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ELP bootlegs comprise a time capsule of the best and worst of prog rock

ELP cover art I’ve never been a big fan of prog rock, with its penchant for self-indulgent instrumental pyrotechnics, sci fi and fantasy themes and theatrical bombast. But anybody who saw the footage of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s debut appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival in Murray Lerner’s unflinching ode to the death of the hippie ideal, “Message to Love,” couldn’t help but notice how dramatic the contrast was between this nascent super group and the rest of the bill. The headliners might have been Hendrix, the Who, the Doors et al, but they sounded suddenly dated, while ELP appeared to point to the future, when arena rock took on the trappings of spectacle and seven-minute drum solos became the norm.

The number seen in the movie, “Rondo,” an amped up version of Dave Brubeck’s jazz classic “Blue Rondo a la Turk” — with Keith Emerson banging away on a moog synthesizer — is not, unfortunately, on Shout Factory’s impressive new collection of ELP bootlegs covering two decades of music, “A Time and a Place.” But the group’s introductory track, “The Barbarian,” kicks off this four-disc collection in commanding form: somewhere between heavy metal, jazz improvisation, fusion and classical, since the tune was adapted from Bela Bartok’s “Allegro Barbaro.” During the course of their career, ELP would appropriate the work of Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Bach and Janacek, among others, all of whom are represented in one way or another in this package.

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