What do we appreciate in music? Do we enjoy technical virtuosity performed at blinding speed or the use of an instrument to allow the deepest, most soulful expressions of our emotions? Or is it both?
The Carl Palmer Band walk a thin line of technical virtuosity on their Working Live Vol. 1 and 2. Palmer is the drummer extraordinaire late of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame. The album features a power trio of himself, guitarist Shawn Baxter, and bassist Dave Marks, who re-interpret many of ELP’s classics catalogue on these CD’s. No one could disagree that this band is tight, consummately professional and brilliantly talented as technicians of their instruments.
But Palmer and his group explore classical works in a more European rock context, which is heavily oriented on electric guitar. Baxter is a young master when it comes to technique, but he has yet to learn the ability to make his guitar a voice for himself, allowing the listener to appreciate his love for the music he’s playing. With Baxter, the band sounds a lot like Van Halen playing “Carmina Burana”, “Hoedown”, “Trilogy” and a host of other ELP-inspired takes on classical compositions. This is fine if you’re into Van Halen and if that’s the direction Palmer had in mind. However, the original classical compositions are trifled with a little too readily by Baxter. ELP made fresh masterpieces out of the ashes of Aaron Copland, Carl Orff and many others. ELP’s interpretations express ranges of emotion which are completely missed here. It’s unfortunate because Baxter certainly is gifted enough to play anything but may not yet possess the maturity to explore his own feelings through the pieces ELP so carefully reconstructed for rock audiences.
Palmer consistently shows why he’s considered one of the finest rock drummers in history. He has developed marvelous tones here, performing quick toccatas with amazing finesse while pounding out a regular bass rhythm that keeps Marks on track. The drum solos on both disks are filled with tremendous expression as Palmer explores his capacious kit with the use of rolls that alternately flutter with the quiet authority of an eagle’s wing to bombastic, cannon-like pummeling reminiscent of a war-torn battleground.
Palmer has put together a new trio, conscribing guitarist Paul Bielatovitcz and bassist Stuart Clayton. The new Palmer band is tapping a harder-edged, metal progressive rock sound. It will be fascinating to see the results of this new trio’s work.
Your enjoyment of the Working Live CD’s will depend entirely on how you answer the questions posed in the first paragraph. If you appreciate masterful, blistering guitar runs that are devoid of emotional involvement and Palmer’s ever steady and highly experimental approach to music, then this album is a gem. But if you prefer music that reaches inside of you and rends the very elements of your spirit, you might want to look towards purchasing the first eponymous ELP album, Tarkus, Brain Salad Surgery or Trilogy.