Bronze 1971 / Esoteric 2016
Saluting intransigence that’s not about to die, a musical document of free-thinking era sees an expanded return into the fray.
Arguably the best concert record by a British band taped on British soil – unlike its only rival, “Made In Japan” – COLOSSEUM’s “Live” remains a connoisseur’s delight, rather than a masses’ favorite, only because of the album’s perceived complexity and overlooked immediacy. But that was the gist of this supergroup’s uniqueness: they never let an individual player’s prowess or their mix of trad-to-free jazz and prog rock get in the way of a regular listener’s pleasure, especially on-stage. More so, the accessibility of the ensemble’s repertoire mean one doesn’t have to be familiar with their studio output to savor the pieces gathered here – and augmented now with other recordings (previously available as part of “Morituri Te Salutant” box set) from the shows that the original vinyl release was culled from, for an ultimate live experience of the ensemble which broke soon after their only 2LP had seen the light of day.
The exquisite intensity of these performances grabs the listener by the collar and pulls them in outer space for better observation of many a subtle detail such as Dave Greenslade sprinkling of riffs with his vibes or the interlocking of Dick Heckstall-Smith‘s sax licks with Clem Clempson‘s guitar riffs. It doesn’t let go until “Lost Angeles” is over with a sense of blissful desolation, but by this point the band have given their all to the audience and the art of music. And then there’s a three-part vocal polyphony unfolding when bassist Mark Clarke and Clempson underpin Chris Farlowe’s bell of a voice to stage gothic drama in fusion environment of “Rope Ladder To The Moon” and evoke a playful stroll through the fairground attractions – Dick’s paired reeds being one of those – in “Tanglewood ’63” as quotes from “My Mammy” and “Spoonful” spice up the show.
All of it is alternately anchored and led – or both at the same time as on the elegantly funky, toccata-tinctured “I Can’t Live Without You” which in a drastically different version on the second disc segues into the thunder of “Time Machine” and then to “The Machine Demands A Sacrifice” – by Jon Hiseman‘s lyrical drumming. Yet it’s not the highest level of musicianship or solo improvisations that elevate an impromptu encore, and subsequently a staple of the group’s set, rendition of “Stormy Monday” with Chris teasing Clem who wasn’t happy with the band’s delivery that night, and the simple moves of “Walking In The Park” where wah-wah is rubbing elbows with Hammond and scat is passed around from singer to singer; it’s the sextet’s telepathy tying tight knots all around “Skellington” to sway it from swagger to spaced-out skronk, from romance to rock ‘n’ roll, and from lyrical pathos to hilarious yodel.
Most essential of the pieces that didn’t make it onto the original double LP but are present here is the band’s magnum opus “The Valentyne Suite” that they never shied away from taking to the stage to demonstrate the small ensemble’s orchestral possibilities and ability to go wild and rock hard without losing sight of larger perspective, yet this might be a very microcosm of COLOSSEUM: to stand proudly, echoing cries of strong men, through the years. That’s what made this group a legend.