Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Zzebra - 2001 - Lost World

Lost World

01. Procession Of The Zzebra (2:03)
02. No Point (3:45)
03. Society (5:40)
04. Evacuate (5:45)
05. Living (5:11)
06. It's Take It/Leave It (3:46)
07. Baila It (6:38)
08. Word Trips (4:59)
09. Panic (Live) (5:27)
10. Mr J (Live) (4:56)
11. You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling (Live) (6:03)
12. Hungry Horse (Live) (15:03)

- Dave Quincy / sax
- Lasisi "Loughty" Amao / flute, sax
- Gus Yeadon / piano, vocals
- Liam Genockey / drums
- John McCoy / bass
- Steve Byrd / guitars

I love this album. It is compiled from the vaults of John McCoy (ex-Gillan), one-time member of Zzebra. The album is a gorgeous and rare combination of progressive rock and African vocals, sounds and beats. It is truly unique and well worth a spin. There was (and still is) nothing around that is quite like this rare fusion of sound.

Zzebra - 1999 - Take It or Leave It

Take It or Leave It

01. No Point (5:28)
02. Living (5:08)
02. overty Song (3:48)
04. Bai La Jo (7:00)
05. Word Trips (5:39)
06. Take It Or Leave It (3:47)
07. Evacuate My Sack (5:30)
08. Society (6:07)

Loughty Amao - percussion, sax, flute, vocals
Liam Genockey - drums, vocals
Dave Quincey - sax
Steve Byrd - guitar
Tommy Eyre - keyboards, flute, vocals
Alan Marshall - vocals
John McCoy - bass

Strangely enough, Zzebra never released their third album, recorded in late 75, and it's never mentioned why either. The group seemed to finally reach stability with an unchanged line-up. Anyway, apparently it received its first legit issue at the same time the German label Disconforme reissued the other two historic albums.

This album is the logical continuity of Panic, with its ever softer jazz tracks, and the vocals, courtesy of Alan Marshall are not helping, sending Zzebra more mainstream jazz-funk. Most of what would've been the album's first side is relatively boring, soft, sometimes veering at sometimes at crooner tunes out of which the African themed Bai La Jo is probably the most remarkable. The second part of the album is a bit more alive with more upbeat tunes. The slow starting Word Trips might have been a highlight, especially in the middle section, but the chorus gives it some MOR feel and the title track bears some ZZ Top riff over a light funk jazz. The hilariously titled Evacuate My Sack fails to enthuse (probably exhaust problems > always delicate in the sack) and the closing society sounds like Chris Farlowe is at the mike.

Not as good as the debut or Panic, this third (and now finally released) album remain good, but hardly essential, this is more for completists if you are into, Zzebra. This album also came out with a different cover and some bonus live tracks, but it doesn't make it anymore essential.

Zzebra - 1975 - Panic


01. Panic 4:34
02. You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling 6:10
03. Karrola 3:59
04. Liamo 5:54
05. Death by Drowning 2:58
06. Tree 6:01
07. Put a Light on Me 4:59
08. La Si Si - La So So 5:12

Loughty Amao - percussion, sax, flute, vocals
Liam Genockey - drums, vocals
Dave Quincey - sax
Terry Smith - guitar
Steve Byrd - guitar
Tommy Eyre - keyboards, flute, vocals
Alan Marshall - vocals
John McCoy - bass

Second album from Zzebra being now a septet, having hired a full-time vocalist Alan Marshall, despite having four instrumentals on the present album. Musically the group sounds more or less the same than on the debut album, as Marshall doesn't sound that different to Yeadon. As Yeadon had done (pun not intended, but left in the text), guitarist Terry Smith will leave in the course of the album's recording. This recording occurred in summer 75 and the album received a all black artwork with the silver group lodo and red album title, and most tracks seem to melt into one another, or the transition is particularly smooth.
Right from the brassy opening title track, right through the gentle but slowly crescendoing Lost That Loving Feeling (a Spector cover, transformed into an instrumental), the album seems tamer than its predecessor, but the wild upbeat Karela (with its African scats) changes things a little, but the Liamo goes back to the slower tempos, while the song title sounds like chants, while the musicians show perfect capacities in listening to what the others are doing. The only Eyre-penned track Death By Drowning is a gloomy track where his electric piano takes the front row, but the peak of the album is coming in the form of Tree, which starts out smoothly enough, but going through a series of change and even peaking once or twice, before the vocals take over. Light on Me sounds a bit as if Chris Farlowe and joined the group. The second blast in this album is the outstanding closing La-Si-Si, a red hot fusion track where the group now decides tu let it rip and the musician can let loose their respective virtuosity.

In some ways, Panic is a better album than the debut, but the surprise is gone. Overall the number of instrumentals obviously leaves more space for the musicians to express themselves and interplay between each other. If you're looking for hysteric singer and guitar histrionics, you'd better move away, Zzebra is not such an animal, but if you're looking for tight funky brass rock and plenty of arrangements, please step up to the plate... but you'd better start with the debut.

Zzebra - 1974 - Zzebra


01. Cobra Woman (6:14)
02. Mr. J (4:17)
03. Mah jang (5:10)
04. Ifé (6;20)
05. Spanish Fly(4:16)
06. Amuso Fi (5:16)
07. Rainbow train (5:05)
08. Hungry Horse (6:45)

Loughty Amao - percussion, sax, flute, vocals
Liam Genockey - drums, vocals
Dave Quincey - sax
Terry Smith - guitar
Gus Yeadon - piano, guitar, vocals
Tommy Eyre - keyboards, flute, vocals
John McCoy - bass

Zzebra came out of the ashes of the British brass-rock band IF and ex-OSIBISA member joining forces with singing keyboardist Gus Yeadon . Main songwriter and wind-player Dave Quincy and guitarist Terry Smith had left If after their fourth album and met Loghty Amaio to found ZZebra, which was set to incorporate lots of African music elements. Irish drummer Liam Geniocky and Scott John McCoy on bass rounded the line-up. Keyboardist and wind-player (and also songwriter) Gus Yeadon left throughout the first album's recording, bringing the much-travelled Tommy Eyre (ex-Ainsley Dunbar and Mark-Almond) to finish up anf thus remaining a sextet. The music was a special brand of funky brass-rock that could easily compare with MANDRILL, CYMANDE, OSIBISA and DEMON FUZZ or even WAR (with or without Eric Burdon)

Later the same year, they recorded their second album called Panic, but by that time, they'd become a septet by hiring Alan Marshall on vocals. During the Panic (album's name) recording sessions, guitarist Terry Smith left, so in came Steve Byrd to finally make the line-up stable. The band kept on touring in the UK and US, but for some reasons, the group never released their third album, until the Disconforme label reissued the two historical albums, doing the same for Take It Or Leave It in 99.

