Sunday, June 21, 2015

Quintessence - 1972 - Self


01. Cosmic surfer
02. Wonders of the universe
03. Vishnu-Narain
04. Hallelujad
05. Celestial procession
06. Self
07. Freedom
08. Water goddess

Bonus Tracks
09. You Never Stay The Same
10. Sweet Jesus

- Shambhu Babaji / bass, acoustic guitar
- Dave Codling / rhythm guitar
- Shiva Shankar Jones / lead vocals, keyboards, hand drums
- Jake Milton / drums, percussion
- Alan Mostert / acoustic & electric guitars, bass
- Raja Ram / flute, bells, chimes, percussion

This was effectively the beginning of the end for the band. "Self" is generally overlooked in comparison to the better-known three Island LPs which preceded it, but still contains a couple of real gems.

"Cosmic Surfer" is an atypical, fair-to-poor rock number to kick off with, and maybe reflected the increasing tension between some of the band members as to whether to carry on pursuing their trademark psychedelic rock route, as espoused by Shiva, or kick the bells into touch and play a straighter form of rock, as Jake would have wished. With hindsight, Jake was probably right: by 1973, the time for Quintessence had more or less come and gone and, to survive, they needed significantly to re-invent themselves. [In the event, Shiva and Dave left (subsequently to re-emerge in KALA), and the residue of the band followed up with "Indweller", probably the most abysmal suite of tracks ever scraped together.]

"Wonders of the universe" is a haunting, compelling ballad featuring voice and guitar, and highlights just how magnificent a singer Shiva was - (and still is: take a listen to his recent collaborations with his new music partner, Rudra Beauvert) - and how delicate and soulful Alan could be when the mood took him. This has always been one of my favourite songs, and will doubtless remain so. Beautiful interplay and crystal clear.

"Hallelujad" is one of the band's better chants, swelling slowly but inexorably to reach a resounding crescendo under Shiva's masterly touch.

"Celestial procession" is just what it says on the tin: a bunch of animal noises. Distinctly odd but nevertheless true. Don't play this when the cat's around.

"Self" is another chant: sadly, another pupil from the Great School of Dross.

"Freedom" and "Water Goddess" occupied the whole of the second side of the original LP. They were "live" tracks and were intended to capture what the band did best. But, even then, they don't....because simply listening to Quintessence was never what it was all about. Their concerts were full-on experiences - with candles and dancing and lights and drapes and incense, chanting and flutes and feedback and driving rhythm and soaring vocals - which invaded all your senses simultaneously, and gradually built up inside you until you found yourself transported to another sphere altogether. Electric. This could never successfully be captured on vinyl. But, since new listeners can only imagine what such concerts may have been like, these "live" tracks are about as good as you can hope to get after all this time.

So why, with all these reservations, do I still award (a slightly over-generous) 3 stars? The answer is clear: "Vishnu-Narain". Without doubt, this represents one of the band's two greatest moments on vinyl - the other being "Manco Capac" off the first LP. This is where the band welded together magnificently from the first to the last (fade-out) notes to deliver a stunningly powerful, cohesive song that really moved along: no dross, no aimless jamming, no frills, pure psychedelic rock at its finest. And what virtuoso lead guitar-playing! Absolute magic. If this doesn't get you singing and tapping over your jam butties, I fear you need to check your pulse. You're probably as extinct as the band.