Zumwalt Poems Online

Fifty Year Friday: The Nice

The Nice ALVB.jpeg

The Nice: Ars Longa Vita Brevis

In November of 1968, The Nice release their second album, furthering their advance into progressive rock as initiated in their first album.

With the guitarist, David O’List, no longer part of the group (either dropped from the group or left on his own depending on whose side of the story is being represented), The Nice auditioned replacement guitarists, including Steve Howe.  Evidently this would have worked out, except for Howe having second thoughts a week later.  And so, the band moved on without a replacement guitarist, with a line up more like a traditional piano jazz trio (piano, bass and drums), then a rock group, providing the blueprint for the keyboard-dominated progressive rock group (with occasional augmentation by orchestra as in the case with this second Nice album.)

The first track, “Daddy, Where Did I Come From”,  seems like a throwaway novelty number, but much like the ensuing second and third tracks, has a distinct charm and quirkiness that elevates it above the commonplace. Note the peppy piano intro by Keith Emerson as well as the brief baroque-like organ passage, the ensuing unbridled electric organ accompaniment, and the spoken dialogue as the dad.

The second track, “Little Arabella” includes vocals from Keith Emerson at around the 1:37 mark. The third track, the fanfare-like”Happy Freuds”, has Keith on lead vocals and though mostly a simple upbeat pop number, has both charm and substance.

Keith Emerson’s dominance continues with the keyboard-dominated realization of Sibelius’s Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite.  The main theme works better in its original version, but Emerson’s improvisation and development of the theme — and short detour from the theme — provide the essence of this interpretation.

The title track takes up the length of the second side, including orchestra backup — at least at points.  It is not so much a coherent whole as a stitchwork that includes a dramatic Keith Emerson prelude orchestrated by Robert Stewart, a four minute drum solo, the main “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” theme with Jackson on vocals,  followed by a jazzy instrumental diversion, a third section with an Emerson intro that dives into the first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg, pitting Emerson’s more excursive inclinations against the orchestra’s more faithful script,  followed by a restatement of the “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” theme with more jazz-like trio work and the prelude material serving as a coda.

All in all a pretty good album that delivers quality, variety and some impressive trio passages.

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All songs written by Keith Emerson and Lee Jackson, except where noted.

Side one

  1. “Daddy, Where Did I Come From” – 3:44
  2. “Little Arabella” – 4:18
  3. “Happy Freuds” – 3:25
  4. “Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite” (Sibelius) – 8:57
  5. “Don Edito el Gruva” (Emerson, Jackson, Brian Davison) – 0:13

Side two

  1. “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” – 19:20
  • “Prelude” (Emerson) – 1:49
  • “1st Movement – Awakening” (Davison) – 4:01
  • “2nd Movement – Realisation” (Jackson, David O’List, Emerson) – 4:54
  • “3rd Movement – Acceptance “Brandenburger”” (J.S.Bach, Davison, Emerson, Jackson) – 4:23
  • “4th Movement – Denial” (Davison, Emerson, Jackson) – 3:23
  • “Coda – Extension to the Big Note” (Emerson) – 0:46
The Nice



Comments on: "Fifty Year Friday: The Nice" (14)

  1. Stones or Beatles? Emerson or Wakeman? Ha ha!

    I’m the latter on both 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I wrote on this one a little while back, I enjoyed it more than remembered. Always a positive experience, yes?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I had no idea that they wanted Howe to join them but The Nice were a GREAT! band and I have always liked both Emerson and Wakeman and they are my keyboard Gods. Incidentally considering this incident happened in 1968 for the bands 2nd album there may be some confusion here between Wiki and Classic Rock cause this is what it said in Classic Rock

    “Yes guitarist Steve Howe recently reflected on the day he nearly joined Keith Emerson’s band the Nice – but then decided not to. He also said he’s finally chosen the music that he believes represents Yes’ greatest achievements as they gear up for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    The Nice incident took place in 1970, just after their guitarist David O’List had left and soon before Emerson split the band to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer. “I met Keith when I played with the Nice for an afternoon,” Howe told Newsweek. “I decided not to join. Keith and I both liked Vivaldi, but I was thinking, ‘Well, this is good – but it’s not quite right.’ And it turned out, the next direct audition I got was with Yes.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • That should be Howe by the way and not “How” :))))) and it’s about time WordPress had an Edit button on the comment box :))))

      Liked by 1 person

    • I would think this audition of Howe would have had to occur in 1968, as the Nice were looking for a replacement for O’List, which seems only likely to have occurred soon after his departure/dismissal. Not likely to have been 1970 as Emerson was already looking to start a new band in late 1969 with The Nice’s last concerts in March 1970.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. The video for the 1970 Yes song “Then” is very funny. Check it out on YouTube. It shows Howe on guitar, but of course the recording has Peter Banks. Also, the cover to _Time and a Word_ shows Steve Howe: same situation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You mean this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUDRoI-WleQ and no doubt the band were only miming and most likely would of been filmed after Banks had left but of course it’s the studio song with Banks on guitar that’s playing in the background. I can perhaps understand that. But what I cannot understand is how Steve Howe was asked to join The Nice in 1968 and in an interview by himself he states that it was in 1970 he was asked to join The Nice. One of these accounts is not accurate.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Of course mimed, also ‘cos Chris is shown with a ’50s Fender and the recording (in the background) is his Rickenbacker export “1999” bass. Nothing was even plugged in… Yeah, the discrepancy was someone’s bad memory.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. John Ford said:

    Thank you for this. When I was in high school Ars Longa Vita Brevis was a seminal album for me.
    In “Symphony for Group and Orchestra” at 15:45 – 15:52 – Emerson quotes a Monk piece. Do you know what it is? I only just heard indirectly that that passage – which I have known for 50 years – is actually from Monk. But I don’t know the title.

    Liked by 1 person

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