Zzebra's debut album is a most enjoyable jazzy ethnic brass rock enveloped in a sublime night/day window artwork, released late 74. The sextet present up to three brass player in its line-up, namely Quincy, Yeadon and Amao but the first two also play keyboards, while the third adds all of those delightful percussions. Interestingly enough the three brass players are the main songwriters as well and in the decreasing order I placed them. Completed by other If man Smith on guirtars and the Gaelic rhythm section of Genocky and McCoy, the group saw Gus Yeadon leave more or less at the end of the album's recording, and his buddy Tommy Eyre came in a did the remaining parts still missing, but he ended up staying.

Starting on the delightful Cobra Women, a last beat heating up periodically to fit the more nervous/dramatic passages, this track being with Spanish Fly one of the album's highligths. The following two tracks Mr J and Mah Jong are definitely more upbeat, both electric piano-driven and can easily be confused, for I find numerous sonic similarities between them. Ifé is a very sweet- African starting track that gives much flavour to this group. The afore-mentioned Spanish Fly has a dramatic tinge to it, and although Terry Smith is no Carlos Santana, he doesn't ridicule himself either. Amuso Fi starts softly to disappear in a percussion solo (or duet with Genocki), before re-appearing amidst plenty of piano and the overlong repetitive outro. Rainbow Song is easily the weak link of the album, with a pure brassy RnR beat and no invention or even catchy hooks for itself. Hungry Horse however more than makes up for it with incredible splash of virtuosi musical interplay, including a bunch of percussion breaks. It's just a bit too long in its closing section with the repetition of the chorus.

While maybe not as exciting as Cymande or Mandrill's debut album, Zzebra's first album still remains very much worth hearing and even owning. If you're into much brass instruments in your music, Zzebra is right up your alley.

Osibisa - 1977 - Black Magic Night

Black Magic Night

101. Introduction/The Dawn (8:19)
102. Welcome Home (4:30)
103. Ayiko Bia    (7:33)
104. Living Loving Feeling (5:58)
105. Woyaya (6:46)
106. Spirits Up Above (7:50)

201. Kelele (7:49)
202. Fire (7:01)
203. Music for Gong Gong (8:01)
204. Beautiful Seven/Y Sharp (8:32)
205. Sunshine Day (7:16)
206. Encore/Survival (5:08)

- Teddy Osei / Flute, Sax (Soprano), Percussion, Sax (Tenor), African Drums, Vocals
- Wendel Richardson / Guitar, Drums, Vocals
- Mac Tontoh / Trumpet, Trumpet (Bass), Rattles, kabassa, Rattle, Bells, Xylophone, Vocals, Flugelhorn
- Sol Amarfio / Conga, Cowbell, Vocals, Drums
- Robert Bailey / Keyboards
- Mike Odumusu / Bass
- Linda Conco / Vocals, Vocals (Background)
- Tiny Conco / Vocals, Vocals (Background)
- Daku / Percussion, Conga, Keyboards
- Sonia Lekhela / Vocals, Vocals (Background)
- Ntobi Mdudu / Vocals, Vocals (Background)

If your a fan? get this now. it emplifies the energy that Tedi Osei and gang couldn't harness in thew studio. buy, buy, buy....get one for a friend.

Osibisa - 1976 - Ojah Awake

Ojah Awake

01. Coffee Song (3:16)
02. Warrior (3:45)
03. Flying Bird (4:50)
04. Cherry Field (4:29)
05. Dance the Body Music (3:56)
06. Ojah Awake (4:56)
07. Keep on Trying (5:28)
08. Hamattan    (6:06)
09. Sakabo (4:01)

- Teddy Osei / Fllute, Percussion
- Wendel Richardson / Guitar, Drums, Vocals
- Mac Tontoh / Trumpet,
- Sol Amarfio / Drums,
- Kofi Ayivor / Congas, African Drums.
- Kiki Gyan / Keyboards, Vocals
- Mike Odrumusu / Bass

Osibisa's second album for the Bronze label saw them moving in an ever more commercial direction. The drive for the change came primarily from the record label, and resulted in this album containing no less than three successful singles.

The opening "Coffee song", which has been recorded by many artists before including Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney(!), is a mildly amusing but untypical (or the band) Caribbean pop song. With lyrics such as "There's an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. no tea or tomato juice..", the frivolity soon becomes obvious. The following "Warrior" is more in line with what might be expected, but is still very much focused on the singles market. The third single "Dance the body Music" is a disposable KC and the Sunshine Band like song, clearly intended for discos.

It's only when we get into the third track, "Flying bird (Anoma)" that we find a song of substance. This relaxed, mellow ballad has smooth written all over it. Muted trumpet and harmonic backing vocals create the lush atmosphere of a George Benson serenade. The highlight of the album though is the Santana inspired "Sakabo" or "Burnt rice" to give it its English language title. This upbeat rhythmic piece features uplifting vocal chants, incisive brass, and some excellent guitar work.

The remaining tracks, including the more traditional title song which has a "West African sing-a-long feel", are by and large orthodox Osibasa songs. They have little relationship with prog, but are fine examples of their own genre.
In all a spirited, sometimes inspired album. Not really one for the prog devotee, but some of the songs are certainly worthy of investigation.

Osibisa - 1975 - Welcome Home

Welcome Home

01. Sunshine Day (5:00)
02. Welcome Home (4:22)
03. Densu (5:23)
04. Chooboi (Heave Ho!) (5:10)
05. Do It (Like It Is) (4:24)
06. Right Now    (3:11)
07. Seaside - Meditation (5:18)
08. Uhuru (3:27)
09. Kolomashie (4:35)

- Jean-Karl Dikoto Mandengue / Bass, Guitar (Bass)
- Mike Odumusu / Bass, Guitar (Bass), Vocals
- Teddy Osei    / Flute, Percussion, Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor), African - Drums, Vocals
- Wendel Richardson / Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals, Guitar
- Mac Tontoh / Percussion, Flugelhorn, Prensa, Didjeridu, Trumpet
- Ray Allen / Vibraphone
- Sol Amarfio / Percussion, Drums, Bells, Conga, Bongos
- Kofi Ayivor / Percussion, Conga
- Robert Bailey / Vibraphone
- Paul Golly / Guitar, Guitar (Rhythm)
- Kiki Gyan / Organ, Clavinet, Keyboards, Clarinet, Piano
- Barbara Thompson / Vibraphone

Recorded in late 1975 and early 1976, Osibisa's seventh album "Welcome home" comes some time after the period which saw them dabble in prog territories. That said, the sound here is not really that different to their early 70's work, but it is generally more accessible and commerical. Prior to recording this album, the band moved from Warner Brothers to the Bronze label, as Bronze managed the band anyway (hence their appearance on Uriah Heep's "Look at yourself").

