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Music DVD Review: Colosseum – The Complete Reunion Concert Cologne 1994

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Colosseum was and is a progressive rock/jazz band that has never received the credit and commercial success it deserves.

Drummer Jon Hiseman and sax virtuoso Dick Heckstall-Smith met while playing with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. During 1968 they decided to form their own band and quickly recruited keyboardist Dave Greenslade. There were some early changes but by 1970, vocalist Chris Farlowe, bassist Mark Clarke, and guitarist Clem Clempson completed the most successful and creative version of the group. They remained together through 1971 and reunited from 1975-1978.

The band produced four studio and one live album during its first incarnation, with The Grass Is Greener and Daughter Of Time being the best representations of its talent and style. Their sound is a unique fusion of rock and jazz. It is Heckstall-Smith’s saxophone that pushes the music in a jazz direction, where it runs counterpoint to Clempson’s rock guitar runs.

After the group’s 1978 break up, the members went their separate ways until 1994, when they were persuaded to reunite during October for a concert at the E-Werk in Cologne, Germany. The reunion proved to be permanent as they continue to perform and record down to the present day, despite Heckstall-Smith’s passing away during 2004. Barbara Thomson has since assumed the saxophone duties.

The cameras were rolling back in 1994, and while the music has appeared for sale several times down through the years, Music Video Distributers (MVD) has now released the entire, nearly two-hour concert on DVD (and is an improvement on the original 2003 release by another company). The sound is excellent and has first-rate clarity. The video quality is a little above average but it was filmed well, as the focus moves from individual to group shots at the appropriate times.

The annoying hissing sounds on the previous 2003 DVD release have been removed. This was mainly done by increasing the volume of the music, which they managed to accomplish without distortion. The technical issues such as various chapters not loading, or doing so very slowly, has also been fixed. Stay away from the previous CD versions as they combine material from other concerts.

Colosseum live is an improvisation band with the main focus on the saxophone and guitar. Chris Farlowe has been one of the top British vocalists for years and his soulful voice is used as a lead instrument, but more importantly, as a connecter between the improvisational excursions.

The music is an overview of the group’s career, although it undergoes some transformations by being played live. “Those About To Die,” “Skelington,” “Elegy,” “Rope Ladder To The Moon,” and the three-part “The Valentyne Suite” are all creative adaptations of its classic material.

If you are an aficionado of progressive rock and are open to a little jazz twist, then Colosseum is the band for you. The Complete Reunion Concert Cologne 1994 is a fine introduction to its music.

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