Colosseum: Valentyne Suite (1969)
Colosseum, like Fleetwood Mac, was a band that evolved out of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. While Fleetwood Mac started off as a blues band, then eventually evolved in to your typical, multi-platinum corporate rock band by the mid 1970s, Colosseum went for a more adventurous path by combining the burgeoning prog rock scene with blues and jazz.
The band consisted of saxist Dick Heckstall-Smith, guitarist and vocalist James Litherland, bassist Tony Reeves, organist Dave Greenslade, and drummer Jon Hiseman. Heckstall-Smith, Hiseman, and Reeves all come from Mayall. Valentyne Suite is their second album, originally released in 1969 on Vertigo Records (same label that gave us Gentle Giant, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Jade Warrior, Kraftwerk, etc.). It was the very first album ever released on that label, and is highly regarded as Colosseum’s finest achievement, and I won’t argument about that.
The album starts off with “The Kettle” which is a rather heavy rock category, in which Litherland’s guitar is the most predominant thing about this song. The next song, “Elegy” is a jazzy piece with sax, and is definately one of my favorites here. “Butty’s Blues”, is, as the name suggest, a rather bluesy piece, with a horn section that makes one think of Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears. “The Machine Demands A Sacrifice” is another bluesy rocker which ends with some strange psychedelic effects.
The album ends with the title track, which is the album’s centerpiece. It’s a side length, three movement suite which showcases Dave Greenslade talent on the organ and Dick Heckstall-Smith’s saxes. A lot of this piece is just simply mindblowingly intense, especially the last movement, “The Grass Is Always Greener”.
I could hardly believe what I was hearing when I heard this album. I really can’t think of another album this mindblowingly intense, aside from Il Balletto di Bronzo’s YS (1972), that is. Valentyne Suite was Colosseum’s last album to feature Tony Reeves and James Litherland. They would be replaced by vocalist Chris Farlowe, future Humble Pie guitarist Clem Clempson, and bassist Mark Clarke. Litherland would form Mogul Thrash with future Family, King Crimson, U.K., and Asia bassist John Wetton, and Reeves would latter join with Dave Greenslade and form Greenslade. If you want to hear some mindblowingly intense progressive bluesy jazz rock, you owe it to yourself to get Valentyne Suite, you won’t regret it.
Year of release: 1969
– Dave Greenslade: organ, piano
– James Litherland: vocals, guitar
– Dick Heckstall-Smith: saxes
– Tony Reeves: bass
– Jon Hiseman: drums
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