One of the best independent labels currently operating within the progressive and beyond genre Esoteric recordings are not only experts at reissuing and remastering, having been behind the impressive Hawkwind and Man catalogue reissues, but they are also adept at finding new talents like Schnauser, Sanguine Hum & Hi-Fiction Science amongst many others, a couple of which are featured here.
This is review round up of a selection of the fine records that they released or reissued last year.
Fish on Friday: Godspeed
Before cracking on with the re-issues I thought I would have a look at one of the new records Esoteric released last year on their Antenna label.
Hope to artists like Matt Stevens, Schnauser, Van der Graaf Generator and Andy Jackson amongst many others, their Antenna label is the home to new prog bands that they discover and promote.
Fish on Friday is one of those new talents, a Belgian band who released their third album Godspeed through the Esoteric Antenna label last autumn.
Featuring the bass & vocal talents of Nick Beggs, the band, William Beckers on keyboards/percussion, Frank Van Bogaert keyboards/vocals/additional guitars, Marty Townsend electric/ acoustic guitars and Marcus Weymaere on drums and percussion are a superb musical unit, very talented and inventive songwriters.
It’s the measure of how good the band is, by the company they keep, and Fish on Friday are very good with guests of the calibre of Theo Travis, who enhances the beautiful Ghost Song, with it’s stunning musical work, and some fantastic bass work from Beggs underpinning the majestic 6 minute epic as Travis goes to work with his sublime sax work, and haunting interludes, as well as Theo’s flute work on the brilliant Calling Planet Home.
The stand out track on the album for me is Radio, with it’s wonderful couplet ‘And the Buggles Killed the Radio Star’ and it’s beautifully evocative lyrics and the driving rock, it would be a shoe in for a single, as it’s got catchy lyrics, a great sound, and it leads almost seamlessly into 8 minutes Sanctuary, with its great female backing vocals and some beautiful guitar work.
In fact the musical interplay between the band is sublime on this album, and the songwriting is superb, as they blend seamless rock into atmospheric prog and back into catchy hooks effortlessly, and with some vocal harmonies and musical moments to die for, this is a fantastic record.
If you love new progressive music, and lets face it who doesn’t? Then this is for you, a superb piece of music, mixing the finest songwriting, the best performances and utilising some superb guest musicians.
Another fantastic find from Esoteric.
The Gasoline Band
This is a mighty record, the only record from the British based, ten piece blues, jazz rock band The Gasoline Band, formed mostly from American servicemen who had been stationed in Germany and led by keyboard player Fred Schwartz whose vision helped meld the Gasoline Band into the unique outfit that they were.
Originally released back in 1972 on the Cube Records label, it didn’t shift many copies, and whilst the band were popular live, as is often the way, particularly with larger bands, they drifted apart and that was it. Which is an almighty shame, as there is so much power on this record, and when you think of a traditional band with guitar, drums, bass, keyboards and the excellent vocals of Brian Bevan, then you add in two sax players, two trumpet players, a trombone and a conga player. The sound combinations suddenly explode into life.
From the astonishing opening of The Bitch, with it’s guitar soloing, it’s stabbing brass and jazz rock influences, it packs more ideas into it’s punchy 5 minutes than some bands ever manage in a career.
The German influence can be heard in the driving Ein Grosses, and the music is a blend of progressive blues and jazz, creating a unique sound, with such power and a taut groove that you can’t help but get drawn in and tap your feet, as the guitars and brass duel throughout. Tracks like the magnificent Shrapnel and the groove driven World What You Gonna Do, showcase a mighty band at the peak of the powers.
It’s such a shame that they fell apart after this impressive debut, as it would have been fascinating to hear where they took their muse next.
If you love blues and brass driven rock then this is a rare old treat for you.
A sublime record.
Bill Nelson: After the Satellite Sings
Another classic from the expansive back catalogue of enigmatic musician Bill Nelson makes its welcome reappearance here on CD.
