Colosseum - Valentyne Suite

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2017-07-28

Thankfully, this one puts “The Valentyne Suite" back where it belongs on the album of the very same name. Yes, this has the original tracks of the English release. And this Esoteric reissue also includes The Grass  Is Greener (with Clem Clempson of Humble Pie fame on guitar and vocals who replaced James Litherland) which was the weird American issue of the album with the same cover but different songs and edited versions of others. Dunhill Records stuck the epic song "Valentyne Suite" on the US version of Colosseum's debut album. Record companies did that stuff back then. They didn't think it mattered that much.

My friend, Kilda Defnut, has her own theology. Her Sacred Maxim XVII states: "Being a teenager is confusing enough even without the help of a record company screwing around with important life altering stuff like albums from a favorite band.

So thank you Esoteric Records for getting it right in this expanded edition. They have included everything including songs not on the original Valentyne Suite album such as "Jumping Off the Sun," Los Angeles," "Rope Ladder to the Moon," and  a version pf Ravel's "Bolero." 

Descartes said, “I think therefore I am” which is a nice thing to say. And in the companion review on Colosseum’s first record Those Who Are About to Die Salute You,  I quoted sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith from his autobiography Blowing the Blues. For that actual quote see my review (or better yet get his book!); but to paraphrase, he said, “I doubt therefore I am” which is also a nice thing to say. And therein is the importance of this record and others of its ilk. It destroyed comfortable barriers and allowed our minds to make connections with stuff far outside suburbia America and top ten soundtracks.

This one is, perhaps, much more integrated than that first record. “The Kettle” starts off with rock sound not unlike other bands on the Vertigo label. The band May Blitz comes to mind. This doesn’t even pretend to be jazz rock. It’s straight ahead James Litherland wah-wah rock music. And that’s not a bad thing at all. “Elegy” (having nothing to do with The Nice) ups the jazz playing and provides yet another absolutely divine Dick H-S solo. “Butty’s Blues” reminds the listener of Dave Greenslade’s prowess. Once again, this certainly isn’t progressive like King Crimson, The Moody Blues, or Yes. I suppose it’s more like very early Jethro Tull or Blodwyn Pig. It’s music that takes American heritage as a means of expanding its form. It is, even in its bluesy splendor, quite progressive. “The Machine Demands a Sacrifice” has a Pete Brown lyric, he of Cream and Jack Bruce co-writing fame. Better yet, the tune is a dead-ringer for any song from Pete Brown’s albums with The Battered Ornaments and Piblokto! like A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark, Thousands on a Raft, or my favorite Things may Come and Go but the Art School Dances Goes on Forever.

This very British sense of the absurd in of all things was a welcome addition to my Midwestern life. To be quite honest, it’s still a welcome addition to my now pretty old Midwestern American life.

And then there is “The Valentyne Suite.” Oh my goodness. What? The thing lasts sixteen minutes! It was interesting way back then to suddenly discover an attention span that was waiting patiently to be used for once in my teenager life! And this is simply gorgeous music. It rocks with Litherland’s guitar and Jon Hiseman’s propulsion. He’s a great drummer. Dick H-S plays sax and flute. It has three different “Themes” titled “January’s Search,” “February’s Valentyne,” and “The Grass is always greener…” This was, to my young mind, poetic stuff sort of like those high brow classical records. It made me feel intelligent. Greenslade’s organ work permeates the music way past the point of Procol Harum. Dave G also plays vibes! To be honest, I didn’t even know what a vibe was way back then. Nor did I know anything about jazz. But I really liked what I heard. And that ill-used and starved young attention span loved its very first buffet meal.  

There really isn’t too much to say, even as I write today. This is a splendid piece of music that has survived all the changes over too many years. It’s just a good friend. It’s great progressive rock. Like I paraphrased, “I doubt therefore I am.” This album tossed away convention and made me investigate many more interesting things in life. It still manages to do the very same thing today.

There’s a story from Greek history about Diogenes, the Cynic who cast reasonable doubt on the conventions of his time. Apparently, Alexander the Great, a man of ambition with much wealth and power confronted our Diogenes as he rested (like a good cynic does most of the day) and offered the philosopher anything he so desired in an attempt to sway him from his doubtful and impoverished cynicism. Diogenes’ answer was simple: Alexander the Great was asked to move a bit so as to not block the sun. This album is something just like that: the music in these grooves simply says, “Nothing should ever block the sun.” And that, too, even after all these years, is a nice thing to say.

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