Sunday, June 21, 2015

Quintessence - 2009 - Infinite Love - Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Infinite Love - Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

01. High on Mount Kailash (5:48)
02. Wonders of the Universe (7:55)
03. Gang Mai (13:58)
04. Meditations (6:11)
05. Dive Deep (14:52)
06. Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga (15:22)
07. Spoken Intro (0:40)
08. Gange Mai (9:57)
09. Pearl and Bird (4:00)
10. Sita Ram (4:25)
11. Freedom (11:05)
12. Giants (9:54)
13. Hari Om/Govinda (9:24)
14. Giants (Reprise) (5:40)
15. Dive Deep: Dive Deep/Chant/Water Goddess/Dive Deep (23:23)

Absolute masterpiece. Sorry, but i had to begin this review by these strong words.

This freshly unreleased 1971 double live album is an unexpected gem (and the word is weak) which expand a lot Quintessence's discography, along with the other « Cosmic Energy: Live at St Pancras 1970 » CD also by Hux records which is almost in the same vein in term of performance, but not for sound quality.

The performance on "Infinite Love: Live at the Queen Elizabeth 1971" is stellar, that's why at the time some music reviewers claimed that Quintessence was « the best live band in the world ». Indeed, the band combines virtuosity and mystic fervour like nobody. Flute and guitar parts are awesome, the psychedelic jams evoke the best Grateful dead. Quintessence is really the following of the american psychedelic scene, with a unique indo progressive touch. The track list gather pieces from all albums including the masterpiece eponym track « Dive deep » with two versions including one clocking at 24 minutes.

This is rare enough to be precised : not only this concert has been very well recorded in 1971 -as explained into the very informative booklet- thanks to amplifier settings in order to make the flute and vocals clearly audible, but the CD transfer is a success too : for one time the sound is neutral and musical with great presence, no over-compression which makes this CD a delight to listen to, even on ambitious audio systems, which is rarely the case with « rock » records. Thanks a lot to Hux records for this great mastering job. This is the kind of CD releases which may save the CD industry ! The only drawback for picky audiophiles who don't like to put their fingers on their precious discs is the very unconvenient double CD jewel case which is a pain to use : it's very hard to remove the CD from the box without damaging it, which is very frustating with such a quality record. Besides this detail, this « Infinite love » is easily the release of the year in vintage progressive rock.

Quintessence - 2009 - Cosmic Energy - Live At St Pancras

Cosmic Energy - Live At St Pancras

01. Giants Suite     (19:51)
02. Twilight Zones     6:04
03. Sea Of Immortality     4:30
04. Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga     5:48
Bonus Tracks
    Giants Suite (Queen Elizabeth Hall 1971)    
05. Giants     11:38
06. Pearl     4:44
07. Freedom     13:44
08. Narain     4:36
09. Giants (Reprise)     3:24

Quintessence were unique among the early 70s UK bands, incorporating Eastern themes into their brand of progressive influenced psychedelic rock. But though the band gigged hard on the concert and festival scene, precious little live material has been officially available. Until now…

Hux Records has released two sets of CDs, featuring Quintessence performances from 1970 and 1971 that have been resting in the Island Records vaults, the band's label for their first three albums. The late 1960s through early 70s were among the most progressive and creatively fertile in rock history, and the opportunity to hear live shows from the period is always a treat. But because of the rarity of Quintessence concert recordings, and the fact that live performance was the band's true element, makes these releases genuine historical documents.

The shows represented are a St Pancras performance from 1970, and two shows from the same day at Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1971. Only about half the St Pancras show is available, so the 1970 CD features what was available from that performance plus a portion of the 1971 concerts. And the Queen Elizabeth Hall set is two full CDs of music from the 1971 shows.

The St Pancras set opens with the 20 minute "Giants Suite". Starting off in song mode, the band quickly launch into a heavy psych-rock jam, showcasing a considerably rawer rocking feel than can be heard on the studio albums. And when Phil 'Shiva' Jones' vocals eventually rejoin, it's with passion and intensity, and an improvisational vibe that grooves along beautifully with the music. "Twilight Zones", "Sea of Immortality", and "Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga" round out the 1970 set, all similar in length to the studio album versions, but with the same instrumental excursions that made Quintessence such a thrilling live act.

The bonus tracks on the CD consist of a nearly 40 minute version of "Giants Suite" from the 1971 Queen Elizabeth Hall shows. This is a brilliant addition, as side-by-side with the 1970 version it demonstrates how from one show to the next a song could be given a very different treatment. A year later the music has taken on a mellower, meditative feel. But though the jams are less raw, Quintessence still rocks as hard as they could massage, and at one point breaks off into a percussion and flute driven Latin-jazz inspired groove, that ends up with a hip-shaking, slightly boogie-woogie, psych-rock feel.