The opening "Sunshine day" points the way forward, a well known and highly successful single. The funky, simple, repetitive pop may be enjoyable, but it is a million miles from anything you might expect to find on this site.

There is certainly a pleasant, perhaps surprising diversity to the album which strays well away from the Ghanaian roots of the band. "Chooboi (Heave Ho!)" for example has fine harmonies over Chicago like horns and some appealing organ work too. Those Ghanaian influences do however come to the fore regularly. "Densu" is an African fishermen's song which lists all the varieties of fish which can be caught in the river, in the form of an incessant chant.

"Welcome home" is the most surprising track. This soft acoustic piece is almost a ballad, the accomplished vocal performance being sympathetically accompanied by some fine flute.

After a couple of light pop songs, including the Temptations like "Do it (like this)", the closing tracks finally move into slightly more experimental territory. "Uhuru" veers towards jazz/fusion with the band improvising around the main theme. " Seaside - Meditation" too is somewhat more varied than what precedes it, with tribal rhythms and diverse melodies combining well.

It is difficult to evaluate this album for a site such as this. Taken in isolation it is accomplished and diverse, with ethnic chants and rhythms combining well with funk and pop.

Osibisa - 1974 - Osibirock


01. Who's Got the Paper (2:24)
02. Why (5:37)
03. Osibirock (2:58)
04. Kelele (5:15)
05. Atinga Bells (:34)
06. African Jive (3:59)
07. We Belong (4:18)
08. Komfo (High Priest) (4:42)
09. Kangaroo    (2:46)
10. Home Affairs (4:56)

- Jean-Karl Dikoto / Mandengue Bass
- Teddy Osei / Flute, Sax (Soprano), Percussion, Sax (Tenor)
- Mac Tontoh / Percussion, Flugelhorn, Trumpet
- Sol Amarfio / Percussion, Drums
- Kofi Ayivor / Percussion, Conga
- Paul Golly / Guitar
- Kiki Gyan / Percussion, Keyboards

To begin with, this release is a bit of a disappointment when compared to Osibisas earlier albums. It's at least a more uneven affair than before. The second side reaches the standards of their two first albums Osibisa and Woyaya.
The first side is quite bad though. The first track "Who's Got the Paper" sounds like an easy caribbean dance song or a song for kids. "Why" is slightly better, the first part is a slower one while the second part gets wilder. The title track is a weak one too, not much better than the first track. "Kelele" then, is a live recording. It's some kind of a call-and-respond song, luckily with the rhytms whish are mostly what I like with Osibisa. Best so far. The last track on side one, "Atinga Bells", is an instrumental. It would have been the best track of side one if it was longer than mere seconds.

Call me conservative but the sound of the second side (and earlier albums) is what I like with Osibisa, and belive justifies their inclusion on this site anyway, african Jazz Rock. All tracks on this side are better than any of the ones on the first. "African Jive" is frenzy, "We Belong" a little slower and "Komfo (High Priest)" even slower, until the end that is, where it gets wilder. "Kangaroo" has the tempo and a latino touch while "Home Affairs" is similar in style to "African Jive".

The album is packaged in a sleeve with art not by Roger Dean this time, but an older painting by Henri Rousseau. As good and with the same mood as the two by Dean.

Osibisa - 1973 - Happy Children

Happy Children

01. Happy Children (6:31)
02. We Want to Know (Mo)    (5:56)
03. Kotoku (2:39)
04. Take Your Trouble... Go (4:05)
05. Adwoa (4:14)
06. Bassa-Bassa (4:55)
07. Somaja (3:34)
08. Fire (5:21)

- Jean-Karl Dikoto Mandengue / Bass
- Teddy Osei / Flute, Percussion, Saxophone
- Jean Roussel / Keyboards
- Mac Tontoh / Trumpet, Flugelhorn
- Sol Amarfio / Bongos, Drums

Osibisa are a band mostly known for their up-tempo Afro-Caribbean percussive rave-ups, and maybe because their first 2 releases were lavishly presented in fantastic Roger Dean cover-art (which always is 'suggestive' for prog-heads.....) but that aside, the band produced some fine work which can be considered as 'progressive' music, after all, there weren't many bands (if any, to my knowledge) who sounded, or composed music like them.
By the time of this album, 'Happy Children' (their 4th), they were heading toward a more accessible style but without compromising the 'tribal' roots. Starting out almost in 'party mood' (very up-lifting and positive) we are greeted with "Is everybody ready... ?? - Beautiful children ready... ??" and the title song takes off on an exciting journey of funky clavinet and some well played brass lines with simple but effective riffs. The vocal chants in this song work well, too. 'We Want To Know (Mo)' is similar, but slower paced with some great percussion, cool bass playing and more of that clavinet. 'Kotoku' is an instrumental piece with a beautiful, laid-back melody, the use of muted trumpet giving it a hazy, 'after-hours' atmosphere. Some well arranged percussion tops off this fine track. 'Take Your Trouble... Go' is an excellent track, this time the guitar is up-front (I think it's the only guitar utilised, actually) and it gives the tune a 'rockier' edge. The shimmering electric piano playing (a Wurlitzer?) is a treat, as is the solo percussive work-out towards the end.

The second side opens with 'Adwoa', a vocal heavy arrangement with a string-synth background, some flute flourishes, and sounds more Caribbean than African. Next we have a strangely arranged composition, and possibly the most 'progressive' song on the album with 'Bassa Bassa'. Starting with an interesting rhythm in 9/8, a great Bass-line leading the way, vocal chants, organ, piano and brass enter quickly and occasionally the riff is broken up by a weird semi-tone riff featuring some 'wobbly' organ work - this track really shows us how eclectic this band can be. 'Somaja' is very African, complete with tribal chanting and multitudinous percussion - a very 'traditional' sounding piece indeed. Final song, 'Fire', is another excellent one that has a nice groove to it, a quite jammy vibe and more shimmering e-piano work, there's also a nice Bass-Guitar work-out in the middle. I would have to say that whilst Osibisa may not be appreciated by all hard-core prog-heads, this release is a nice addition to your collection and features exotic cover-art to boot.

