EMI 2002 / The Right Honourable 2017
Most pacified proposition from progressive rock’s wild man – now remastered and perfectly crisp.
“I’m very naked and exposed on this record – it’s like wearing your heart on your sleeve. But of course, if I was naked and exposed, I wouldn’t have a sleeve to put my heart upon”: that’s how Keith Emerson characterized a pure piano album which pointed to his true core – the very place the usually flamboyant performer kept his heart in when left alone. “Solitudinous” was the word Keith used to describe such a state, and he also used it as a title for a chamber piece serving as a key to “Emerson Plays Emerson” and painting a portrait of the artist at his intimate grand. A collection of vignettes quite varied in their mood, the veteran’s unplugged effort captures his intrepid spirit even in the briefest, under two minutes, numbers, let alone those holding a whole time period in them – like the final triplet/medley of tunes, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” included, the future rocker preserved for posterity at the ripe age of 14.
From the unhurried reflection of “Vagrant” whose serenity is disturbed by an occasional splash and a sped-up roll across the board, to “Honky Tonk Train Blues” from 1976 which, still to be laid down for an ELP platter, sees the prog proponent share the ivories duties with his hero Oscar Peterson, their agitated duel backed by an orchestra, there’s a great variety of moods on display, something that Emerson rarely demonstrated within a single album. Not that Keith did have many of those as a solo artist, except for a series of soundtracks he’s delving into here with “The Dreamer” and the equally elegiac “Prelude To Candice” – yet if working with a band seemed to have given Emerson a great impetus on a covers field, the ivories operator be quite expressive on his own, as suggest the filigree likes of “Creole Dance” or, perhaps most importantly, “Ballad For A Common Man”: a toned-down tribute to Aaron Copland’s classic. This point may also be stressed by a lavishly loose, vehemently vigorous take on “Summertime” where a rhythm section is present, as it is on “B&W Blues” which distills jazz vibe to an essence that fueled Keith throughout his life.
While the explosive boogie of “A Cajun Alley” and a new reading of “Barrelhouse Shakedown ” tap into the New Orleans tradition, the synthesizer-spiced concert recording “For Kevin” rides up celestial road, and “Soulscapes” is a simple life-affirming rumination on the aforementioned sacred spot where this piano player kept his heart… the spot he, sadly, struggled to reach afterwards which, ultimately, lead to the master’s untimely demise.