Quintessence - 1972 - Indweller


01. Jesus my life
02. Butterfly music
03. It's all the same
04. Indweller
05. Holy roller
06. Portable realm
07. Sai Baba
08. On the other side of the wall
09. Dedication
10. Bliss trip
11. Mother of the universe

- Shambhu Babaji / bass, acoustic guitar
- Jake Milton / drums, percussion
- Alan Mostert / acoustic & electric guitars, bass
- Raja Ram / flute, bells, chimes, percussion

Guest Review:

Cautoin: this record - the fifth offering by the band - is absolutely dire. You are recommended to avoid it at all costs. Aside from seven minutes of indescribably beautiful interplay between Raja Ram on flute and Alan on guitar on "It's all the Same", it is utter garbage from start to finish. Destroy on sight.

The group had, by this stage, parted company with both the masterly vocalist and front-man, Shiva (Phil) Jones, and his side-kick on rhythm guitar, Dave Codling - (each of whom was soon to re-surface in the short-lived KALA) - and thereafter succeeded only in carting their pseudo-Eastern mystic baggage down an increasing number of dead ends until they, finally and thankfully, wholly imploded.

But it was all so tragic. The fact is that, whereas the band's five albums between them only contained enough decent music to justify filling one mid-price CD (never mind the two full-priced, chant-riddled offerings they eventually put out), when performing "live", away from the confines of the studio, they were simply electrifying - probably one of the most memorable bands I have ever seen - and could manufacture an absolutely fantastic atmosphere through their magical playing, with Alan's virtuoso lead guitar wailing and floating gloriously above the driving, tight-knit rhythm supplied by Jake, Dave and Shambhu, whilst Raja Ram danced with his flute and Shiva danced with the audience. This was psychedelic rock at its finest. Some scoffed and said it was ridiculous and pretentious. Maybe. But who cares? The band was terrific when I saw them in 1969, even better when I saw them in 1970, and absolutely magnificent when I saw them in 1971. So stuff the critics, as far as I am concerned, the only sense impression that counts is my own, and, in my view, Quintessence were just a truly dynamic "live" outfit who couldn't hope to recapture in the studio the atmosphere they generated on stage and, predictably, fell miserably and depressingly short.....

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.

Quintessence - 1971 - Dive Deep

Dive Deep

01. Dive deep
02. Dance for the one
03. Brahman
04. The seer
05. Epitaph for tomorrow
06. Sri Ram chant

- 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, chimes, bells, percussion

On the very same day Island Record’s boss Chris Blackwell went down to the basement where Quintessence used to rehearse, the band got a recording deal; with their distinctive sound, blending Eastern, Rock, Psychedelic and jazz influences, fronted by a lead singer (and keyboard player-Shiva aka Paul Jones) with a charismatic stage presence, spiritually and technically close to Jim Morrison ( himself also an assumed fan of the band) and with their incandescent Light show, the band was famous for electrifying their live audiences;
To capture that excitement on tape must not have been very obvious, but the fine eclectic vibes of Dive Deep, the 3rd and last album of the original line-up, solidified the conviction I had that Quintessence were one (more) of the unfairly forgotten and truly original bands of that period (late 60’s early 70’s).
To imagine Quintessence as a bunch of Hippies strumming acoustics with congas, percussions and chimes backing, flute chirps and the eventual sitar drone would be misleading; yes they also use those instrumental settings but their rhythm section of 2nd guitar(electric), bass and drums can be solid and propulsive and with the lead guitarist(Allan Mostert) venturing into fuzzed psych solos, the Rocking shuffle of the title track with its Jazzy flute solo was predestined to be a winner, and if you feel idealistic , you’ll be graced with their singing about universal/timeless truths: ”Dive deep into your mind if want to find the germ of true love”…
Other times, as on the 1st part of the fantastic “Epitaph for Tomorrow”, they are close to Symph Rock, with organ fuelled refined chord progressions and gentle flute, and as the singer grows ever more powerful it turns into a lively tempo West Coast styled jam (Airplane/Dead come to mind) with agreeing guitar solo, that fades into a final Free time part with delay treated flute, controlled guitar feedback and reversed tapes effects;
On “Dance for the one”, a mystical atmosphere slowly builds up behind the delayed/stereo field dancing flute playing, as mellotron beds, aleatory bass fills and toms, fill the background, and introduces a poignant two tones “deity” praising hymn , where a duo of reverb drenched and fuzzed electric guitars chord slashes and tortured leads add bursts of energy a top a feverish, jagged mid tempo rhythm; next, and opening with flute and hushed vocals like a peaceful shamanic ceremony, with sparse bass and guitar, “Brahman” is enriched by vibraphone colours, and its intense, tension building circular pattern is fed by double tracked flute and more vibrant chant/singing;
“The Seer” evolves from an acoustic guitar/flute pattern with a delicate swinging bass/drums pulse, discreet mellotron and vinas, vocal harmonies and more trademark double tracked flutes;
OkOk, don’t leave yet, because without Western instruments and enlisting the help of some musicians from that huge Asian subcontinent country, they finally pay tribute to their Indian influences with “Sri Ram Chant” (only track not written by the band) with chanted M/F vocals with mantra styled Indian lyrics, violin and shenai drones, tamboura and tablas and the flute contributing to the contemplative (and relaxing) mood.
It took me long years to get my hands on this album, and while Dive Deep (the track) didn’t pale next to E.L.& P. or Traffic tracks on the “El Pea” sampler, therefore igniting my curiosity for Quintessence (which probably wouldn’t have happened to the 13 years old I was if other track album had been included), I must admit that the album was an unexpected experience, but the initial bewilderment soon changed into very satisfactory amazement!

