Wednesday, 14 June 2017

"Move Into The Light: The Complete Island Recordings 1969-1971" by QUINTESSENCE (April 2017 Esoteric Recordings 2CD Anthology - Paschal Byrne Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...







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In tandem with free festivals, coloured bread and promiscuous sex - in the late 60ts and early 70ts Notting Hill Gate's Quintessence were at the forefront of the Indian Eastern-Mysticism craze that was sweeping the UK and everywhere else for that matter. Suddenly we were all idealistic hippies - obsessing over joss sticks, fat scented candles, tie-dye shirts, bellbottom pants, beads, bangles, peace-symbols and travels to Goa with a stick of gum in your jeans, a begging bowl in your hand, a flower in your hair and a seriously dopey smile on your face (shoes and bras optional).

I suppose it is way too easy to slag off those doe-eyed days of mushroom madness (I was a fan myself and have the embarrassing tassel-shirt photos to prove it) - but in the blunt and brutal light of 2017 - musically not everything that emerged from marijuana clouds in Notting Hill Gate has weathered the decades that well. Having said that and despite as I say the absolutely dated nature of some of these recordings – if you crave lavish artwork, counter-culture ideas, meandering Sitars and Tablas and Tamboura notes all mixed up into a flute-driven ganga-soaked Shiva-Rock – then there is much to love and cherish on offer here. Hell there’s even a bit of Hawkwind drone madness in the guitar passages of album number two...

On top of that this surely has to be the most sumptuous and best-sounding 2CD anthology of the Quintessence legacy to date - brought to us with Hindu Love Oneness by those blissed-out but talented folks over at Cherry Red's Esoteric Recordings (stop smoking those chubby roll-your-owns boys). Time to sort out your Raja Rams from your Hare Hares. Here are the Swami details...

UK released 28 April 2017 (5 May 2017 in the USA) - "Move Into The Light: The Complete Island Recordings 1969-1971" by QUINTESSENCE on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 22584 (Barcode 5013929468443) is a 2CD anthology of Remasters that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (65:49 minutes):
1. Giants [Side 1]
2. Manco Capac
3. Body
4. Gange Mai
5. Chant  [Side 2]
6. Pearl And Bird
7. Notting Hill Gate
8. Midnight Mode
Tracks 1 to 8 are their debut album "In Blissful Company" - released November 1969 in the UK on Island ILPS 9110 Q (No US release). Produced by JOHN BARHAM - it didn't chart. The UK album was released in a gatefold 12-page-booklet sleeve (said to have been one of the most expensive made at the time) - all of which is reproduced in the CD booklet.

9. Move Into The Light
10. Notting Hill Gate
Tracks 10 and 9 are the non-album A&B-sides of a UK 7" single released October 1969 on Island WIP 6075

11. Jesus, Buddah, Moses, Guaranga
12. Sea Of Immortality
13. High On Mt. Kailash (Excerpt from Opera)
14. Burning Bush (Live)
15. Shiva's Chant
Tracks 11 to 15 are Side 1 of their second studio album "Quintessence" - released June 1970 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9128 (no US Release). Produced by JOHN BARHAM - it peaked at No. 22 on the UK LP charts.

Disc 2 (69:23 minutes):
1. Prisms
2. Twilight Zones
3. Maha Mantra
4. Only Love
5. St. Pancras (Live)
6. Infinitum
Tracks 1 to 6 are Side 2 of their second studio album "Quintessence" - released June 1970 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9128 (no US Release). Produced by JOHN BARHAM - it peaked at No. 22 on the UK LP charts.

7. Jesus, Buddah, Moses, Guaranga (Live)
Track 7 exclusive to the UK Island Records label sampler double-album "Bumpers" - released October 1970 on Island IDP 1.

8. Dive Deep [Side 1]
9. Dance For The One
10. Brahman
11. The Seer [Side 2]
12. Epitaph For Tomorrow
13. Sri Ram Chant
Tracks 8 to 13 are their 3rd studio album "Dive Deep" - released March 1971 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9143. Produced by QUINTESSENCE except for "Brahman" by JOHN BARHAM - it peaked at No. 34.

