Keith Emerson Band
Featuring Marc Bonilla

Keith Emerson Band

Finally. It only took 30 years, but Keith Emerson has at last made THE album fans have been waiting for. With a title like Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla, it's anything but ho-hum. It’s vintage Emerson behind a driving Hammond, a fiery Moog, pipe organ, and the right measures of piano and polyphonics — all tenderized by the equivalent virtuosity of Marc Bonilla’s impressive guitar work. But that’s only the half of it.

What Emerson has done is beyond convention, beyond the scope of just making a record for the sake of getting it out there. He has made a concerted effort with Bonilla at his side to expand on his playing, revisiting conceptual landscapes in a progressive rock manner, without sounding dated or obsolete. Bonilla’s vocals are surprisingly agile and appropriate with the tone of the album, transcending the players' abilities and providing an environment for actual, melodic songs.

The first 15 songs comprise a conceptual suite based on "The House of Ocean Born Mary," a ghost story written by Marion Lowndes. The three-part ”Miles Away” provides the framework; ”Marche Train” has all the trimmings of a true prog epic; “A Place To Hide” is fittingly light, yet satisfying; and all I can say about “Finale,” featuring a swift and slam-dunk drum break from Gregg Bissonette, is: What a finale!

Actually, there’s four additional tracks to finish the album off in fine style. “The Art Of Falling Down” isn’t quite what I expected to roll out of the speakers. But after a couple of rounds, it made me think of what Emerson, Lake and Palmer could have sounded like had they not parted ways in 1998. Emerson tackles yet another Alberto Ginestera piece called “Malambo” from the Estancia Suite, and he and Bonilla lock horns, tumbling, trilling and twisting through the passages like musical explorers.

“Gametime” tries its best to replicate the barrelhouse joviality of “The Sheriff” and “Benny The Bouncer,” although it’s difficult to gauge where exactly those kind of excursions fit into the ELP puzzle. Maybe through all the serious-minded detours, they needed an outlet for a little absurdity. Simple and supple, “The Parting” is an affirmation of the chemistry between Emerson and Bonilla, and a very telling indication that more music from this team is waiting in the wings.

It took years for Emerson to realize ELP was a band of its time. The ill-fated reunion of the 90s did little to enhance the band’s ambitions. Greg Lake has his own ideas about how he wishes to finish his years as a musician. Carl Palmer is ostensibly as happy drumming for Asia as he was ELP. For Emerson, however, there are but two choices. He could continue to dally in the past with makeshift bands. Or he could build on his almighty talents, reinvent himself and record something new, fresh and vital. Listening to Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla, currently only available as an import, it would appear he chose the latter.

~ Shawn Perry

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