[Originally posted April 2013]
This Quintessence of Bliss
The second eponymous Quintessence album, released on Island in 1970, is sublime, and opening track Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga is a brilliant showcase for the stunning vocal of Australian born Shiva Shankar Jones. The song is a broader offering than those on debut album In Blissful Company, with its backing vocal chorus and the foregrounding of flute by Raja Ram. Second Sea of Immortality exemplifies Quintessence’s marriage of a spiritual sound with rock elements, the former by some instrumentation, but largely through lyrical content – celestial wine filling you with divinity/shores of time and space dissolve – and titles, and the latter with the wonderful wah-wah excess of Allan Mostert’s guitar solo that screams into its rampancy after a subtler sweet start: absolute bliss. Third High on Mt Kailbash introduces the spiritual and Indian elements of chanting, supported musically by hypnotic sitar and various percussion – Shiva’s voice itself mesmerising both in the mysticism of its ‘foreign’ language, echoing and inherently resonating tone. The song segues into a live snippet from Burning Bush which is Mostert again psychedelicising with wah-wah and volume: more bliss.
Side 1 of the vinyl ends on Shiva’s Chant, a communal performance that I and countless other teenagers joined whilst listening back in the aural day and which I still repeat when listening now, though as ever, unaware of the actual meanings. Prisms, the start of Side 2 on the vinyl, is a beautiful echoplexed [certainly echoed] flute solo by Raja Ram who has continued throughout his musical career post-Quintessence to experiment with electronic music. This too segues into another track, seventh Twilight Zones, back to a rockier mood though the flute is still spiralling around in a jazzier slant and Shiva’s vocal is gloriously soothing in the mix. A quick Hari Krishna chant Maha Mantra is the eighth track, and ninth is Only Love, exquisitely harmonised at the start with Ram’s flute providing a by-now signature sound, and Shiva’s vocal grows to an anthemic climax with bass and guitar joining the rise until this too segues into another track, tenth St Pancras [live] that features six minutes of Mostert in a superb guitar solo a la wah-wah and feedback: quintessence of bliss. The album ends on another hypnotic chant/drone Infinitum [Conception Barham].
As you will see from the images, the album cover is a wonderful gatefold sleeve that opens in the front centre to provide a colourful inner spread. And for those who are interested, the process of writing a review is always – or at least invariably – an extended one: whilst writing this for example, I have obviously been listening to the album, though as I literally write these lines I have moved onto third album Dive Deep, but more importantly, during the writing I will research, which might be something as simple as checking spellings and certainly trying to get information accurate, and today undertaking that research I have come across and then purchased two further ‘Quintessence’ albums: Rebirth: Live at Glastonbury – a recording of the 2010 performance of the reformed band for a one-off Glastonbury gig [40th Anniversary] to celebrate the fact that Quintessence played the first two Glastonbury Fayres – and Shiva’a Quintessence Only Love Can Save Us, a revamped revisit of Quintessence classics. And to conclude, I am wondering if Dive Deep will also make the Top Fifty……