Osibisa - 1972 - Heads


01. Kokorokoo (4:54)
02. Wango Wango (4:33)
03. So So Mi la So (3:14)
04. Sweet America (4:21)
05. Ye Tie Wo (4:14)
06. Che Che Kule (6:27)
07. Mentumi    (3:47)
08. Sweet Sounds (5:13)
09. Do You Know (4:46)

- Teddy Osei / Flute, Percussion, Sax (Tenor), Drums (African), Vocals
- Wendel Richardson / Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals, Guitar
- Spartacus R / Percussion, Guitar (Bass)
- Mac Tontoh / Trumpet, Kabosy, Cowbell, Flugelhorn, Cornet, Flageolet
- Teddy Odei / Flute, Drums (African), Vocals, Sax (Tenor)
- Loughty Amao / Flute, Sax (Tenor), Conga, Vocals, Sax (Baritone), Saxophone
- Sol Amarfio / Bongos, Cowbell, Claves, Bells, Drums (African), Vocals, Drums
- Robert Bailey / Flute, Conga, Sax (Tenor), Vocals, Sax (Baritone), Keyboards, Piano.

I can't deny that the quality of their music, the originality of their approach and some sort of nostalgia from my youth, make me a huge fan of OSIBISA, but being a fan doesn't make me a fanboy, and as much as I love their first two albums of the band, must accept that "Heads" is not in the same level, being that some of the originality is lost.
I'm not sure if the change of manager, the more commercial approach combined with the lack of a Roger Dean art cover, made me feel that the band was no more the same one I loved so much. This doesn't mean that the album is bad, by the contrary,it's still excellent, but it's obvious the priorities of OSIBISA were changing, they had grown a lot in popularity and wanted to grow more, sacrificing some of their musicality in favour of a mass appeal.

"Heads" starts with "Kokorokoo", as usual an introduction to a new day symbolized by the sound of a rooster singing in the dawn. This track is as good as anything they did before, still the subtle blending of Rock, tribal music, Funk and Psychedelia with massive use of Hammond is their characteristic, the dialogue between the vocalists and instruments and the native chorus are amazing as usual, a good start for the album.

"Wango Wango" is my first disappointment, seems as if they had sacrificed the native essence that took OSIBISA to the top for a very common Motown sound, something that is not bad "per se", but in the case of a band so identified with their ethnic roots implies a loss of personality.

Thanks God "So So Mi La So" takes us back to the early days, with a beautiful instrumental in which the Psyche guitar combines perfectly with the sweet flute and elaborate percussion, one of the best tracks in their career, the still can be faithful to their roots when they want.

"Sweet America" is a partial disappointment for the long time follower of OSIBISA, even when has some Prog overtones, specially when the flute and Hammond fuse, the vocals and lyrics are clearly far away of their root (seems like an attempt to reach the USA public), but the biggest problem is that the song is very monotone and repetitive.

Seems that OSIBISA were not totally ready to abandon their classical sound, because "Ye Tie Wo" is again a return to their natural tribal sound, with an extraordinary percussion and contrapuntist vocals, the jungle sounds in the background enhance the atmosphere.

It's the turn for "Che Che Kule", their first massive worldwide hit, contradictory to what normally happens, they didn't required to take down their level to be really popular. The song is an excellent mixture of African sounds with Arabic echoes and the most exciting percussion, the sounds, shouts and effects are a bonus,. excellent material despite the criminal overplay of the song in AM and FM radios, a real party of music and sounds.

"Mentumi" is probably the first Caribbean song (lets remember that by this point with Spartacus R the band had 3 musicians from that region of Central America), seems like a mixture of Calypso and African sounds, interesting material despite being a bit repetitive, something we can also say of the next track called "Sweet Sounds".

The album is closed with "Do You Know", an extremely beautiful ballad in which the Rock elements are preeminent over the African .- Caribbean influences, they start to leave their Psychedelic roots behind and advance towards a different form of Rock closer to some sort of light Prog with Pop leanings.

As I said in the first paragraph, "Heads" is not in the level of the self titled debut or the excellent "Woyaya", but still we are before a great band and a solid album

Osibisa - 1971 - Woyaya


01. Beautiful Seven (6:45)
02. Y Sharp (6:21)
03. Spirits Up Above (7:18)
04. Survival (6:19)
05. Move On    (4:34)
06. Rabiatu (5:07)
07. Woyaya (4:27)

- Teddy Osei / Flute, Percussion, Sax (Tenor), Vocals, Drums (African), G
- Wendel Richardson / Guitar, Vocals
- Mac Tontoh / Trumpet, Cowbell, Flugelhorn, ?
- Robert Bailey / Organ, Timbales, Piano
- Osibisa Choir / Choir, Chorus
- Loughty Amao / Flute, Sax (Tenor), Sax (Baritone), Conga, Saxophone
- Sol Amarfio / Bongos, Cowbell, ?, Drums
- Robert Bailey / Keyboards
- Roy Bedeau / Bass

Sometimes the worst curse a band can face is releasing an excellent debut album, after a great release, people expect not only a good album but also better than the first one, something very hard to achieve, mainly because a new band is still in developing process and probably will change the sound, something that fans are nor ready to accept, so we often read about bands being called one hit wonders, because they were not able to at least repeat a good debut.

OSIBISA released a fantastic self titled debut, and almost immediately their second album "Woyaya", in other words they took the risk, but in this case they hit the nail in the head, ""Woyaya" is at least as good as their self titled album, with the advantage of being better recorded and proving the world it was not just good luck.

As OSIBISA usually does, the first track "Beautiful Seven" works like an introduction to the album, in the same way as "The Dawn", this opener sounds like a tribal ceremony receiving a new day, full of sounds of the jungle. But as the song advances we can notice we are before an outstanding band, the beautiful flute combined with ceremonial chants, a Psyche guitar "a la" SANTANA, narration and shouts, surprise any new listener that would not know what to expect next.

"Y Sharp" explores more the Afro Funk sound, with a Wah - Wah guitar, trumpets, Saxophone and a frenetic rhythm, but this is not as simple as it seems, the elaborate arrangements,controlled dissonances and Jazzy feeling, keeps the album in a great level.

"Spirits Up Above" is a strong combination of Jazz and Psychedelia, while Robert Bailey makes the Hammond cry, Loughty Amao, Teddy Osei and Mac Tontoh calm the mood with the wind instruments. But still OSIBISA has more to offer, the beautiful chants and elaborate vocal work combine the nostalgia of Blues with African tunes, if this wasn't enough the lengthy instrumental final section is an explosion of rhythm and melody, simply hallucinating.

"Survival" is what we should always expect from an African band of the early 70's and hardly find, a perfect fusion between the tribal African rhythms, Rock and, late Psychedelia and Funk, carefully balanced in order not to sound cheesy or vulgar, everything is in it's place, again a perfect hit.

