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Colosseum - Valentyne Suite CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.22 | 350 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Valentyne Suite, Colosseum, 1969

The leap from the talented but somewhat hamfisted Those Who Are About To Die to the chic, suave musical narrative of Valentyne Suite is a remarkable step for this early traditionally-rooted jazz/rock outfit. From the first crunchy guitar chords and the entrance of Hiseman's superb, laid-back, absolutely textbook drumming, it clear this album is something special, fun and unique. Get a cup of your favourite brew, connect Valentyne Suite to your CD player and *relax*.

The Kettle is punchy, classy, deceptively simple-sounding jazz rock. Some belters of bass solos from the criminally unknown Tony Reeves, quality wailing blues guitar, a great riff and Hiseman's ever-present supporting, classy drumming. The lyrics are mostly nonsense, but sound great and the general energy is just right.

Elegy is one of the album's most unusual pieces and, to be frank, it doesn't quite work for me. Litherland's vocals are best for me in very small doses, and the disjointed organ/sax interplay is clearly very clever but fails to go much beyond that. Not quite sure whether the violins are really doing much but everyone's kicking around nicely, and any band with the instrumental talent and taste Colosseum have naturally leave redeeming features all over the place, whether in the solos or a neat bit of interaction I didn't quite notice before.

Butty's Blues is, predictably enough, a blues. Nothing wrong with that and it is a very creative one. Dave Greenslade on organ brings the house down wonderfully with a biting harmonica-impression and the one-man-brass-section-sound of Dick Heckstall-Smith is not to be underestimated. Litherland's vocals, guitar and the attached lyrics are a perfect fit. The rhythm section, as always, is great. Love it to pieces.

The Machine Demands A Sacrifice is the most frantic and strange piece on side one, going for a sort of edgy, cutting vibe and actually hitting it very well. Wonderfully choppy organ that grooves in a way that takes a while to work into you, snarly vocals, a rhythm section that alternates tense aggression, avant-garde percussions and charmingly absentminded jazz with absolute fluency. Not to mention the menacing rebirth of the piece towards the end into a block of sound. Strange, but it really works.

And now, the big bit: Hiseman's entrance is simply a 'you're here' announcement. Crisp, fresh, warm percussion lines, a bit of Broadway style offering a cinematic overview in glimpses between the band's precise, coherent jazz improvisations. Dave Greenslade is on particular top form, adeptly tackling wandering vibraphone, glaring organs and an incredibly smooth piano trio with Dick Heckstall Smith's mournful saxophone and a mounting wall of expressive percussion. The ideas are just everywhere, playing is precise, sharp and you get the sense of a band who are truly in the zone. Just when you're in your comfort zone, one of the neatest rhythm section parts ever written thunders out of the woodwork in air-drumming ecstasy. And hey, that's like inverted classical distorted organ... I mean... wow, where is this...

The band simply has an astonishing capacity for this huge, improvisationally-rooted, many-part composition with roots in a huge number of styles coherently in unexpected and wonderful directions and then pulling it back together. Going through all the details would be a waste of my time and yours, but highlights include a Litherland-Reeves duet, almost each and every time John Hiseman inserts in a fill. Strictly in and of themselves, I think the bright first and destructive third parts are a bit better than the second, but it's the second that ties it all together and allows the third to seem so appropriate. An absolute triumph.

Onto bonus goodies (both lives, neither produced spectacularly, but both very audible): Arthur's moustache is an initially sluggish jazzy piece with what I think is a bass solo and a half slammed in the middle. You get an impression of what the band is doing, and that it's probably a good thing, even if the claustrophobic sound makes it fairly heavy going.

The more open Lost Angeles resembles, with its rolling vibraphone, the more pictorial bits of Valentyne Suite. Again, the extensive vocal bits don't really seem to serve the piece, but they're niceish, and Hiseman and, indeed, the whole band, seems to be on pretty much top form and we get some delicious guitar soloing. Worth hearing if you're a fan of the group.

So, props to an absolutely killer album. Only the slightly irksome presence of elegy is warding off a fifth star, but, for all that, you won't find a better other thirty minutes of music easily and for fans of musicians who know what they're doing, this is one of those albums you might not have but which contains half a dozen real virtuosos without the contagious impulse to show off at every possible juncture. Which isn't to say that they don't do just that more than sufficiently a lot of the time. If you don't have this album, your collection is incomplete.

Rating: Four Stars, possibly going to be revised to a five if I find myself warming to Elegy at some point in the future Favourite track: First part of Valentyne Suite, hands down.

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |


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