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Keith Emerson and Marc Bonilla immerse their rock melodies in a full orchestra in The Three Fates Project.

Music Review: The Keith Emerson Band – The Three Fates Project

Anyone familiar with the history of Keith Emerson is likely to see an album titled The Three Fates Project and immediately think of the first Emerson, Lake, and Palmer collection. After all, back in 1971, side two of ELP’s self-titled debut record opened with the three-part suite, “The Three Fates,” including “Clotho,” “Lachesis,” and “Atropos.” However, the track list of The Three Fates Project doesn’t include any of those mythical sisters.

That’s because, according to Emerson collaborator Marc Bonilla, the title has nothing to do with the suite. Instead, he says the title came from the coming together of three worlds: the keyboards and compositions of Emerson, the guitar and writing of Bonilla, and the conducting of Terje Mikkelsen with the 70-piece Münchner Rundfunkorchester. The resulting hybrid, Bonilla believes, is unique in music history.

What the participants were able to do, Bonilla says, is blend their musical parts as a team, something classical performers are accustomed to, rock musicians less so. While most classical players can’t relate to rock musicians and most rockers “think orchestral types are stuffed shirts,” Bonilla says Mikkelsen has “a rock and roll heart.”

Still, a major challenge was to fully integrate the musicians so The Three Fates Project wouldn’t become a rock band backed by an orchestra or a program where the symphonic components would dominate some passages, the rockers others. For example, Bonilla notes longtime Emerson drummer Troy Luccketta (a veteran of the multi-platinum band Tesla) didn’t have experience with the dynamics and rhythm changes typical of orchestral arrangements. (The Keith Emerson band is Emerson, Bonilla, Luccketta, and six-string bassist Travis Davis.) On the other hand, Mikkelsen had never conducted a rock band before. So it was no small feat to bring all these forces together in a completely new way.

Bonilla adds Three Fates is both a full circle project for Emerson and the fulfillment of a course he’s been on for some time. In particular, the 20-minute version of the ELP classic, “Tarkus,” allowed Emerson to add a depth to an old composition he couldn’t have accomplished in the early ‘70s. Other re-imaginings of ELP work include parts one and two of the sweeping “The Endless Enigma Suite,” “Abaddon’s Bolero,” and the two-part interpretation of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare
for the Common Man.” New material includes Emerson’s “After All of This” and Bonilla’s “Walking Distance” and “The Mourning Sun.” Featuring Toss Panos on drums, “American Matador” is from Bonilla’s second solo album, and the set also includes Alberto Ginastera’s “Malambo.”

Recorded in Munich and Los Angeles over nine months starting in summer 2011, The Three Fates Project is a demonstration of many things, not the least of which is how much Emerson has evolved over the decades. Once a member of a power trio known for theatrics and bombast, Emerson still uses the tools he made famous in the ‘70s, including his trademark Moog synthesizer. But he’s far more subtle, restrained, and, yes, far more integrated into an ensemble rather than being the star of one. In fact, while Emerson is the “brand name,” it would be fairer to call this the Emerson-Bonilla Band as Bonilla’s choice guitar work is as equal a component as the keyboards of Emerson.

If you’re looking for “prog rock,” The Three Fates Project isn’t it. If you’re hoping for something resembling ELP, you’ll only hear quiet, occasional touches until “Fanfare for the Common Man Part II,” which is as close to straight-up rock as the album gets. In the main, the album is exactly what Bonilla claims: a hybrid of classical and rock forms where lush soundscapes and intricate arrangements dominate the thematically separate orchestrated songs. I will say the album is much more classical than rock, so expect 11 tracks of drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards sitting side-by-side with the strings, woodwinds, and horn sections. Perhaps you’re also ready to come full circle with Keith Emerson and hear old melodies in a way you might not have accepted back in the day when showmanship and virtuosity were king.

About Wesley Britton

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