Emerson, Lake & Powell

The Sprocket Sessions

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When Carl Palmer was unable to join Keith Emerson and Greg Lake for a mid-‘80s ELP reunion, his resourceful cohorts drafted veteran British skin-basher Cozy Powell, who had played with Jeff Beck, Rainbow, and many others. Thus constituted, Emerson, Lake & Powell released a self-titled album in 1986 and embarked on a tour. The Sprocket Sessions were originally released as a pair of bootlegs, one consisting of the band's studio rehearsals for the tour, and one containing a concert recording from Lakeland, FL. Endorsed by the band and cleaned up from an original master, this disc consists of the former. It finds the trio running through most of the tunes from the album as well as a handful of classic ELP compositions. The intimate setting means that for all of the musicians' legendary virtuosity, there's a uniquely offhand, relaxed feel to the performances here, one that you wouldn't be likely to hear from them in any other context. Stray bits of between-song -- and occasionally mid-song -- studio chatter add to the entertainingly informal vibe without distracting unduly from the intensity of the band's complex pieces. Emerson starts off with guns ablaze as he blasts through the Copland-esque instrumental section that kicks off "The Score," which opened up the studio album as well. Lake's rich, deep voice is as powerful and resonant as ever, both on Powell-era songs like "Learning to Fly" and "The Miracle" and such ‘70s prog rock milestones as "Tarkus" and "Knife Edge." And while Powell may not have possessed the near-military precision of his percussive predecessor, he's fully the equal of his esteemed bandmates here. This collection also gives the world another chance to absorb a couple of relatively underappreciated epics -- "Pirates," from the latter days of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's initial run, and a grand-scale adaptation of Gustav Holst's "Mars, Bringer of War," which appeared on the Emerson, Lake & Powell album. Consumers should note that numerous online retail sources have incorrectly identified this Sprocket Sessions disc as the aforementioned concert recording.