Originally recorded and released in 1995, this sees the ever-restless muse of Bill Nelson taking his unique writing style, and working with the then contemporary sound of drum and bass. The result is an interesting hybrid of an album that mixes nelsons languid vocals, his exemplorary guitar playing and some well performed and well mixed beats and spoken word, almost beat poetry, almost rap to create an explosion of sound.
On tracks like Streamliner with its great keyboard work and vocals about the American dream his semi spoken word raps sound a little like Neil Tennant, whilst there are elements of music concrete throughout the album, with the church bells on Memory Babe, with its driving beat and pounding keyboard work.
With its mixture of sci-fi sounds, and retro artwork it invokes the past and the future, with Nelsons songwriting as sharp as ever, and his guitar work scything through the sounds. According to the sleeve notes this was an influence on David Bowies later foray into Drum and Bass on Earthling, and the two albums have similarities. However Nelson was here first, and this is another exciting release from an artist not content to rest on his laurels, from the work he did with Be Bop Deluxe in the 1970’s to his ambient soundscapes, Bill Nelson is a restless intelligent talent and impossible to pigeonhole.
Panic Room: Satellite
Esoteric Antenna EANTCD21033
Originally released back in 2010 this is a remastered and expanded edition of Prog Award winners Panic Rooms 2nd album, the last to feature their original line up.
Much more song orientated than their debut, Visionary Position.
With the line up being the remnants of live powerhouse Karnataka, and with the sublime vocals of Anne-Marie Helder, this is an amazing album.
From the opening Freedom to Breathe, with its fantastic guitar work from Paul Davies, and the keyboard interplay with Jonathan Edwards is great, particularly as they create the soundscapes for Anne-Maries voice to soar. With tracks like I am a Cat, Muse and the epic title track, this was a definite statement of intent from Panic Room and is strong today as it was when first issued.
The musicianship is top quality on here, whilst the vocals and lyrics are fantastic, there are no weak links in this musical chain, and listening to this you can see why Panic Room are one of the hottest live bands around.
Jack Bruce: Somethin’ Els
Cities of the Heart
Esoteric Records ECLEC2427
A trio of remastered albums from one of the most influential blues bassists and rock legends the late great Jack Bruce come from the mid 1990’s, when following a period of personal turbulence he was starting to get his career back on track, and his addictions dealt with.
1993’s Somethin’ Els, sees him reunited with his old Cream sparring partner Eric Clapton on a large number of the tracks, and the old magic is still there throughout, older, and wiser, but they still spark off each other, like great musical partners often do, and age or time hasn’t diminished their impact. Surrounding himself with a band of including Stuart Eliot on drums, Peter Weihe and Clem Clempson on rhythm guitar and with guest appearances from artists like Dick Heckstall-Smith who adds his unique sax sound to the wonderful G.B Dawn Blues, and the wonderful vocals of Maggie Reilly who provides a beautiful foil for Jack on the superb Ships in the Night, and the brilliant Peaces of the East. This album is a tour de force for Jack, his vocals and playing are on top form, and his tight band bounce off each other and there is a real spark here. A fine return to form.
1994’s double live Cities of the Heart album is a musical celebration of Jacks career, and features an absolute whose who of musicians, from a reunion with Ginger Baker, with Gary Moore playing the Clapton role on some fantastic versions of NSU, Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, Chester Burnett’s Sitting on Top of the World and the wonderful Politician (lets not forget that shortly afterwards this trio released the hard to find, but worth hunting BBM album) whilst Maggie Reilly adds her vocals to Ships in the Night, whilst other guests like Dick Heckstall-Smith and Simon Phillips add their magic. As a pause and a celebration of Jacks career so far as he celebrated his 50th birthday, this is a great live album, and a wonderful retrospective covering his career to date, the closing finale of Sunshine of Your Love is as brilliant as you would imagine.
1995’s Monkjack is a different approach to the Blues from the previous albums, instead of being the full on blues/rock attack Bruce is known for, this showcases his piano and vocal performances in partnership with Bernie Worrall on the wonderful sound of the Hammond Organ, and is as exciting as you can imagine.
