The reasons I began this digression on progressive rock pioneers The Nice were many. I happened upon Ars Longa Vita Brevis (1968), the band's second album, in my library and forgot what I was looking at, forgot who The Nice was. Then I remembered. Prog rock.
Prog rock at the dawn of the 1970s seemed the true way forward for the Hippies. Fantasies of psychedelic Utopias had been discarded in favor of a synthesis of futurism and classicism that was spanking new at the time. Think Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) and its Moog-saturated soundtrack.
Five Bridges (1970) reached as high as #2 on the UK album charts. Unbelievable today given that it sounds, side one at least, like a traditional classical music record. It was the last album the band would record together prior to Keith Emerson discarding the group in favor of a bigger payday with ELP. The Nice's final album, Elegy (1971), was released after the band broke up and was comprised of live material of previously released songs. Probably what is most memorable about the Five Bridges album is its fusion of Bob Dylan's "Country Pie" with a J.S. Bach Brandenburg Concerto:
For four years I worked a graveyard shift job where I watered baskets of hanging flowers in the Emerald City's cabaret district. The equipment -- heavy-gauge hose and copper watering wand -- was kept in a subterranean lockup. One evening when I descended the steps to the lockup and after unlocking its metal-grate door I saw that another door, one that I had never noticed before, was open at the other end of the small equipment room and a light was shining inside. I stepped through the doorway and beheld what must have been a rathskeller from another generation, the early 1970s. There were posters of long-haired young men in jerseys representing the North American Soccer League's Seattle Sounders. The carpet was filthy. The walls were exposed brick adorned with artificial vines. It looked as if the rathskeller had not been used in years.
Listening to The Nice the past couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about that evening.