Quintessence - "Cosmic Energy: Live at St Pancras 1970" (Hux Records 2009, HUX 108)
Quintessence - " Infinite Love: Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 1971" (Hux Records 2009, HUX 109)

From Aural Innovations November 2009 update

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concert recordings, and the fact that live performance was the band's true element, makes these releases genuine historical documents.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.

The music continues on the 2-CD Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall set, which includes nearly 2 ˝ hours of music. It's a stunning combination of shorter songs and lengthy workouts, and we are again treated to different interpretations of songs that highlight the Quintessence flair for painting on fresh palettes from one performance to the next.

Among the standouts is the two treatments given to "Dive Deep". On the studio album the song is barely 5 minutes long, yet hints at further possibilities by creating a catchy melody and then taking off into a jam. On the live set the song literally explodes, with 15 & 23 minute versions that see the musicians abandoning time limitations and the imposed structure of the record album, taking full advantage of the opportunity to explore. "Gange Mai" also gets the double treatment, with the flute soloing on the disc 2 version being particularly inspired. In fact, it's the trade-off between the flute and guitar as lead instruments that helped to set Quintessence apart from other bands of the day. The 15 minute "Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga" is another notable winner, giving a good feel for the Grateful Dead style of jamming that had influenced members of the band.

The biographical material in the liner notes emphasize the band's ego-free, communal approach to music and life, and it's clear from these recordings that the result is a near telepathic level of communication, a requirement for truly successful improvisation. As guitarist Dave Coddling says in the notes to the 1971 shows - "Yes, we would have songs with verses and a bridge, but in between would be a no-man's land and we would allow things to happen". Amen…

Big kudos must go to Hux Recordings for not only making these gems available, but also for taking the care to include detailed liner notes. The 30+ page booklets are chock full of history, interviews, articles and photographs. Though each set is separate, the two are companion pieces that would be incomplete without the other. Highest recommendation to fans, and students, of early 70s progressive and psychedelic rock.

For more information visit the Hux Records web site at: http://www.huxrecords.com
Visit the information packed Quintessence web site at: http://www.mooncowhq.ch/Quintessence
Visit Phil "Shiva" Jones web site at: http://www.philjonesmusic.com
Visit the Maha Dev's Quintessence web site at: http://www.myspace.com/cosmicsurfer2009

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Click your browser's BACK button to return to the previous page.
Or CLICK HERE to return to the main Aural Innovations page.