Excellence & Elegance (Beano-069)
Royal Albert Hall, London, England – March 3rd, 1991
Disc 1 (74:55): Opening, Layla Orchestral Intro, Crossroads, Bell Bottom Blues, Holy Mother, I Shot The Sheriff, Hard Times, Can’t Find My Way Home, Edge Of Darkness, Old Love, Wonderful Tonight, White Room
Disc 2 (60:12): Opening, Concerto for Electric Guitar 1, Concerto for Electric Guitar 2, A Remark You Made, Layla, Sunshine Of Your Love, Ray Cooper Solo / Sunshine of Your Love
Eric Clapton’s live album 24 Nights was already in the planning stages, but he was unsatisfied with the performances from the shows at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990. He scheduled twenty-four shows between February 5th to March 9th, 1991. The shows from February 5th to February 19th were with the four piece band playing the same set list as the Journeyman shows from the previous year.
February 23rd to March 1st were the blues nights with the nine piece band with the set lists geared towards classic blues covers, and the shows from March 3rd to March 9th were the orchestral nights with the The National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michael Kamen supplementing the arrangements including Clapton’s Concerto For Electric Guitar.
The audience recording for the March 3rd show, the first orchestral show, is very good but distant. It was released on 19th Nervous Breakdown (Heart Breakers HB 923-1/2) and on Laced (Mid Valley 168/169). Beano claim to use the master casette on Excellence & Elegance. It is an improvement over past releases, but not significantly so. It is a good title to have but isn’t such a dramatic improvement to warrant purchasing again.
No material from this concert was used for the official release, but rather this serves as a run though of the setlist. Rock music has always had an uneasy association with classical instruments and arrangements. The most obvious reason is amplification. Rock is best played at high volume while classical instruments rely upon a natural sound for their timbre to really work. Also rock music and instruments are based upon percussion and a strong beat while classical relies more upon melody.
The results in rock history are mixed. ELP were probably the most successful in incorporating an orchestra when they toured for Works in 1977, but most of the time attempts at a fusion of the two come off awkward. Kamen, who helped Clapton with the arrangements, takes an interesting strategy by employing mostly the brass instruments in his arrangements. They are able to compete in volume, but they also lend a very British sound as well. The tape begins with an orchestral arrangement of “Layla.” Playing the “coda” section of the rock classic, the flutes and trumpets carry the familiar melody.
Clapton comes onstage and plays with the orchestra for two and a half minutes in a duet with the oboes before a loud crescendo on the brass leads to “Crossroads,” as song that functions as his de facto anthem in the late eighties and early nineties. Clapton takes a solo at first and the orchestra follows along. The violins finally make their presence heard in a pretty arrangement of “Bell Bottom Blues” and the brass punctuate the reggae rhythm in “I Shot The Sheriff.”
The trumpets sound more funk and soul than classical but the strings carry the melody before Clapton comes in with his solo. There is a cut in the tape between “Can’t Find My Way Home” and ”Edge Of Darkness” although they are tracked together on this title. The latter is Clapton’s first attempt at writing a film score and is a collaboration between him and Kamen for the famed BBC2 series.
There is a half hour intermission after “White Room.” The second half of the show begins with the Concerto For Electric Guitar. This is a piece commissioned by Clapton to Kamen, it is divided into three movement but only two are played live. The only officially released evidence of this piece of music is found on a rare Japanese CD with Tomoyasu Hotei on guitar, but to hear it with Clapton on guitar is an amazing experience.
Kamen’s melody strongly resembles Sir Edward Elgar in is magisterial restraint. There is a hint of pathos half way through when the woodwinds take the melody. The second movement is Wagnerian in its intensity and emotional resonance, goes into an interesting syncopated beat until finishing as a rock piece complete with drums. It is certainly one of the more interesting and effective fusions of classical and rock music and worth the listen with Clapton on guitar.
Jaco Pastorius’ “A Remark You Made” is a natural piece to follow which leads into “Layla.” The orchestral arrangement makes a reprise in this song. The encore is a fifteen minute long version of “Sunshine Of Your Love” complete with Ray Cooper percussion solo in the middle.
With the very good sound quality, this is a great title to have. Clapton planned on relaxing for the rest of the year but those planned changed three weeks afterwards on March 20th with the accidental death of his son Conor. He spend time afterwards composing music, including “Tears In Heaven,” and toured for a couple weeks in December with George Harrison in Japan.
Excellence & Elegance is a very nice title on Beano which makes available a great tape is improved sound quality.