ALBUM: Five Bridges. (+bonus tracks)
THE NICE : America (1968).History
The band was formed in May 1967 by Andrew Loog Oldham to back soul singer P.P. Arnold, a performer who reached a far higher level of popularity in Britain than her native America. After performing with Arnold through the summer, The Nice soon gained a reputation of their own. In August, former Mark Leeman Five and Habits drummer Davison replaced the Arnold's original drummer, Ian Hague. The first album by The Nice was recorded throughout the autumn of 1967, and in October of that year they recorded their first session for John Peel's Top Gear. Early work tended toward the psychedelia but more ambitious elements soon came to the fore. The classical and jazz influences manifested themselves both in short quotes from C.P.E. Bach (Sinfonietta) and in more elaborate renditions of Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" which The Nice called simply "Rondo", changing the meter from the original 9/8 to 4/4 in the process.
For their second single, The Nice created an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's "America" which Emerson described as the first ever instrumental protest song. It not only uses the Bernstein piece (from West Side Story) but also includes fragments of Dvořák's New World Symphony. The single concludes with a child (who, according to Emerson's biography, is P. P. Arnold's three-year old son) speaking the lines "America is pregnant with promises and anticipation, but is murdered by the hand of the inevitable." The new arrangement was released under the title "America (Second Amendment)" as a pointed reference to the U.S. Bill of Rights provision for the bearing of arms.
O'List left the group during the recording of their second album. The Nice briefly considered looking for a replacement but, (according to sources such as Mojo magazine) they followed the example set by 1-2-3 (later Clouds), and decided to continue as a rock organ trio. With O'List gone, Emerson's control over the band's direction became greater, resulting in more complex music. The absence of a guitar in the band and Emerson's redefining of the role of keyboard instruments in rock set The Nice apart from so many of its contemporaries.
The earlier work of French pianist Jacques Loussier and the more-or-less contemporary Charles Lloyd Quartet (featuring Keith Jarrett) can be seen as influences. Loussier took classical works, notably by Bach, and arranged them for jazz piano trio. The Charles Lloyd band was bridging the jazz and rock spheres and Jarrett's performances (which included playing inside the piano) received much attention. The Nice performed two pieces from the Lloyd repertoire: "Sombrero Sam" and "Sorcery". Part of the musical approach of The Nice was transferring the innovations of these jazz artists into an electric medium, one that was influenced by The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles. Another influence was Bob Dylan, whose songs were common currency at the time and The Nice interpreted several.
The band's second LP Ars Longa Vita Brevis featured an arrangement of the Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius and the album's second side was a suite which included an arrangement of a movement from J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. The group used an orchestra for the first time on some parts of the suite.
Perhaps as a foil for the highbrow aspects of their music, the stage performances were bold and violent, with Emerson incorporating feedback and distortion. He manhandled his Hammond L-100 organ, wrestling it and attacking it with daggers (which he used to hold down keys and sustain notes during these escapades). This was inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Don Shin, an obscure English organist, as well as earlier figures such as pianist Jerry Lee Lewis. Motörhead frontman Lemmy was a roadie for The Nice in their early days, and gave Keith Emerson his trademark knife that he uses to sustain organ keys.
"One might assume, in the face of such a visual display, that the Nice is a mediocre group that compensates for musical failings with a pop-rock version of the theater of violence. Far from it. The Nice is as musically proficient a group as one will hear anywhere on the pop scene. Their most attractive quality is the genuine spirit of improvisational invention and surging jazz rhythm which permeates their work [...]"
The third album, titled Nice in the UK and Everything as Nice as Mother Makes It in the US, featured one side recorded on their American tour and one side of studio material.
The pinnacle of the band's artistic success was probably the Five Bridges suite, commissioned for the Newcastle Arts Festival, which was premiered with a full orchestra conducted by Joseph Eger on October 10, 1969 (the recorded version is from October 17 in Croydon's Fairfield Hall). The title refers to the city's five bridges spanning the River Tyne (two more have since been built).
One of the final appearances by the group was in collaboration with the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Zubin Mehta. This was broadcast in March 1970 on American television as part of the "Switched-On Symphony" program. Following standard television procedure of the day, The Nice's contribution (a version of "America") was recorded ahead of time and the band mimed for the cameras.
By 1970, Emerson and the other band members were frustrated with their lack of mainstream success and they soon broke up. They played their last concert on March 30, 1970 in Berlin, Germany (Sportpalast). Emerson formed a band with Greg Lake (of King Crimson) and Carl Palmer (of Atomic Rooster) — Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Superstardom followed.
A posthumous Nice release Elegy included different versions of already familiar tracks, two being studio versions and two live from the 1969 U.S. tour.
Lee Jackson formed Jackson Heights which released five albums between 1970 and 1973. Brian Davison formed "Every Which Way" which released an album in 1970. Both Jackson and Davison formed Refugee with Patrick Moraz in 1974, but were bitterly disappointed when for a second time a keyboard phenomenon left them for greener pastures - Moraz joined Yes to replace Rick Wakeman.