Though Keith Emerson died in March 2016, the influential body of work left behind by the keyboardist, arranger and composer lives on. A decade before his untimely passing, Emerson compiled a disc’s worth of previously unreleased tracks. He described 2006’s Off the Shelf as “a veritable cornucopia of potpourri within an audio montage!” Now, that collection has been reissued by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint for those fans of the late artist who missed it the first time.
Emerson first rose to fame as a member of The Nice, establishing himself as a flamboyant virtuoso on the Hammond organ, able to inject heavy rock with classical music as he bashed away on the instrument. Though he had no formal musical training, his parents were amateur musicians, and they encouraged the young man to play piano and learn to read music. Rock, jazz, and classical were all soon part of his repertoire. When he moved on from The Nice to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer with Greg Lake and Carl Palmer, the band’s symphonic sound defined the nascent progressive-rock genre. Following ELP’s initial disbanding in 1979, Emerson moved onto work as a soundtrack composer (a period represented on Cherry Red’s Keith Emerson at the Movies box set) and participated in periodic reunions with ELP and The Nice. He continued to record, as a solo artist and with collaborators, right up until his death.
Though the track-by-track liner notes by Emerson are detailed, there is no specific information as to the recording date of each one of the 15 songs. All of the tracks reflect the diversity of Emerson’s influences. Opening track “Abaddon’s Bolero” was written for ELP and performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra; it was first released on the “semi-official” 1977 LP On Tour with ELP. On the other end of the spectrum, the ragtime-esque “Up the Elephant and Round the Castle” was written for an ITV sitcom starring ELP fan Jim Davidson.
In addition to Emerson’s own compositions, Off the Shelf features a slowed-down reworking of “Don’t Be Cruel” (believe it or not, inspired by Barbra Streisand!) and a new 1980s studio version of the Mussorgsky-derived ELP favorite “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Emerson also revisited Bernstein/Sondheim “America,” the Nice classic from West Side Story, and included an original Nice performance of Frank Zappa’s “Lumpy Gravy” from John Peel’s radio show. Off the Shelf pays tribute to jazz icons Charlie Parker, Gary Burton, and Thelonious Monk with their compositions “Au Privave,” “Walter L,” and “Rhythm-a-Ning.” Ian Dury’s “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll” closes out the collection of odds and ends. Guests on this collection include guitarist Pat Travers, The Band’s Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, drummers Aynsley Dunbar and Cozy Powell, and saxophonist Ron Aspery.
Esoteric’s reissue of Off the Shelf contains a 16-page color booklet. It’s available now at the links below!
- Abaddon’s Bolero (Orchestral) – featuring The London Philharmonic Orchestra
- Pictures at an Exhibition (Excerpts of a Solo Piano Recording)
- And Then January
- Straight Between the Eyes
- Don’t Be Cruel
- Au Privave – featuring The London Jazz Orchestra
- Walter L – featuring The London Jazz Orchestra
- Asian Pear
- Motor Bikin’
- Lumpy Gravy – with The Nice
- Up the Elephant and Round the Castle
- Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll