Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

The sixth reissue reviewed online by Dmitry M Epstein

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...Where ‘on – stage’ means much more than that. ‘Panoramic’ comes closest to embrace the sonic bravery

Orchestral depth has been inherent in Procol Harum’s music from the beginning and it didn't matter whether they employed a symphonic ensemble or not which, perhaps, is what makes this band special even now. But studio is one thing and stage another and it takes a lot of specialness and courage to try and expand one's sound by bringing in a certain classicism to it. Procol started it all as early as 1969, before Deep Purple, and, unlike them, didn't need to compose anything special to tie the two strains together. Relying solely on their own material, Harum realised their vision in full in 1971 in Canada with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra who elevated Gary Brooker's arrangements way beyond all expectations. So much for the group's first-ever live album, its boldness shining in the absence of what everyone might expect, namely A Whiter Shade of Pale, but there's no need for the hit when Conquistador thrusts its Spanish brass and electrifies the air around the singer's earthly voice and Dave Ball's funky guitar. All fused nicely, it's BJ Wilson's battery that gains an extra dimension in this powerful blend creepingly eased into the wild storm of Whaling Stories where Alan Cartwright's bass send ripples over the aural surface and down the spine. And here lies the trap: scattering nuances all around, the orchestra renders everything too obvious and leaves much less to imagination than studio versions ... though there's no denying the might of the choir.

Here, A Salty Dog feels not as dramatic but cinematic it still is, or rather theatrical, which can't be said of All This and More that rises from a regular album track to something grander altogether with Chris Copping's organ and Ball's six-string patterns offsetting the surround-sound of additional musicians. There's even more magic in the bonus tracks, the rehearsal recordings of Shine on Brightly and Simple Sister that didn't make it onto the stage, and the luxurious, if slightly lugubrious, Luskus Delph, out as a single B-side, but the entire scale of Procol’s good ship enterprise comes forward on In Held 'Twas in I: solemn for Glimpses of Nirvana orchestra and choir turn fairground – playful when 'Twas Teatime at the Circus demands, and swing from the celestial to mundane henceforth – to the bravura of the classical piano – awashed Grand Finale – whereas it's the band who steer the wind and strings at all times. If only there was a companion document of the group's regular show to strip the grandiosity away!

5 stars out of 5

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