Shiva's Quintessence - "Cosmic Surfer"
(Eclectic Discs 2005, ECLCD 1024)
From Aural Innovations #32 (November 2005)
In 2003 Mystic Records released the debut CD by Shiva Shakti, a collaboration between Phil "Shiva" Jones, original vocalist for the band Quintessence, and Swiss synth wizard Ralph "Rudra" Beauvert. The CD was a mixture of original songs and reworkings of Quintessence songs. Though the band name has changed to make the Quintessence connection more overt, Cosmic Surfer is really the follow up to the first Shiva Shakti CD.
There may be an ocean between them but that has in no way hindered Phil and Ralph's ability to work together to create music, and indeed this latest effort is a 2 CD set. The first disc includes all original music while the second consists of new recordings by Phil and Ralph of Quintessence classics, including two songs originally written for Quintessence but never recorded.
To be sure, Phil struck gold in hooking up with Ralph, and he acknowledges as much in the liner notes. Ralph brings a love for the original Quintessence along with a taste and talent for varied styles of electronic music to the team, which makes for a superb combination with Phil's passionate, expressive vocals and witty, humorous and poignant lyrics. The result is a unique and wholly accessible sound that crosses multiple stylistic boundaries and defies simple classification.
Disc 1 opens with "Reptilian Corporate Sign Language", a 10 minute tune with cool grooves, stinging guitar licks and freaky alien synths that provide the musical pulse for Phil's lyrics attacking big business and its role in creating a mindless consumer culture. Obey… conform… breed… consume. And halfway through the music transitions to a segment where the mood darkens and Phil sings with theatrical intensity. A potent opening track. The mood lightens considerably on the whimsical "But Where Am I", which features some of Phil's most humorous lyrics and delivery. What really amazes me about the song is that it's got a pop song sense of melody, yet there's non-stop action with a variety of soundtrack voice bits and Ralph injects a banquet of electronic fun into the mix throughout. Excellent music and a really fun song. And a perfect illustration of the band's potential to reach multiple audiences… progressive rockers, space and psych fans, and plenty more I'm sure.
"Dolphin Dreaming" is one of my personal favorites and one that will surely appeal to space rock fans. Ralph is a wiz at creating completely cosmic music that works perfectly within a song oriented context. And after several headphone listens to this song I know it could stand alone as an instrumental. But the vocals are key to this project and "Dolphin Dreaming" is surely one of the more spiritually uplifting songs of the set. Other highlights include "Blue is Beautiful", another standout track where Phil's vocal delivery takes front and center stage, but backed by equally creative musical arrangements. "Didgeridoo Medicine Man" is another lengthy track, and has some of the more down 'n dirty rocking moments on the album, as well as some of the more Eastern influenced chanting music, a hallmark of the original Quintessence. And just to keep things interesting, Phil, who is an accomplished didgeridoo player, uses the instrument to embellish the proceedings in ways you've probably not heard before. For something way off the beaten path give a listen to the spaced out cosmic rap on "Everthing is Weird". And for more lyrical fun and Phil taking jabs at the commercialism and superficial use of spiritualism just check out "New Age Breadhead" and "Hollywood Guru Show".
Disc 2 features a set of 9 reworked Quintessence songs. Veterans fans of the band will be pleased to hear that these are no mere re-recordings. In many cases the duo have written new sections, and along with Ralph's personal musical stamp they are truly fresh interpretations of the songs. And there are numerous guests who help to flesh out the music, prominent among them being Maha Dev, the only other original Quintessence band member to participate in the album. Among my favorites of the Quintessence songs is "Cosmic Surfer", with its beautiful combination of spirituality and progressive rock. Part of the magic of the album as a whole is Phil and Ralph's ability to create accessible yet adventurous music. Psychedelic influenced progressive rock with a pop sensibility. The nearly 12 minute "Ganga Mai" is a real standout on disc 2, with Phil and his chorus of backing vocalists taking off into chanting jam realms while the synths, flutes and percussion make for an enchanting spaced out Eastern raga vibe. "Sun", one of the previously unrecorded Quintessence songs, is probably the track with the most potential to be released as a single. "Hail Mary" is the other Quintessence song finally seeing the recorded light of day and is a shining example of the Shiva penchant for spiritual themes. And I love the way the song incorporates elements of Indian pop music and adding spacey raga keyboards and light techno grooves.
In summary, this is an outstanding album with a fantastic combination of music and song, impeccable production and impressive crossover potential. The music is accessible and groove laden, yet the music fan who likes to be challenged will discover countless new treasures with each subsequent listen. Highly recommended.
For more information you can visit the Shiva's Quintessence web site at: http://www.mooncowhq.ch/Home.htm/Home.htm.
Be sure and spend some time browsing this site. In addition to Shiva's Quinetessence you'll find a wealth of information on the original Quintessence as well as the 60's band Phil Jones and the Unknown Blues.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz