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Music Review: Jon Lord – Concerto for Group and Orchestra

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Jon Lord’s (1941-2012) Concerto for Group and Orchestra was first recorded by Deep Purple back in 1969. It has always been a real anomaly in the Purple catalog. When I first discovered the group with the Made in Japan album, I had no idea there was a classical skeleton in their closet. Upon discovery of Concerto, I thought that it had to be a product of far too much pretension, and maybe a few too many tokes. Give me “Smoke on the Water” any day over was my feeling. But as I grew older, and came to appreciate classical music, I grew quite fond of Concerto for Group and Orchestra. This was something more than the Moody Blues adding strings to their long-winded tales. With the Concerto, Jon Lord showed that he really knew his business and had written something with real depth.

He obviously knew this all along, and was always proud of the work. Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the renowned Malcolm Arnold. The album has been in and out of print sporadically over the years. Lord had honed the piece over the course of numerous performances, and in 2011 he decided to give it a definitive treatment. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra were commissioned, along with rock pals such as Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, Steve Morse, Guy Pratt and others.

What they emerged with was a brilliant rendering of the Concerto, which has just been released by Eagle Rock Entertainment. Although Jon Lord’s health had been in question for some time, his passing in July came as a surprise to all. Fortunately, he had heard and approved the final mixes though, so this release most definitely has his stamp of approval. All involved knew that he wanted it to be released, and so it has been, and stands as a crowning achievement to a long and rewarding musical career.

“Concerto” the song is a three movement composition. The movements are “Moderato-Allegro” (16:20), “Andante” (19:34), and “Vivace-Presto” (10:48). As a young man, I did not know much about classical music, but when listening to Concerto for Group and Orchestra, I always gravitated towards the final segment. In listening to it all these years later, I retain that preference, but that is probably just because it is so exciting. The only way to listen to the disc is straight through though, as the various themes come back in unique ways over the course of the composition.

One thing that remained a constant in his music was the sound of Jon Lord’s playing. His is about the only keyboard playing I have ever heard that can sound as mean (or meaner) than a guitar. His style was uniquely his own, and no matter what he was playing, you knew it was him on the Hammond B-3. This quality is shown to great effect throughout this performance.

The eight musicians (besides the RLPO and Lord), all contribute mightily to the project. No less than three guitar players are involved. In addition to Steve Morse, they are Darin Vasilev and Joe Bonamassa. There are also three vocalists, with Steve Balsamo and Kasia Laska besides Bruce Dickinson. Guy Pratt plays the bass and Brett Morgan is the drummer.

Concerto for Group and Orchestra stands as the proud epitaph of a great musician. The release is available as both a regular CD, and in a CD/DVD combo pack. The DVD is an audio-only disc, with a brilliant 5.1 mix for maximum impact. There will never be anyone quite like Jon Lord, and this is a great way to hear his Concerto exactly the way he wanted it to be heard.

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About Greg Barbrick