Originally released in the spring of 1969, Colosseum’s debut album entitled, Those Who Are About to Die Salute You which was originally released on the Fontana label and reissued this year by Esoteric Recordings, is an eruptive debut that came out of the same year King Crimson released In The Court of the Crimson King, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, The Who’s rock opera Tommy, and Miles Davis’ controversial classic, Bitches Brew.
Colosseum was different. They mixed Jazz, Blues, and Soul into a giant blender and creating these textures that were both Progressive and Hard Rock into one. Formed 49 years ago by drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith in which they were a part of the Graham Bond Organization, Hiseman replaced Baker as both of them appeared on John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers album, Bare Wires released in the summer of that same year.
I’ve first heard Colosseum’s music when I bought the 3-CD compilation which was released in 2005 entitled Time Machine: A Vertigo Retrospective after hearing their explosive heavy riff powder-keg rocker, The Kettle. And I was hooked. It was like unleashing the beast right from the get-go. They brought along Dave Greenslade on Organ, Bassist Tony Reeves, and James Litherland on Lead Vocals and Guitar.
Not to mention guest musician trumpeter Henry Lowther who appears on the album. He appears on the opening track with a walking blues/jazz shuffle down the highway entitled, Walking in the Park. It’s one of Graham’s composition as you can imagine it being blared inside the train for the band to have an amazing time. Litherland can really sing his heart out and doing some killer guitar work.
Even though Henry appears on the album as a guest musician, he nails those trumpet parts down for that intro section in the beginning. He and Dick Heckstall-Smith work like a team blaring those moments bringing the roofs down on both Trumpet and Sax. Mandarin which is based on the Japanese soft scale, Tony’s arrangement on the Bass, sends chills down on my spine.
His bass playing shines well as it resembles between Jimmy Garrison and East of Eden’s Steve York with some fuzz and wah-wah moments between going from one to the other while the blues standard Backwater Blues he plays some of the amazing bass lines and comes into the forefront which shows his talent and power. Not to mention Dick’s blaring sax and Greenslade channeling Graham Bond’s organ work.
The Road She Walked Before features some of this Ray Charles-sque arrangement by Heckstall-Smith. The vocalization between Litherland’s vocals, Smith’s sax, and Greenslade’s organ and piano, delves into this Brazilian samba jazz groove into the sunset as the title-track is a nod to The Nice, James Brown, and George Gershwin. Greenslade plays a mean organ in the 12-bar blues and featuring the militant section for the Climatic battlefield in the Rome Amphitheatre.
Beware the Ides of March is essence to Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale which is also inspired by Bach, Heckstall-Smith’s sax blares into night sky channeling both Classical Music and Jazz along with Dave’s Wah-Wah Organ which almost has this Canterbury psychedelic feel and a soulful crunch to it. It then suddenly delves deep into the darker tunnels of the ominous piano, galloping drums, intense bass work, organ and sax improve before coming back to the warmth sun rising end.
The three bonus tracks which the band recorded at PYE studios in November of 1968 containing a demo version of the title track, a rockin’ composition of I Can’t Live Without You with some killer wah-wah guitar work and bass sharing a duel between each other and it feels like it was something straight out of the sessions between The Beatles White Album and Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland.
Their take of Quincy Jones’ In The Heat of the Night which was sung by Ray Charles, is a strong take from the classic opening of the 1967 film. You can close your eyes being on the train close to dawn heading to the station with Mister Tibbs to start the next case following after the events of the first film and knowing that the next case, will be intense situation that the danger comes around.
The name of the title comes from a Latin phrase which is well known as Ave Caesar, Morituri te Salutant. Which means Hail Emperor, Those About to Die Salute You. Which the gladiators greeted Vitellius and it’s a well-known quote. Esoteric Recordings have never disappointed me and when they announced some of the reissues of the Colosseum catalog on their website from Cherry Red Records, I knew it was going to be on my wish list.
It contains the original and new sleeve notes and interviews with Jon Hiseman about the origins of the band’s formation. The album reached number 15 in the UK charts and gave Colosseum word-of-mouth including a performance promo which is in the booklet, they did on March 20th at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Worth checking out? Absolutely!