The Nice

Here Come the Nice: The Immediate Anthology

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There have been so many reissues and recompilations of the music that the Nice did for Immediate Records that it's difficult even for people who worked on those reissues to tell some of them apart without a scorecard. However, this set stands out, not only for its comprehensive nature but also for its sound quality, which is exceptional. The vexing aspect of working with the Nice's Immediate catalog was the lack of first-generation master tapes -- the record company's holdings were scattered to the four winds when it went bankrupt at the dawn of the 1970s, and the closest that anyone got on the early CDs was Sony in the early '90s, with the clean original production masters from the Columbia-distributed Immediate catalog. Castle Communications, however, has finally found what sounds like the real thing, and it makes a world of difference: no background noise, minimal tape hiss, each instrument loud and upfront, and all of the playing sharply delineated even in the busiest passages of the group's most complex works. What's more, the stereo separation is now sharp enough to enhance the music in a serious way -- the divided string section in the "Brandenburger" section of "Ars Longa Vita Brevis," for example, adds to the appeal of the band's playing in ways that were difficult to discern on earlier CD releases, as well as on most of the LP issues. And the live cuts from the Fillmore East from the third album are now transcendent -- every note is right in your lap, from Brian Davison's rapid-fire drumming to Keith Emerson's dizzying keyboard flourishes, and the balance between Emerson's organ and Lee Jackson's bass on "She Belongs to Me" is finally set at a proper level on a CD, for the first time. Just as important as the research that went into locating the first-generation tapes is the producers' success in finding the group's complete alternate takes; every odd outtake that ever surfaced in the band's history is present on disc three of this set, along with a quartet of previously unreleased live tracks recorded in concert during 1968 and 1969, among them "America," the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique symphony, and the Troika from Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé suite (which was later adapted by Emerson, Lake & Palmer into "I Believe in Father Christmas"). This three-CD set comes in three separate narrow jewel cases in a slipcase with a full set of notes, and is bargain-priced at under $30.

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