Quintessence - 1970 - Quintessence


01. Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga
02. Sea of immortality
03. High on Mt. Kailash
04. Burning bush
05. Shiva's chant
06. Prisms
07. Twilight zones
08. Maha mantra
09. Only love
10. St. Pancras
11. Infinitus

Note: LP Polydor 2310 044 (under the title of "Open Up to You) / LP Island ILPS 9128 (1974) under the title of "Jesus Buddha Moses"

LP Island ILPS 9128 / LP Polydor 2310 044 / LP Island ILPS 9128 (1974)

Re-released by Repertoire Records 2004
Tracks 1-11 per original release.
Track 12 Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Guaranga [Live Version] (5:07)
released on the first pressing of compilation album "Bumpers" (UK) Island IDP 1 in 1970. Restored and remastered by EROC at The Ranch.

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

Second album by Quintessence had been in some way slightly advanced compared to their debut with more elaborate tracks and a less pop-ish sound. On the other hand it appeared as well rather incoherent with spiritual chants standing at times blatantly besides acid jamming and Cream-ish heavy blues rocking. Overall it revealed a kind of nice atmosphere not too far away from the one in early Krautrock albums. Their ecumenical hymn "Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga" which opens the album reflects very well the spirit of this record they dedicated "to Our Lord Jesus". This one's by far the only commercially sounding one on here belonging together with "Notting Hill Gate" and "Gange Mai" from their debut to the most memorable songs by them. "Sea of immortality" sounds considerably more sophisticated exploding into a jam session and here's the place where the hint to Cream becomes obvious. "High on Mt. Kailash" is an excerpt of a planned rock opera starting with birds singing and reveals droning sitar, some jingling temple bells and Shiva's haunting vocals that remind me at times a lot to Jim Morrison's. That one's quite a mysterious and fascinating track and certainly one of the highlights of this album. After that one there's a sudden skip to the live recorded very loud instrumental "Burning bush" featuring heavy jamming of wah-wah guitar, bass and drums. This track seams to be not very well placed between the previous one and the following spiritual "Shiva's Chant" and as Chris Welch suggests in his liner notes the close array of these contrasting performances presented here by the band might reflect in some way the contrast between the two aspects of their style. But in fact the rather imperfect structure of this album and its appearance as more of a compilation of songs than a coherent work is the only reason for considering it less essential. For the song material here is really substantial as demonstrated by the next two tracks "Prisms" and "Twilight Zones". The former one is all instrumental and consists of an improvised flute solo by Raja Ram with the addition of some great echo effects. This one segues seamlessly into the next track being an excellent ballad-type one dominated by Shiva's vocals and backed with flute and guitar. "Maha Mantra" is another hypnotic chant followed by the slow ballad "Only Love" whereas in "St. Pancras" the band presents us once again their live jam qualities. The short track "Infinitum" finally closes this rather strange album with a quite awkward droning sound. But overall such kind of hypnotic and droning sections which aren't not that much my "cup" usually are kept here quite shorted and I really don't find them disturbing at all.

As a summary of my review I've to say though I usually don't favour albums with religious contents this one was quite appealing to me albeit being a more difficult listen than their debut. Nevertheless it's a kind of acquired taste and some people might feel alienated by its religious background. Thus I would not consider it essential in a general Prog context but fans of Krautrock or spiritually influenced "hippie music" might check out this band.