Emerson Lake & Palmer were known for being self-indulgent and often accused of being pretentious. Self indulgent? Sure. Pretentious? No way. That would imply that they presented themselves as being more talented than they actually were. ELP individually and collectively always tried to push themselves to their musical limits. They never failed to cut the muster, especially on “Works Volume One”.
For their fifth studio album, ELP decided to double it up; two records, four sides. The first three sides focused on the individual writing and arrangement talents of Keith Emerson (keyboards), Greg Lake (guitar and bass) and Carl Palmer (percussion). Side four focused on the collective creativity of all three members.
The album starts off with what is my favorite track (and side) on the double album: Emerson’s “Piano Concerto No. 1”. This is most often where the accusations of pretentiousness come in for “Works Volume One”. I mean, how dare a rock and roller write and classical music! What could they possibly know about treal music? And then to perform it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra! That’s blasphemy! Well, at least it was to most traditionalists. But true to any composer of any era, Emerson incorporated influences past and present. He pushed the boundaries of classical music, incorporating jazz chords and structures into the fold. I’m convinced it’s nothing Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, or any other classical master wouldn’t have attempted had they been exposed to Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and other jazz greats.
Greg Lake’s side is fairly straight forward acoustic singer/songwriter material. Although there are a few moments that ventures outside that territory. “C’est La Vie”, with its french bistro middle section is one of the more notable.
As one would expect, Carl Palmer’s side consists mainly of compositions with rhythmic complexities. Not surprising for a percussionist. His selections lean heavily on polyrhythms, leaning more into modern jazz territory than that of rock.
Side four highlights all these elements coming together cohesively in two
extended progressive rock performances. “Fanfare for the Common Man” is a piece written by the 20th century “Dean of American Composers”, Aaron Copeland. Arranged by ELP, the epic takes on an urgency that transposes classical and rock music. Pirates is an equally esoteric piece that closes out the album. A record that not only highlights the musical passions of each member of ELP, but equally showcases the collective synergy they exhume together.