"Move On" presents us a fantastic bass and percussion introduction, the sound of the congas, cowbells, bongos and drums melt together in a contagious rhythm, while the wind instruments add a Caribbean touch and the Hammond B3 screams in the background, can't get enough of OSIBISA. But the cherry in the top of the pie is the guitar performance by Wendel Richardson in the perfect style of Carlos Santana.

"Rabiatu" begins with Roy Bedeau and his powerful bass making the way for the explosion of percussion instruments that lead to another frenetic mixture of sounds and moods of the Dark Continent and a touch of Caribbean flavour provided by Roger Bayley from Trinidad & Tobago plus Wendel Richardson from Antigua who plays a killer guitar. The final percussion extravaganza is delirious.

When the listener believes things can't get better, comes "Woyaya", a magical and mysterious African Ballad with melancholic lyrics, oneiric Hammond and as usual perfect percussion, but this time with the addition of outstanding flute solos, one of the most beautiful tracks I ever heard. Even the strong accent in their English fits perfectly with the atmosphere.

Osibisa - 1971 - Osibisa


01. Dawn   
02. Music for Gong Gong   
03. Ayiko Bia   
04. Akwaaba   
05. Oranges   
06. Phallus C   
07. Think About the People

- Teddy Osei / Flute, Saxophone, Sax (Tenor), Vocals, African Drums
- Wendel Richardson / Guitar, Vocals
- Spartacus R / Percussion, Guitar (Bass)
- Mac Tontoh / Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Kabosy
- Loughty Amao / Conga, Sax (Tenor), Sax (Baritone), Saxophone
- Sol Amarfio /    Drums
- Robert Bailey / Organ, Keyboards, Piano, Timbales
- Roy Bedeau / Bass

OSIBISA means Criss-Cross rhythms that explode with happiness, and what a precise name, the first thing that anybody who listens this band admires is the fantastic rhythm section, combining drums and bass with tribal percussion instruments in a delightful way, even Uriah Heep couldn't resist the chance to add their percussion to the song Look at Yourself.

But if this was their only particularity, they wouldn't be added to Prog Archives, this group of talented African and Caribbean musicians blend African chants with Psychedelia in the most incredible and skilled way, long before the term World Music was coined, it's so well crafted that nothing sounds artificial, the music flows from start to end with joy for live and sadness of centuries of oppression and adding a spectacular show on stage.

The story of OSIBISA starts in London in 1969, when three musicians from Ghana ( Teddy Osei on the Sax, Sol Amarfio on the drums and Mac Tontoh on the trumpet); join Spartacus R from Grenada who played the bass and complemented perfectly the African percussion, Roger Bayle from Trinidad and Tobago on the keyboards and Wendel Richardson from Antigua on the lead guitar.

Very soon they found another member, Asisi Amao from Nigeria who added extra percussion plus tenor Sax. and in that moment OSIBISA was born.

During the next two years they were preparing their first album but in 1970 they released their first and very successful single: "Music for Gong Gong" that caught attention from all the world.

In 1971 they release the fantastic "Osibisa" with an extremely beautiful art cover by a young painter named Roger Dean.

From the beginning this album broke schemes, the opener "The Dawn" starts as a tribal ceremony to receive the day with complex percussion surrounded by birds and sounds you could easily listen in central Africa, but soon the vocals and instruments prove us that they were incredibly talented to blend different influences that go from, Hendrix, Santana, Bob Marley, R&B, Jazz and all the British Psychedelia they listened and assimilated during the years they were in England, this capacity to blend styles supposedly incompatible is what took them close to Progressive Rock.

But my favorite song from this album is Ayko Bya, a total tribal chant with an amazing organ to perfectly backup the contrapuntist vocals between two singers as if they were in a contest trying to get more complex than it's predecessor , simply amazing. The success was instantaneous, the offers and invitations came from all the world, from Psychedelic to Jazz festivals, but this guys took the music seriously.

 Osibisa were arguably the first rock band to be called ‘world music’, and the label is certainly appropriate. The band had a brief spot in the limelight with a couple of minor hits in the mid-seventies, but several of the musicians had careers dating back to Ghana in the 1950s. This album was their debut, and from the first track the band made it clear their sound was something completely new on the progressive landscape.
“Dawn” is full of the Caribbean percussion and rhythms that so distinguished the band, but combined with the Roger Dean cover, psychedelic guitars and complex keyboards their overall sound set them apart from pretty much anyone else at the time. Some have claimed that Osibisa were key in paving the way for the emergence of reggae and calypso music in popular culture in the seventies, and there may be some truth to that – the Wailers had been recording in Jamaica since the mid-sixties, and Neil Diamond put out ‘Tap Root Manuscript’ in 1970, but Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer never really hit the international spotlight until shortly after Osibisa paved the way with this album. So who knows really.

“Music for Gong Gong” is in much the same vein as “Dawn”, but here the horn section is even more prominent, and would become even more so after the band stepped away from the more psychedelic sounds in their music later in the decade. But that wouldn’t happen until after “Ayiko Bia”, which features some of the spaciest guitar in the band’s repertoire. “Akwaaba” is more subdued and jazzy, and with “Oranges” the band’s jazz influences shine through even more.

The last couple of tracks seem to lean a bit closer to filler, although “Phallus C” still includes quite a bit of tasty percussion, and “Think About the People” formed the basis for a number of anathematic social-commentaries the band would indulge in over the decade.

I would rate ‘Woyaya’ as the band’s most consistently excellent album, but this debut is certainly strong in its own right, and well worth adding to your collection if you have an ear for ethnic instrumentation, complex percussion, and upbeat progressive music. This is a solid effort, and highly recommended.

If - 1997 - Europe 72

Europe 72

01. Waterfall 4:38
02. The Light Still Shines 5:00
03. Sector 17 8:06
04. Throw Myself to the Wind 4:01
05. I Couldn't Write and Tell You 9:45
06. Your City Is Falling 5:47
07. What Did I Say About the Box, Jack 20:20

Dennis Elliott / Drums
John Mealing / Keyboards, Vocals
Dick Morrissey / Flute, Sax
Dave Quincy / Sax
Jim Richardson / Bass
Terry Smith / Guitar

This IF album was released with "Never Before Released Recordings" stated on cover. What is true only in part. In reality it contains four outtakes from band's fourth album (recorded live in studio) "Waterfall", and three extended tracks from their 1972 tour

If - 1975 - Not Just Another Bunch Of Pretty Faces

Not Just Another Bunch Of Pretty Faces

01. In the winter of your life
02. Stormy every weekday blues
03. Follow on that with your performing seals
04. Still alive
05. Borrowed time
06. Chiswick high road blues
07. I believe in rock & roll

Clifford Davis / Drums, Synthesiser, Vocals
Gabriel Magno / Keyboards
Carlos Martinez / Percussion
Walt Monaghan / Bass, Vocals
Dick Morrissey / Saxophone
Geoff Whitehorn / Guitar

Regardless of the time period in which they created their music, one thing all bands had in common - lot of personnel changes which as a consequence brought to changes in their musical direction(s). This last IF recording found Dick Morrissey as the only member of the starting line-up and delivering material varied in music expression; now it is not only jazz-rock but there's to find very good blues in ''Stormy Every Weekday Blues'' and even classic rock tune in closing track ''I Believe In Rock And Roll''. My number one however is Morrissey's instrumental ''Follow That With Your Performing Seals'' which reminds us on genuine IF - excellent musicians performing superb jazz-rock.

