After the breakup of Deep Purple’s original lineup, the band took a bold next step. Out were bassist Nick Simper and singer Rod Evans and in were Roger Glover and Ian Gillan in their place. While this newly minted Mk II lineup of the band would become its definitive one, its first release was a puzzling one for the band’s fans. In September 1969, the band was joined onstage by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform a composition written by organist Jon Lord. This became Concerto For Group And Orchestra and was groundbreaking in that a live melding of rock and roll with an orchestra had never really been attempted before.
The piece was performed one more time – in 1970 at the Hollywood Bowl – before the original score was lost. Fast-forward nearly 30 years later and, thanks to Dutch composer Marco de Goeij listening to the original performance, the piece could be recreated for a series of 30th anniversary performances at the Royal Albert Hall. The band took the show on the road and Lord performed it himself in various locations after he left Deep Purple, but there was never an attempt at doing a proper studio recording of the piece – until now. Teaming up with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a series of guest stars including current Deep Purple guitarist, Steve Morse, and Iron Maiden vocalist, Bruce Dickinson, Lord was finally able to get his master work recorded before his untimely passing in July 2012.
The piece is broken into three movements, with Lord selecting a different guitarist for each part based on who he best thought would fit the mood of the music. Darin Vasilev takes the first movement, with Joe Bonamassa and Morse taking the second and third respectively. The orchestra starts out the first movement slowly, gradually building in intensity throughout. The movement contrasts gentle passages with more intense ones with ease, going into a playful melody until the rock band kicks in around the seven-minute mark. The band echoes some of the themes of the orchestra in their fusion-inspired portion, with Vasilev taking some inspired leads and Lord later matching him note for note. Not to be outdone, the orchestra returns shortly thereafter, abruptly cutting off the band and creating an exciting push-pull as both groups try to outdo each other.
The second movement is much darker, almost bleak, and yet gentler in feel at the same time. The vocalists make their appearance in this movement, with Steve Balsamo and Kasia Laska taking the first part in a duet. The tempo switches to a more upbeat, light dance feel as they offer delicate vocals to the piece. After a blistering solo from Bonamassa, Dickinson delivers the moment’s second vocal, a powerful contrast to the delicate vocals of Balsamo and Laska. The third movement lives up to its presto name, presenting some of the piece’s swiftest and most intricate passages. Both bands go for broke in this exciting finale to the concerto.
When Jon Lord passed, the music world lost a true virtuoso. His signature organ sound was instantly recognizable and made Deep Purple one of the world’s best-loved bands. That he got to approve the final mixes of Jon Lord – Concerto For Group And Orchestra before his passing must have been incredibly satisfying, to know that this great work would be preserved in the studio at last.