Over the course of their first three albums in the late 1960s, the New York Rock 'n' Roll Ensemble made their mark as one of the few bands of any era to comfortably integrate classical music and instrumentation into a rock format. Their 1968 self-titled debut had been co-produced by Shadow Morton (famous for his work with the Shangri-Las, Janis Ian, the Vanilla Fudge, and later the New York Dolls), and also showcased a quintet that could skillfully blend instrumental, compositional, and vocal input from five distinct and diverse musicians. The group's 1969 follow-up, Faithful Friends, solidified and expanded their assets while allowing themselves to take a stronger voice in the production.
Most of the songs on Faithful Friends were original compositions, and owed more to rock than classical music, with all five members contributing as songwriters. The band also inserted brief classical pieces by Bach ("Trio Sonata No. 2 in G Major") and Thomas Morley ("Aria"), as well as a lengthier adaptation of Bach's "Brandenburg." On top of all this was a cover of one of Jimi Hendrix's less celebrated songs, "Wait Until Tomorrow." With the frequent incorporation of oboe and cello into the arrangements, and the group's oft-noted performances in tuxedos and tails, they didn't quite sound or look like any other act on the late-'60s rock scene—quite a feat, at a time when so many artists were trying to outdo each other in eclecticism or outrageousness.
The division of most of the lead vocals between keyboardist/oboist Michael Kamen and rhythm guitarist Brian Corrigan as an asset. "Michael had the more 'cultured' voice, with some early stage experience in musicals prior to the NYR&RE (also in early bands)," he notes. "He wanted badly to be the American John Lennon. Brian had [a] more bluesy voice, and could be more easily compared with Jagger. The combination was great for us and helped to set off the songs, and also helped us to remain slightly enigmatic and not so easy to cubbyhole (are they classical? Rock? Or what?)—which was both an advantage and disadvantage." Adds lead guitarist Clif Nivison (who also takes a lead vocal on "Lazy Man"), "No band I've been in since had people who could all sing lead and harmony. Michael and [drummer/oboist] Marty [Fulterman] could both hear oboe parts in almost all songs, and the cello is such a beautiful sound; it always adds color."
Of the original songs on Faithful Friends, perhaps the most familiar-sounding to the general rock audience is "Sing Lady Sing," due to its similarity to a different record that ended up getting much more exposure. "Buddy Miles took pretty much all the guitar lines that Michael and I wrote and used them in 'Them Changes,'" says Nivison. "It is the same song with a different vocal." As for the group's cover of "Wait Until Tomorrow," written by a musician with whom Miles was soon to (briefly) play, Clif explains, "Michael and I were great Hendrix fans. He heard us play his song at [the New York club] The Scene in 1969. He told us he really liked it."
It was original material, however, that was at the core of Faithful Friends, often blending rock and classical flavors into the same track without either element clashing with or overwhelming the other. Although the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble were happy with how their music was progressing, Faithful Friends, like their debut, was not a big seller, possibly because it was so hard to categorize. "I think the media was still having problems with us, our image, and our 'place' in the rock developments of that time," feels Dorian. "The West Coast was coming on strong—hippies, war resisters, the whole '60s thing was exploding all around and we were exploding with it. However, we still had our tuxedos and tails we wore playing live, and we were still often connected to the New York 'Beautiful People' scene—a difficult image that was becoming more and more of a burden. In fact, during the time of this record's release, we were breaking away from that, and so I guess we were getting mixed signals—very positive from our fan base, and more restrained from the new audience we were beginning to reach out to." The band's association with Atlantic Records was already on the verge of ending, but not before a third album of a very different sort, Reflections, emerged—a story told on Collectors' Choice Music's CD reissue of that unusual recording.
For their third--and certainly best--record the band recruited Greek composer and songwriter Manos Hadjidakis. The resulting REFLECTIONS plays like a film score--not surprisingly, given Hadjidakis's experience as a composer of just such works--with epic instrumental sweeps and passages of quiet melancholy. Many of the tracks, such as "Orpheus," "The Day," and "Kemal," incorporate the folk melodies of Hadjidakis's homeland while maintaining a baroque psychedelic touch.
by Richie Unterberger
Faithful Friends 1969
1. I'm Too Busy (Brian Corrigan, Martin Fulterman) - 3:05
2. City (Michael Kamen) - 3:18
3. Asking Too Much (Brian Corrigan, Michael Kamen) - 2:39
4. Trio Sonata No. 2 In G Major (Johann Sebastian Bach) - 0:53
5. Kite Song (Brian Corrigan, Michael Kamen) - 2:20
6. Wait Until Tomorrow (Jimi Hendrix) - 3:50
7. Sing Lady Sing (Brian Corrigan, Michael Kamen) - 3:17
8. Nel Cox (Brian Corrigan, Michael Kamen) - 2:53
9. Thinking Of Mary (Brian Corrigan, Dorian Rudnytsky) - 3:06
10.Faithful Friends (And Flattering Foes) (Martin Fulterman) - 3:10
11.Aria (Thomas Morley) - 1:05
12.Lazy Man (Clifton Nivison) - 2:47
13.Brandenburg (Johann Sebastian Bach, B. Corrigan, M. Fulterman, M. Kamen) - 5:20
14.Orpheus (Manos Hadjidakis, Dorian Budnytsky) - 2:37
15.The Day (Manos Hadjidakis, Brian Corrigan) - 3:42
16.Love Her (Manos Hadjidakis, Brian Corrigan) - 5:02
17.Dance Of The Dogs (Manos Hadjidakis) - 3:30
18.Kemal (Manos Hadjidakis, Martin Fulterman) - 4:32
19.Dedication (Manos Hadjidakis, Clifton Nivison) - 2:51
20.The Three Answers (Manos Hadjidakis) - 3:50
21.Street Song (Manos Hadjidakis, Brian Corrigan) - 3:23
22.Bitter Way (Manos Hadjidakis, Brian Corrigan) - 4:39
23.Noble Dame (Manos Hadjidakis, Dorian Budnytsky) - 3:31
The New York Rock 'N' Roll Ensemble
*Dorian Rudnytsky - Bass, Cello
*Martin Fulterman - Drums, Oboe
*Michael Kamen - Keyboards, Oboe
*Clifton Nivison - Lead Guitar
*Brian Corrigan - Rhythm Guitar
*Manos Hadjidakis - Orchestral Arrangements (14-23)
1971-72 The New York Rock Ensemble – Roll Over / Freedomburger