Live at Carnegie Hall

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The fourth great album in a row for Renaissance, Live at Carnegie Hall was recorded at three concerts on June 20, 21, and 22, 1975, at New York's Carnegie Hall. Although no one could have known it at the time, it also marked the high point of the group's influence and acceptance -- waiting in the wings, at just about the time this album was released the following year, was the punk rock boom and, a little after that, the disco boom, which would quickly sour audiences and critics on progressive rock. Recorded on tour ahead of the release of Scheherazade and Other Stories, this was the most ambitious concert venture to come out of the progressive rock boom of the 1970s up to that time, featuring the group accompanied by the (uncredited) New York Philharmonic, whose playing shows up on several numbers, but is mostly here for "Song of Scheherazade," which took up one side of the original double LP and more than half of the second disc in the CD version. It and the seven other cuts range across the group's repertory, including revamped versions of "Prologue," "Can You Understand," "Carpet of the Sun," and "Ashes Are Burning," plus live versions of "Mother Russia" and "Running Hard" and a concert preview of "Ocean Gypsy." The original LP suffered from the inevitable sound imperfections of live albums, but it was still a good representation of the group in an optimum concert setting -- not surprisingly, the new renditions of the older songs are the tracks that are the most interesting, as they diverge most sharply from the originals, while the new material is all very similar to the official studio versions, although "Song of Scheherazade" has some interesting moments as the band (and John Camp's bass, which is practically a lead instrument here) and the orchestra try to achieve a balance that works. The truly distinctive cut, however, is "Ashes Are Burning," which is turned into an extended jam showcasing John Tout's piano and John Camp's bass in gorgeous solo passages. The CD reissue on Repertoire Records from Europe has been remastered with exceptional success, correcting most of the difficulties arising from sound leakages that marred the original LP edition.

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