Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: A-
Deep Purple has tried this before. Back in 1969, when the idea of a rock band sharing the stage with an orchestra seemed absolutely ludicrous, especially to so-called “serious musicians” who wanted nothing to do with anything besides classical music, Jon Lord’s ambitions were realized. The long-time Purple keyboardist had composed the three-part movement epic Concerto for Group and Orchestra, and plans were made for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform the piece at Royal Albert Hall … with Deep Purple, mind you.
Not surprisingly, as singer Ian Gillan recalls during a lengthy interview included with the new separate concert DVD and two-CD packages Live at Montreux 2011, many members of the orchestra “… had an air about them” and were not keen on cooperating with Purple in any capacity. At that time, classical musicians did not play well with others, which was somewhat understandable. There really wasn’t much precedence for this sort of thing, The Nice’s Five Bridges being the only other deal with the devil hatched between an orchestra and a rock band around that time. A forward-thinking conductor by the name of Malcolm Arnold wasn’t having any of it, however. Gillan remembers Arnold giving the whole orchestra a rather “… brusque ‘pull your socks up,’” which evidently is British code for, “stop acting like bratty snobs and get back to work before I give you what for.” The mutiny quelled, Deep Purple, still clinging to its progressive-rock approach while edging ever closer toward the more straightforward, riff-heavy attack they would unleash on 1970’s In Rock and 1972’s Machine Head, and the Royal Philharmonic ultimately joined forces to produce a performance that – perhaps because of the publicity the event generated – unexpectedly landed their collaboration on the charts.
What was once a groundbreaking proposition, reserved for only the most classically inclined bands of the progressive movement, has become old hat for Deep Purple, having performed with an orchestra several times over the years. Last year, Gillan, drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover, guitarist Steve Morse and keyboardist Don Airy, Lord’s replacement, went down to Montreux, the Swiss community forever linked to Deep Purple by catastrophe and the classic song, “Smoke on the Water,” inspired by the ruinous casino fire started “by some stupid with a flare gun” at a Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention concert. Backing them this time around at famed Montreux Jazz Festival was the 38-piece Neue Philharmonic from Frankfurt, Germany – under the blue-collar, workmanlike direction of Stephen “BK” Bentley-Klein – and in all likelihood, over time, Purple has learned a valuable lesson from other, more disastrous pairings such as this, and that is, don’t let the armada of cellists, violinists, and whatever other instrumentalists happen to be in the room play pretty and decorate these full-on, hot-blooded rock anthems with a lot of flair and ornamentation.
The buzz word for Gillan and Paice regarding this project is “augmentation.” Comparing the Neue Philharmonic’s purpose to that of Count Basie Orchestra, the two Purple war horses talk about how the orchestra swings and puts a strong shoulder to the grooves of the band’s classic hits, and the orchestra does indeed expand on and enhance them with huge, sweeping waves of sound that seem to lift and carry to heaven tracks like the lushly exotic “Rapture of the Deep” and the swooning instrumental “Contract Lost” – featuring Morse’s soaring, beautifully sketched guitar solo – that opens the doors of perception to a reflective, emotionally powerful “When A Blind Man Cries.” And when called for, Neue provides additional horsepower to “Woman from Tokyo,” “Space Truckin’” and a blazing, brightly lit version of “Highway Star.”
It all comes together on “The Well Dressed Guitar,” where Morse grinds away in brutally heavy fashion while glorious strings radiate blinding light as the crowd, in dazzling unison, raises their hands overhead to clap along with Gillan. Coming down however briefly from that incredible high, the two units launch into a powerful, majestic version of “Knocking at Your Back Door” that’s surges with dark melodic energy. On “Lazy,” Purple takes over, their bluesy breakdowns and uprisings needing no color or nuance, although Bentley-Klein does come down from his perch to offer up a scintillating violin foray to Morse’s clinical six-string dissection and Airey’s smoldering organ blasts. Between that and Airey’s needlessly showy, but nicely balanced solo blend of futuristic keyboard sounds and jazzy piano, “No One Came” works up quite a sweat, with Morse’s tricky lead finishing the job in spectacular fashion.
A bit glitzy, as if begging for a residency at some tacky Las Vegas hotel, and at times losing touch with the earthiness and guts that have always kept Deep Purple grounded, the lengthy Live at Montreux 2011 is, nonetheless, a lively, brilliantly filmed document of a magic night in the life of Deep Purple in a place that’s become to them a second home. The sound has great clarity and richness, while the high-definition cameras, shooting from a satisfying variety of angles and distances, provide a visual feast for the eyes. Packaged with in-depth, and quite candid, interviews with every current member of Deep Purple, plus a smattering of new and vintage footage, Live in Montreux 2011 is a heady rush of concert excitement. And when “Smoke on the Water” rises up like some sleeping giant awakened after around 40 years of dormancy, it fills Montreux with monstrous riffs, massive walls of strings and blaring horns trumpeting what feels like a new dawn for Deep Purple. It isn’t, actually, but for about 115 minutes, it seems as if the band, now having so much fun together, has dived right in to the Fountain of Youth and come out younger and full of vitality. And the Neue Philharmonic had something to do with that.
- Peter Lindblad