Thursday 9 June 2022

Colosseum - Restoration (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Jazz/Blues Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Apr 2022
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Here's another band I remember from back in the day who have surprised me not only with a new release but with the fact that they're still together. Sure, they weren't for quite a while, as this is their fourth incarnation, but they weren't gone for anywhere near as long as I thought. They were a pioneering jazz rock band on their first go around, from 1969 to 1971, and a similarly pioneering jazz fusion band during their second shot, as Colosseum II from 1975 to 1978, with Gary Moore and Don Airey in their roster. And I thought that was it, but apparently not so.

The original line-up at the time of their split in 1971, including such luminaries as Dave Greenslade and Chris Farlowe, got back together in 1994 and stayed that way for a couple of decades, knocking out a couple of albums to add to the three from each previous period. They split up in 2015 but got back together in 2020 just in time for the pandemic. Greenslade didn't return and neither did Jon Hiseman, who had died in 2018 (Dick Heckstall-Smith had also died in 2004), but Farlowe did and so did long term members Dave Clempson and Mark Clarke, who collectively cover vocals, guitar and bass.

I remember Colosseum II more than Colosseum, but I remember them sounding more like heavier pieces here, albeit with the prominent soloing of Dick Heckstall-Smith's saxophone. By "heavier", I mean heavier from the perspective of the start of heavy music, in 1969 when Colosseum were the first band to see an album released on the Vertigo label, ahead of Black Sabbath. They played jazz rock so the songs were complex and the technical skill level needed to play them was high, but they drove songs hard back then, just like they do songs like I'll Show You Mine and Hesitation here, the former especially reminding of Cream and the way the latter moving into sax typical Colosseum.

And, with that said, it's the lighter stuff that stands out the most for me here. I like those heavier pieces, but Hesitation is more notable when moves into sax solo and wailing backing vocal, as if it could have been on The Dark Side of the Moon. That sax, played nowadays by Kim Nishikawara, is a constant highlight, often elevating songs. If Only Dreams Were Like This is a good one anyway, but the laid back sax makes it better. The bluesy Home by Dawn is another highlight, but the excellent sax solos make it better still. It doesn't do as much on the soulful blues called Need Somebody, but it helps anyway, as does the organ of Nick Steed, another new fish who joined in 2020. Tonight has an impressive balance, especially in its bookends, between sax, organ and Dave Clempson's guitar.

The highlight on Need Somebody is Chris Farlowe, demonstrating yet again that age doesn't make much difference when you have a stunning voice. Farlowe's been around for ever, as epitomised by the fact that he had a UK number one single in 1966, but he sounds great here at 81 years old. He isn't the only vocalist here, but he's the only dedicated vocalist, so that's him at the front just as it was for a couple of years half a century ago. What's perhaps most impressive is that he's always a highlight even when somehow turning it down a notch on songs like Tonight to not steal the show.

Instead, this feels like a group really finding these grooves together rather than a large collection of highly experienced stars swapping moments in the spotlight. Half the band were in the band in its heyday in 1970, if not 1969, while the other half only joined this most recent incarnation in 2020. They're veterans anyway, even if they ony have a mere three decades of professional work behind them, like Nishikawara and Steed, who are presumably here because they've toured and recorded with Farlowe. That leaves drummer Malcolm Mortimore, who's OG and played with everyone from Mick Jagger to Tom Jones, via Gentle Giant. There's a lot of talent in this band and I'm very happy to say that the material they play doesn't let that promise down. Welcome back, Colosseum!

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