If - 1974 - Tea Break Is Over

Tea Break Is Over


01. Merlin the magic man
02. I had a friend
03. Tea-break over
04. Ballad of the yessirrom kid
05. Raw sewage
06. Song for Alison
07. Don Quixote's masquerade

Clifford Davis / Drums, Synthesiser, Vocals
Gabriel Magno / Keyboards
Carlos Martinez / Percussion
Walt Monaghan / Bass, Vocals
Dick Morrissey / Saxophone
Geoff Whitehorn / Guitar

This whole album brings to my mind a question recently occured as a topic in Prog Lounge-'How much Pop in your Prog ? Two tracks out of seven from this release, 'Merlin The Magic Man' and the title track are just about the measure! Luckily, the rest of material offers more jazz and heavy prog elements; the latter specially inherent to the number 'Yessirom Kid' eccentric not only by its title (however, pronounced backwards it leads to the name of band leader and founder member) but also with its odd sax solo ending. What follows is for me the best track-'Don Quixote's Masquerade' with nice interplay between Whitehorn's acoustic guitar and Morrissey's electric tenor sax. On the B side of the record there are two good moments; in wistful ballad 'I Had A Friend' and closing instrumental 'Raw Sewage'. At first, I was ready to give three stars to this album, but as I consider the words 'excellent addition...' much more appropriate than 'good but...' my final decision is pursuant to that.

If - 1973 - Double Diamond

Double Diamond

01. Play,Play,Play
02. Pebbles On The Beach
03. Pick Me Up (And Put Me Back On The Road)
04. Another Time Around (Is Not For Me)
05. Groupie Blue (Everyday She´s Got The Blues)
06. Fly,Fly,the Route Shoot
07. Feel Thing - Part 1
08. Feel Thing - Part 2
09. Feel Thing - Part 3

- Dick Morrissey / flute, tenor and soprano saxophone , lead and background vocals
- Cliff Davies / drums, percussion, background vocals
- Kurt Palomacki / bass, background vocals
- Fi Trench / piano, background vocals
- Steve Rosenthal - guitar, lead and background vocals
- Pete Arnesen - piano, organ, synthesizer, background vocals

The original IF line-up split up in the mid of 1972 due to serious health problems of its founder member Dick Morrissey. After successful recuperation Morrissey revived IF with completly new crew and they recorded 'Double Diamond' . Material presented on this album differs very much from their earlier releases and somehow indicated more rocking direction which will be consequently developed on their next two albums. From A side of LP second number 'Pebbles On The Beach' attracts with its acoustic tune where dominate strong rhythm giving bass of Kurt Palomacki together with superb Morrissey flute; the real highlight of the whole album, in my opinion at least , is this side closing track 'Another Time Around (Is Not For Me)' where nice melody shines accompanied by Arnesen's impressive piano and Rosenthal's guitar. The B side is more or less rocking, close to its harder edge, except Part 2 and Part 3 of 'Feel Thing'. This 'transition' album is quite a solid cut, but nothing more than that.

If - 1972 - Waterfall


01.Waterfall ? 5:42
02.The Light Still Shines ? 5:06
03.Sector 17 ? 8:00
04.Paint Your Pictures ? 5:18
05.Cast No Shadows ? 7:30
06.Throw Myself to the Wind ? 4:42

Bonus tracks on CD release from 2003:
07.You in Your Small Corner ? 3:28
08.Waterfall (Single Version) ? 4:02
09.Waterfall (Radio Station Mono Version) ? 4:00

Cliff Davies - Drums
Dennis Elliott - Drums
J.W. Hodgkinson - Vocals, Percussion
John Mealing - Piano, Organ
Dick Morrissey - Saxophones, Flute, Vocals
Dave Quincy - Saxophones
Jim Richardson - Bass
Terry Smith - Guitar
Dave Wintour - Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Vocals

Unlike the band's first three albums, "If 4" was not released in North America, reportedly due to management and contractual issues. Later the same year though (1972), this album appeared in its place in those territories. As can be seen from the track listing, no less than four of the tracks on this album also appeared on "If 4" with two ("You in your small corner" and "Svenska Soma") being replaced by "Paint your pictures" and "Cast no shadows". The track order too is completely different, with "Sector 17", which seems to have been pruned back a bit, losing its headline spot to this album's title song. The two new tracks were recorded by a a slightly different line up with a new rhythm section and without John Mealing.

The re-ordering of the tracks means that the album gets off to a much more satisfactory start, with two in your face slices of jazz rock ("Waterfall" and "The light still shines") providing a tight, brass fuelled, attention grabbing first 10 minutes or so. "Sector 17" retains the extended guitar noodling of "If 4", but the sax excesses are kept in check.

"Paint your pictures" is one of the two tracks unique to this album. The song leans on the blues side of the band, the simple backing rhythm supporting an extended lead guitar break and some fine brass. From the keyboards work, it sound like John Mealing may in fact still have been around for this recording. "Cast No Shadows" has a distinctly The Who feel to it in the Roger Daltrey like vocals. The track otherwise has more in common with Chicago than BS&T, being reminiscent of "Does anybody really know what time it is" (to these ears at least!). The album closes with "Throw Myself to the Wind", a straightforward jazz rock number with a toe-tapping rhythm.

For me, this is a far more satisfactory configuration of "If 4" than the UK release. The bland fusion experiments are kept firmly in check, with the album benefiting from a feel much more in line with If's previous releases.

The 2003 re-release of the album has three bonus tracks. The first two of these are a single A and B side which contained an edited version of "Waterfall" and "You in your small corner", the most commercial track on "If 4". The final track is a superfluous mono version of the radio edit of "Waterfall".