The 24-page booklet is a feast for the eyes. Fans will know that as much as their sound - the sheer visual opulence of the Quintessence albums on Island were enough to get you interested. Esoteric have smartly repro'd the 12-page booklet of black and white photos that centred the inner gatefold sleeve of "In Blissful Company" - said at the time to be the most expensive sleeve ever made - certainly at the independent Island Records. The colour gatefold inner of "Quintessence" is here (candles, mirrors and long white gowns ahoy) as are superb new liner notes from noted writer MALCOLM DOME that include interviews with the key players - Shiva Shankar (Australian vocalist and flutist Phil Jones) and Maha Dev (Dave Codling on Guitar) with reminiscences from Jeremy 'Jake' Milton - formerly the drummer with Junior's Eyes.

But the big news is new 2017 Remasters from original tapes by PASCHAL BYRNE - a name that's been on a huge number of quality reissues - East Of Eden, Fairport Convention, Gordon Giltrap, John Kongos, Man, John Martyn, John Mayall, Mike Oldfield, Spooky Tooth, Taste, T. Rex and many more. There is huge presence on those live guitar-tracks like "Burning Bush" on the second LP and power on those droning sitar songs like "Midnight Mode" on the debut. The soft and quieter passages on the near eleven-minute "Dance For The One" from the third album are beautifully clear too. A nice job done overall...

Things don't have the most promising of starts with "Giants" - Shiva's voice as deadpan as it can get. But things improve with "Manco Capac" - a Bass and Flute opening clear as a bell as the singer goes on about spaces and spirits. The pace steps up into really interesting on "Body" - a trippy floating song that trashes about with guitars and flutes - shadows of "Nursery Cryme" Genesis in those strums. But I must admit my heart lies in Side 2's "Notting Hill Gate" - a catchy little sucker and a dead-ringer for a single (it turned up on the "Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal" 3CD Box Set from 2005 covering Island Records more eclectic years) - and the fabulous nine minutes of "Midnight Mode" where halfway through the song – it just goes into four minutes of Sitar-droning - the most brill trippy sound that you’ve ever heard - filling your living room like a Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab recording of a Buddhist monastery at lunchtime.

The songwriting seem to take a leap forward with the excellent "Quintessence" album of June 1970 - their first platter to chart in Blighty. "Sea Of Immortality" sounds huge but even better is the crickets/chant song that is "High On Mt. Kailash (Excerpt from Opera) - a swirling drone of Sitars and echoed voices singing in Indian - all of it sounding sexily mystical. The short but pretty "Shiva's Chant" is another winner - itself quickly followed by the echoed flutes of "Prisms" - a stunner for all those sampler fiends out there. "Twilight Zones" speaks of echoes and reflections in the cosmos while "Maha Mantra" is exactly what it sounds like – a live recorded of ‘Hare Hare Krishna’ chanting by devotees banging their Tablas and shaking their bells as they shuffle past the suits going into Oxford Street’s HMV to buy Britney Spears. Another highlight is the almost Gong guitars of "St. Pancras" recorded at the same March 1970 gig that gave up the live version of "Jesus, Buddah, Moses, Guaranga" on the "Bumpers" double-album label sampler. "Infinitum" ends the LP on layered voices giving it some serious '2001: A Space Odyssey' outtakes.

After the head-first dip into Eastern sounds on "Quintessence" - the acoustic "Dive Deep" takes you by surprise - a love so sweet - it will make us all high. Way better is what I think is their masterpiece - the complicated, layered and beautiful in parts "Dance For The One" - a song that captures all the best parts of the band. And the Remaster rocks. "Brahman" offers more audio delight - guitars strumming as the singer informs us of fathomless fountains and worlds within our reach. "Epitaph For Tomorrow" opens well but soon descends into eight-minutes of hippy-enlightenment that feels more Association pop than Quintessence insights. The eight minutes of "Sri Ram Chant" is fantastic - great sound - rich soundscapes - that unique swirl they got as the Vena and Tabla combined with voices singing Indian chants - calls for Universal love.

For sure Quintessence will not be for everyone and there are those who will snigger and poo-poo both them and the times they reflected. But as I said before - there is so much to love here and Esoteric Recordings are to be praised for having the Third Eye balls to put it out there - and in such style too.

Move into the light. I think I’ll move into my man cave with my good buddy - Shiva-Rock...

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