Rock & Roll Holy Grails can sometimes be a mixed blessing, sometimes offering nascent portraits of a brilliant young artist in their formative years (The Beach Boys’ Morgan Recordings, acetates of Quarrymen and Elvis Presley privately pressed 78s, Prince’s 94 East tapes), while others feel like unscrupulous, pointless bottom-scraping (Elvis Presley, Montage of Heck). Caveat Emptor!
This particular seven-song mini-album, however, needs no warning label. Credited to The Keith Emerson Trio, what one finds here is a teenage Keith Emerson with two of his friends, playing jazz, recorded in his parents’ living room, around one microphone, circa 1963. This primitive means of recording results in a recording that is rough and raw, but it’s in the roughness that one finds the charm. It’s obvious from the first note of John Coltrane’s “You Say You Care” that these “kids” are truly talented musicians. Emerson’s playing is lively, jaunty, and masterful, even at the age of 18. One could easily have passed this take off as a live recording at the Blue Note, and none would be the wiser.
Of course, it only gets better; jazz standards “There Will Never Be Another You” is gentle and true; “You Came A Long Way from Saint Louis” is lively and fun, while “Teenies Blues” and “Soul Station” tackle extremely progressive and complex jazz numbers with aplomb; they shouldn’t sound this effortless, but it’s a testament to Emerson’s playing that they can cover these numbers so easily. Interestingly, the two original Emerson compositions found here aren’t jazz, but are more akin to boogie-woogie and rockabilly. It’s only here where the set falters slightly, these compositions are enjoyable, but nowhere near in the league of the covers they’ve performed.
That would soon change, though. While his bandmates would slip into obscurity, Emerson’s career was just beginning, first with The Nice, and then with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, as well as a solo act. He’s still performing, and though he’s come a long way since this first recording session, it’s clear that he was a talent simply waiting to be born.
The Keith Emerson Trio is available now on Cherry Red