Colosseum were a pioneering English progressive jazz-rock band, mixing progressive rock and jazz-based improvisation. During their first period (1968-1971) they released the studio albums Those Who Are About To Die Salute You (1969), Valentyne Suite (1969), The Grass Is Greener (1970, U.S. release only) and Daughter Of Time (1970). During the tour to promote their latest album they recorded their album Colosseum Live. The album was released in 1971 and was one of the band's most commercially successful albums, remaining in the UK album chart for six weeks and peaking at number 17. The album was recorded at Manchester University (March 18, 1971) and the Big Apple, Brighton (March 27, 1971). After this double live album, the band broke up for 23 years and reunited in 1994. Many music devotees consider this as one of the best live albums ever released. The rereleases on compact disc are almost countless. And even now, new versions of this legendary live album can still be found in the shops. The latest one is probably the best of all. I guess you can't expect anything else from a label such as Esoteric Recordings.
This time around the album is not simply titled Colosseum Live but Colosseum Live: Remastered & Expanded Edition. And in a way this tells you what it is all about, remastered and expanded. Meaning the best sound possible and an extra disc of live material is available. Material which was recorded in Brighton, Manchester and Bristol in March 1971. Sure some of the songs can be found on the original album as well, but the inclusion of a live version of their classic Valentyne Suite is something that a lot of fans were waiting for after all these years. With a booklet of fully restored original album artwork and featuring a new essay this release is just perfect!
The album was recorded in the classic line-up of Mark Clarke on bass and vocals, Dave "Clem" Clempson on guitars and vocals, Chris Farlowe on lead vocals, Dave Greenslade on organ and vibes, Dick Heckstall-Smith on saxophones and bandleader Jon Hiseman on drums. According to drummer Hiseman the album almost never got released. But fate intervened and thankfully, this ferocious classic performance of Colosseum was preserved intact. Under Hiseman's leadership, Colosseum created a heady and ferocious brew of progressive rock blues and jazz like nothing else. Capped off with Chris Farlowe's dramatic blues drenched vocals, the band would leave one breathless every night they performed.
The original album starts with Rope Ladder To The Moon. An ingenious cover of a Jack Bruce song that's actually better than the original! Starting off with arpeggio type guitar tricks plus some strong melodies played on the vibes, Chris Farlowe then roars in and takes it to the moon, the intensity builds with a great mid-section where Dave Greenslade makes his Hammond organ snarl and growl like a hungry lion as Hiseman eggs him on, the full band comes back in for a fiery conclusion, great way to start off! Next is Walking In The Park - A cranked up blues that dates back to The Graham Bond Organization, taken at such an unsafe tempo it nearly threatens to blow apart but our heroes keep it together and land on their feet. It is followed by Skellington, which continues in a bluesy mode but at a slower tempo. However, it goes a bit off course between a long psychedelic guitar noise and Chris Farlowe's vocal histrionics. Not a bad song but it could've done without all the excess. Before the encore comes we have Tanglewood. This is a serious tour de force! Take one Michael Gibbs composition, rearrange it and go for it! What results is a dense, complex yet oddly memorable instrumental with the band combining wordless singing with the strong saxophone playing of Dick Heckstall Smith, who is getting the spotlight with his double-sax solo, certainly one of the major highlights of this set! The first encore of the set is the old T-Bone Walker song Stormy Monday Blues. Given the Colosseum treatment it was renamed into Encore...Stormy Monday Blues. This was without doubt their fun tune and you can clearly hear that! The final song on the original double album is titled Lost Angeles, certainly another major reason to own this disc. This piece starts with Dave Greenslade showing his Hammond organ artistry leading the band into a dense fiery epic on life. Tight ensemble passages intertwine with heartfelt and concise soloing as Chris Farlowe spins the tale of woe. The band winds down and Dave Greenslade switches to vibes, as guitarist Dave Clemson builds a plaintive and heart-wrenching bluesy solo. The momentum builds and builds, almost to the point of blowing the song to pieces but just as you think that is inevitable, the band pulls off a rousing conclusion and leaves the crowd amazed!
The second disc has a lot of the same songs as the first. Again tracks can be heard that were not any studio albums before, and mainly consisted of songs written by other composers. I will not go into details this time. But believe me the band is on fire just as on the songs which were recorded for the original live album. This is of course not so strange because they were performed during the same period the band was on tour. Again you can hear that they were mainly a live band and not an act that had fun while recording their studio tracks. The band loved to jam and improvise on stage. Playing long solos and showing what they were capable off with their instruments. The epic piece Valentyne Suite shows this all the way!
After hearing both CDs I can only conclude that what you hear is a very exhilarating set of songs done by a band that really relied on its raw talent and musicianship and played from its heart, no gimmicks, no fakery, no overdubs.
After the band split, Jon Hiseman formed Tempest with bassist Mark Clarke; Dave Greenslade formed Greenslade together with former Colosseum bassist Tony Reeves. Chris Farlowe joined Atomic Rooster; and Dick Heckstall-Smith embarked on a solo career. Clem Clempson joined the hit group Humble Pie. Hiseman reformed the group as Colosseum II in 1975, with a stronger orientation towards jazz-fusion rock, which featured the well-known guitarist Gary Moore (4 April 1952 - 6 February 2011) and Don Airey on keyboards. They released three albums before disbanding in 1978.
Remarkably, Colosseum reunited 23 years later (1994) with exactly the same line-up as they split in 1971. Hiseman's wife, saxophonist Barbara Thompson, joined the band on various occasions before the death of Dick Heckstall-Smith in December 2004, before becoming a permanent member of the band. The reunion lasted from 1994 till 2015.
To end this long review I must thank Esoteric Recordings for releasing the ultimate version of this classic live album. An album which will be loved by many fans of progressive rock. Colosseum paved the way for many bands that would later became famous for playing progressive rock and jazz rock, they were certainly an inspiration for them!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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