If - 1972 - If 4

If 4

01. Sector 17
02. Light Still Shines
03. You In Your Small Corner
04. Waterfall
05. Throw Myself To The Wind
06. Svenska Soma

Dennis Elliott - Drums
J.W. Hodgkinson - Vocals, Percussion
John Mealing - Keyboards
Dick Morrissey - Saxophones, Flute
Dave Quincy - Saxophones
Jim Richardson - Bass
Terry Smith - Guitar

If's discography is not that simple because of the different release not getting the same artwork on simply not getting a release, this phenomenon reaches its apex with their fourth release, which is more or less the "Waterfall" European release (not sure of this though) and this album sports at least two different artworks (one black/silver and one red/white, that I've seen so far). In either case, the line-up has remained stable; including the present album, but it will soon suffer its first and only change (but a major one) after the release of this one. . . In itself the succession of tracks is already a bit bizarre, as there are some live tracks and studio tracks and the way they get stuck together is highly disputable

The opening Sector 17 track (a 10-mins+ instrumental) is probably the one most likely to please progheads with its fuzzed out bass, searing guitar, excellent alternating sax solos, and not forgetting the usual brass section, etc.. we could be in a Soft Weather Nucleus Mahavishnu Forever album. Maybe If's best track with Fibonacci on the previous album and ending in a Colosseum-esque fashion. The following Light Still Shines is bringing us back down to earth after such tremendous start, with the average sung track that brings us back almost to BS&T (well I said almost) and slightly lengthy as well. The track Your Small Corner doesn't have the full-horn section aggression of its predecessor, but it's not that strong a tune either, some parts in the chorus sounding lifted, but I fail to see where.

The flipside starts with the flute-laden Waterfall, which will directly please progheads better, but it's also a more challenging songwriting we face here and its cool psychy flute solo. Up next is Throw Myself To The Wind, which is rather pedestrian in its construction, but the middle section is good. The closing cover of Svenska Soma (I image Swedish Summer) is the second highlight of the album with Mealing's organ drawing the glory here, but the whole band is shining, but not as hard as in Sector 17. Please note that two tracks on the flipside were apparently recorded live, including the closing one.

After the release of their best albums, If will implode and leaving the two sax players Morrissey and Quincy to rebuilt from scratch, and looking for a record deal. They will succeed , releasing two further albums (on Gull Records) with unlikely names under a fairly different sounding line-up (including future Procol member Geoff Whitehorn and Magno on keys), but the charm was broken. Returning to their fourth album, this is their better album, and it's a shame things broke down at this point. While it's difficult to give a "better' album to start with, it's clearly the UA label albums that are the better ones.

If - 1971- If 3

If 3

01. Fibonacci's Number
02. Forgotten Roads4
0S. 3weet January
04. Child Of Storm
05. Far Beyond
06. Seldom Seen Sam
07. Upstairs
08. Here Comes Mr. Time

Dennis Elliott - Drums
J.W. Hodgkinson - Vocals
John Mealing - Keyboards, Vocals
Dick Morrissey - Saxophones, Flute
Dave Quincy - Saxophones
Jim Richardson - Bass
Terry Smith - Guitar

With the abundance of new Prog releases it's easy to forget about groundbreaking works of Jazz-Rock pioneers from the early 70's. Especially when a younger generation were not even born at that time. This piece is intended to bring attention to this generally excellent work of this band from the UK.
The band started out strongly - for that era - before reaching their peak here on "If 3" that was maintained on follow up works, then changes in line-up and a nod towards more commercial approaches saw them - rightly - fade away. (Shortly after, their partial reincarnation as Zzebra had some better moments, but never reached their former best.)

The music on "If 3" is a team effort by very capable musicians who are masters of their respective instruments. This is no one-man band with hired hands helping out. No. here everyone is not only permitted, but compelled to shine - and they all do.

Very tight, well crafted compositions from beginning to end represent a fine blend of vocals alternating with great solos. Not surprisingly, band leader Dick Morrissey's excellent sax and flute stands out, but not at the expense of others, more like an element that bonds things together. And Terry Smith on guitar must be heard to be believed. To date (43 years later) few could be compared with his fluid delivery that's bordering on orgasmic. But really, the whole band are collectively great.

Tight, rhythmic and sometimes melodic tunes delivered in a dynamic and compact way, speckled with great solos. Not a single second of filler material here. The band could be likened to Colosseum (not Colosseum II) at their best and fans of that group would find this album very pleasing. Highly recommended.

If - 1970 - If 2

If 2

01. Your City Is Falling (5:04)
02. Sunday Sad (8:18)
03. Tarmac T. Pirate And The Lonesome Nymphomaniac (5:12)
04. I Couldn't Write And Tell You (8:23)
05. Shadows and Echoes (4:24)
06. Song For Elsa, Three Days Before Her 25th Birthday (5:11)

Dennis Elliott - Drums
J.W. Hodgkinson - Vocals
John Mealing - Keyboards, Vocals
Dick Morrissey - Saxophones, Flute
Dave Quincy - Saxophones
Jim Richardson - Bass
Terry Smith - Guitar

Released in the same year as their first album in 1970, `If 2' saw English jazz/fusion/rock band If deliver a follow-up album that was just as good, if just a little more instantly approachable than the debut. One of the things that makes this album such a winner is that, in addition to the obviously top-notch musical displays and improvisational skills of the musicians, the band have crafted those elements to a selection of accessible and melodic tunes, without really being any more overly commercial. Soul, psych, funk, jazz and heavy R&B styles are all blended seamlessly with a hard rocking sound, with thrilling instrumental runs carefully executed between strong vocal passages. Oh, and it also happens to groove like a mutha-effer the whole time!!
`Your City is Falling' opens the album in gutsy and up-tempo fashion. A catchy tune sung with bellowing conviction by lead singer J.W Hodgkinson is powered by Dennis Elliott's snappy drumming, John Mealing's nimble Hammond organ ripples and relentless dual saxophone attacks from Dave Quincy and Dick Morrissey. The scathing lyric seem to be condemning watching the city you love change around you, the line "Half religious mockeries that robbed the man who died" is especially vivid, and the repeated exasperated mention of "All the restaurants?" just drives the message home perfectly. The gently melancholic `Sunday Sad' is psychedelic and drowsy, with lovely dreamy flute giving way to Terry Smith's Spanish-style slow-burn guitar solo in the middle that bubbles under and eventually erupts with lusty splintering fire, Jim Richardson's chasing bass stalking the whole time. `Tarmac T. Pirate' (check out the full nonsense title!) is a compact shorter vocal rocker dominated by Hodkinson, but the whole band offering quick little instrumental fills around him throughout.

