her playing swathes of ELP and all of it is jaw dropping, and staggeringly good. It makes you want to see if Keith Emerson has anything to say about it, but so far there hasn’t been anything.
That opened the flood doors of YouTube into finding a version of Tarkus played by the Tokyo Philharmony Orchestra. Arranged by Takashi Yoshimatsu and conducted by Hiroshi Sado, this version brings to life the Modernist angular harmonies and the sheer aggression of the sonic attack that was Tarkus. It’s a corker. Don’t miss it if you like Tarkus. You can even get it on CD.
And then, there is Tarkus as played by a nine year old Japanese girl on an Electone at a competition. What’s remarkable about this rendition is how complete the sonic assembly is to the extent that not only is she hammering out Keith Emerson’s part, she’s programmed Carl Palmer’s part on the drum machine. It’s as complete a sound of Tarkus you can get without Greg Lake. She did this some years ago. She’s 13 now, and here’s her doing Karn Evil 9 Second Impression. I liked this comment by the girl who goes by MiZ, in response to the praise that said it must be amazing when you unleash this prog rock at recitals and she says:
Thank you, but you find that the fine judges at competitions and recitals tend to prefer classical music and orthodox jazz. Prog just doesn’t seem to cutit with this crowd. I cry every time they post results. 😦
Which kind of cuts to core of the prejudice and lack of understanding out there for … well, …ALL of Prog but particularly ELP. However that’s not something new.
Sometimes Emerson Lake & Palmer get short shrift even in the progressive rock conversations. Out of the triumvirate of Yes, King Crimson and ELP, the third has had the distinct disadvantage of being unable to change as mercurially as the other to bands. Indeed, the level at which the band is locked to their names has made it all but impossible for them to swap and change members in search of a new direction. Their work this side of 1980 has been disappointing compared to the dizzying heights of their early 1970s work. Maybe it’s not surprising given just how much music has come since.
Yet, look at all these seriously talented musicians taking on board these works today. What does it say? I thought it was a really good opportunity to dust off my copy of Tarkus by ELP and have a blast. Forty years on (OMG!) the production sounds dated; some of the vernacular of the music is so much of the 1970s but Tarkus itself is packed with the most ambitious arranging and playing I can think of from 1971. Consider in 1971 they were putting this up against say Led Zeppelin doing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or Paul McCartney doing his first album with Wings, the disappointing ‘Wild Life’. The weird thing is, Tarkus, the one-side suite of songs, never really gets old on me. I listen to it with essentially the same awe I felt for it as a teenager. All of the angularity, the layered mono-synths, the distorting organs, the modern dissonance brings pure awe at the technique and the vision.
ELP did go on to record even more amazing things, but Tarkus is the first sign post that set the ambitions of rock very, very high. I don’t think too many rock bands have gone and visited that sign post since, but today we find more and more musicians are finding it. Long Live Prog Rock, Long Live ELP.