Artist: New York Rock Ensemble

Gravedigger ~ New York Rock Ensemble

The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble was a rock band of the late 1960s and early 1970s described as playing “classical baroque rock”.

The band was formed by three Juilliard students (Michael Kamen, Marty Fulterman —now known as Mark Snow— and Dorian Rudnytsky) as well as two rock musicians, Brian Corrigan and Clif Nivison.

Rudnytsky indicated that while students at Juilliard, Kamen and Fulterman played in a rock band named “Emil & The Detectives” while he played in a rock band named Invicta with Corrigan and Nivison, all of whom hail from Toms River, New Jersey. A mutual friend and record producer suggested that all five drop their current bands and form a new band. After the new group’s first gig at a Juilliard Halloween dance in 1967, they were signed by Atlantic Records where Ahmet Ertegün  was quoted by one of the members as having said in jest, “You play all the right notes on all the wrong instruments.”

Their recording debut was the 1968 self-named album The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, which broke the tradition by using classical music instruments in rock songs and rock instruments in classical pieces. This fusion, daring at the time, impressed Leonard Bernstein so much that he invited the group to appear at one of his Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, where they performed their signature song “Brandenburg” which was based on the first movement of Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto. This track showed the group at their best, starting off with a straight rendition of Bach’s music (featuring two oboes, guitar and cello), then migrating into a rock song, while continuing to use Bach’s original music for its basis.

Because Brandenburg was the one song that showed the widest range of their musicianship, the group typically performed that song when they made television appearances on The Tonight Show, The Steve Allen Show and other TV shows of that era.

Brandenburg appeared on the group’s second album “Faithful Friends”, which had higher production values than their first and contained many of the songs that were part of their live act.

Their third album, “Reflections”, was actually recorded prior to Faithful Friends and was a collaboration with Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis as a score for a film that was never produced. The group decided to use this already recorded but unreleased music for their last Atlantic album. Because this album was such a great departure from their “classical/rock” roots, it apparently sold poorly when released and at least one member of the group believed that it hurt their popularity by confusing their fan base. This album is now the group’s biggest selling album because it was re-released in Europe and has sold well since that time. In 2005 the well known and critically acclaimed Greek band named Raining Pleasure has released its own interpretation of this album.

Rhythm guitarist Brian Corrigan departed after the third album and after being part of the only movie appearance by the group, “Zachariah” which featured an extended version of Kamen’s song “Gravedigger”. The band then shortened its name to New York Rock Ensemble and switched to Columbia. Released in 1971, Roll Over was their most overtly rock album to date and, at that time, their biggest seller. The band’s tour to support this album was unique in that in addition to their usual college dates, the band also played with leading symphony orchestras across the country including the Boston Pops and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. When playing these gigs, the group played a set alone and then joined up with the orchestra to perform an orchestral version of Kamen’s rock song “Anaconda,” and Kamen’s song “Winter Child”, based on the Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Kamen’s efforts at orchestral composing (and fusing rock and orchestral music) set the stage for his later work as a movie composer as well as a composer, conductor and performer with Metallica, Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd.

Their last album was “Freedomburger”, a collection of songs. Soon after the tour supporting this album, the band dispersed.

Kamen, joined by Rudnytsky and other musicians, gave it one last try when he released New York Rock in 1973. “Winter Child” appears on that album. Band membership at this time was Kamen and Rudnytsky, joined by David Sanborn on saxophone, Larry Packer (formerly of Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys) on guitar and violin, Dennis Whitted (later of Paul Butterfield and Bonnie Raitt) on drums and Hank DeVito (later of Emmylou Harris’ “Hot Band”) on pedal steel.

Michael Kamen later gained fame for his many film scores and for his aforementioned “fusion” efforts. He died in 2003.

Marty Fulterman later adopted the name of Mark Snow and gained renown for his many scores and themes for TV shows, most notably, The X Files.

Gravedigger

This  was a VERY hard audio to find.

No Lyrics Published

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  • Audio from the 1970 album, Roll Over:
    (Now only available in a combined re-issue of Roll Over/Freedomburger)

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Purchase-Music Gravedigger – (Only Available on album).

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