`I couldn't Write and Tell You' opens the second side, with relentless bass, confident sax blaring and nimble jazzy guitar licks that turn into a psychedelic storm, but a sympathetic heartfelt restrained vocal in the middle over wistful flute is a nice break. `Shadows and Echoes' is a smooth soul ballad, showing that the band was equally convincing on slower, thoughtful numbers as the high energy ones. Reflective flute, lovely harmonies, a warm croon from Hodgkinson and Terry's unexpected nimble-fingered fretboard run in the center is the highlight. `I believe this girl's about to fly...' declares J.W on closer `A Song For Elsa', and fly it damn well does! It's a honking R&B stomper with a roaring vocal, furious propulsive instrumental jamming that alternates with smoky bluesy sax ruminations.

Especially worthwhile is the recent Repertoire Records CD/DVD reissue. Not only is the main album sounding absolutely wonderful, but a short bonus DVD of live vintage footage from 1971 is included. While visually it's fairly average quality, the energy of the live performance from the band is intoxicating, and, not surprising to discover, singer J.W Hodgkinson is a stocky mountain of a man, performing with power and finesse. Several of the tracks from `If 2' are performed, and it's interesting to note just how tightly written they are, as they're not all that different from the studio versions, just with a little added urgency the live environment brings.

Running just over 35 minutes, there's not enough time for any filler material to emerge, as `If 2' races through a range of fusion styles and sounds, expertly played by a bunch of top- notch musicians. It's one of the damn coolest albums in my collection, and just as special to me as If-offshoot Zzebra's second album `Panic', and it never fails to lift my mood. It's been in my collection for some years now, and after dozens upon dozens of listens, it still sounds like sheer musical perfection to my ears!

If - 1970 - If


01. I'm Reaching Out On All Sides - 5:44
02. What Did I Say About The Box, Jack? - 8:22
03. What Can a Friend Say? - 6:56
04. Woman Can You See (What This Big Thing Is All About) - 4:12
05. Raise The Level of Your Conscious Mind - 3:16
06. Dockland - 4:45
07. The Promised Land - 3:44

Dennis Elliott - Drums
J.W. Hodgkinson - Vocals
John Mealing - Keyboards, Vocals
Dick Morrissey - Saxophones, Flute
Dave Quincy - Saxophones
Jim Richardson - Bass
Terry Smith - Guitar

IF was a seminal jazz-rock band formed in 1969 as Britain's answer to the pioneering US bands Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago. The main difference was that IF did not have a trumpet or trombone player and featured two saxes instead. Essentially a live band, true to its strong jazz influences IF was probably the only jazz-rock group, both then and now, to feature solos by all the band members, not just by the lead instruments.

They toured extensively in Europe and the States during the early Seventies, performing at most of the major venues and festivals of the day (Newport, Reading, Fillmores East & West, Whiskey A-Go-Go, The Marquee, etc.) and shared billings with, amongst others, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Leon Russell as well as many of the classic rock bands of the day, such as Cream, Traffic, Yes, Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, Ten Years After, KISS, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Like the early Chicago, they were difficult to classify with any of their contemporaries; they seemed out of place wherever they played, and were considered too jazzy when billed with groups with a more rock orientation and too bluesy or loud when billed with more jazz-oriented bands.

IF thus became one of the most highly-acclaimed groups of the Seventies to never quite make the big time, despite good record sales and full venues. The band was managed and its albums produced by Lew Futterman, who had previously produced US jazz/soul stars Brother Jack McDuff and J.J. Jackson, amongst others. Signed on by Chris Blackwell, an enthusiastic early fan, to Island Records in the UK and to Capitol Records in the US, their first album, IF (1970), entered the charts in both the States (Billboard) and the UK, as well as winning a design award for its cover, and was followed that same year by IF 2, also released on Island and Capitol.

The albums IF 3 (1971) and IF 4 aka "Waterfall" (1972) were accompanied by heavy touring schedules in the States and Europe, especially in Britain and Germany, where the band appeared on TV (BBC's Top of the Pops/Old Grey Whistle Test in the UK and one of their tracks was used as a signature tune for the news in Germany). Finally, in the summer of 1972, the band had to come off the road in the middle of a US tour when Dick Morrissey was admitted to hospital for major surgery. As a result of the break-up, the band members went off to work on other projects.

 If is England's answer to Chicago or the much less proggy Blood Sweat & Tears, and with no small surprise the UK answer approaches Chicago's quality and easily surpasses BS&T. But comparing If to Chicago is at best unsatisfactory and at worst is misleading: not more instrumental than Chicago (and no trumpet or trombone), If is also less of a straight brass rock outfit, and more of a real jazz rock group, often coming close to Colosseum or Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, than the pure mushy garbage R'nB of BS&T or Electric Flag. The septet is based around wind players Dave Quincy and Dick Morrissey, the main songwriters. The original line-up on this album will remain unchanged much like their US alter-ego Chicago for quite a while.
Starting out on the absolutely delightful Reaching Out On All Sides (also issued as a single), the group shows a real knack for writing inventive jazzy tunes that have a rock edge, while making it interesting for demanding music fans. All Sides comes with a good searing guitar solo, underlined by Mealing's organ, then the saxes come in a very Heckstallian fashion. Hodgkinson's voice is fairly close to Chicago's singer. The lengthy instrumental About The Box is probably the A-side's highlight, with Morrissey's flute drawing a long solo before the two saxes cut away in a Heckstall manner, allowing for Smith's guitar to wallow much like Clempson's did. This second track is probably the most Colosseum-like of the album. Rounding off the first side is the 7-mins What Can A Friend Say, which boasts a very brassy rhythm'n blues, in this case reminiscent of Chicago or The Flock, but boasting yet another stellar electric guitar.

The flipside is made of four shorter tracks, with the rapid 100 mph soul number "Woman, Can You See?" track, where the repeating sax riffs and chorus and a sizzling solo of the same instrument. Conscious Mind did not steal its name, as it is easily the easiest track on the album, this being the attempt at mass exposure via the single. Best forgotten if you ask me. Dockland is a strange and slow (almost doomy) track, which seem to emphasize dark atmospheres, but Smith's guitar is again the main solo instrument, again a bit reminiscent of Hiseman's tribe. The closing Promised Land is an upbeat funky track that contains plenty of intricate arrangements, but cannot escape a pop feel, but positively said. The bonus tracks are no added value as they are the single version of two album tracks, therefore only adding a déjà-entendu feel.

Recently, Repertoire records just re-issued the first two in a mini-lp format, and I only wish they'd get the license to do the same with the next two, but whether this is likely is difficult to say since the first two were issued on Island records, while the next two were on United Artists. In either case, this first album is an absolute must for those wanting to find the perfect link between brass-rock (since If did not have brass instrument proper, but woodwind instruments) and jazz-rock.