Sometimes less is more, and here, with piano and organ there is nowhere to hide, and Bruce’s voice is amazing, not just singing the material, but actually living it. Revisiting older material like Folk Song and Weird of Hermiston in radically different arrangements, as well as great interpretation of the Willie Dixon song Third Degree, this features some great new material like Shouldn’t We and Tightrope, and with Bernie Worralls Hammond mixing with Jacks piano, this is the sort of sound you expect to hear in late night blues clubs or jazz bars, and is the forerunner to the sort of thing Hugh Laurie is currently doing. This is a fantastic record and cuts right to the heart and soul of Jack Bruce, and out of the three remastered gems on offer, is definitely my favourite. Sadly Jack died last year not so long after the release of these records, so not only do they stand as a strong part of a great mans musical catalogue, but also as a testament to his brilliance. RIP Jack.
John Kongos: Kongos
If all you know of John Kongos is his hit single Togoloshe Man being used in Life on Mars, or his other hit He’s Gonna Step on You Again being borrowed and sampled by popular beat combo The Happy Mondays for their big hit Step On, then you really need to get yourself a copy of this fantastic reissue of his second album, originally released on the Fly records label in 1971.
Born in Johannesburg, John Kongos moved to the UK in the mid sixties, and was on the periphery of something big until he was signed to the Fly label, with label mates like Marc Bolan. Mixing in rhythms from his native South Africa, and produced by Gus Dudgeon and engineered by Roy Thomas Baker (who later helped shape Queens unique sound) and utilising session musicians like Ray Cooper and Caleb Quaye who had worked so successfully with Elton John, and Mike Moran on keys and piano, they crafted a perfect album, which seems to have slipped behind the sofa of popular culture.
From the opening driving beat of Togoloshe Man to the beautifully elegiac Tomorrow I’ll go, via the wonderful Jubilee Cloud, Johns vocals are superb, his songwriting exemplorary, and his musical accompaniment is spot on every time. He can mix and match moods from ballads to driving pieces like Try to touch Just one, with nods to his native South African beats and rhythms throughout (over 20 years before Paul Simon). With songs that seem spiritual like Come on Down Jesus, or the bonus Higher than Gods Hat, there is a deep intellectual spirituality at work here, along with a songwriter on top of his game, and rounding the original album off with the rousing He’s Gonna Step on You Again (which is far better than the Happy Mondays version) is a touch of genius.
Fleshing out this immaculate package are 8 single a and b-sides, plus the single edit of Togoloshe Man, which is enough to create another album, and tracks like Ride the Lightening and Great White Lady are superb, and it’s a mystery to me after listening to this album why it isn’t held in as high a regard as other early 70’s singer/songwriter albums like Elton’s Madman Across the Water, George Harrison’s Living in the Material World or Richard Thompson’s Henry the Human Fly, as it has great emotion, real power and some of the finest tracks you’ll hear this side of a George Harrison album.
I hope this reissue reminds the world of what a fantastic record Kongos is.
Quantum Jump: Quantum Jump
Formed in Farmyard Studios in 1974, Quantum Jump coalesced around Rupert Hine (vocals and keyboards) former Caravan bassist and vocalist John G Perry, guitarist Mark Warner and drummer Trevor Morais.
This debut album newly remastered and repackaged to the usual high standards by Esoteric Records is a fine blend of jazz, rock and hints of prog sneaking in their as well.
Underpinned by the fine songwriting sensibilities of the band, and their innate musical dexterity, Quantum Jump is an overlooked classic, with some fantastic pieces on here, the great opening Captain Boogaloo, the brilliant No American Starship, and the closing 7 minutes plus of Something at the Bottom of the Sea, which showcases all of the bands versatility, from Warners fluid guitar, Perry’s subtle and intense bass playing, the dextrous drumming from Morais (reminiscent of Billy Cobham at points) and Hines superb keyboard style all brought together to create a magnificent album.
The bands most famous song The Lone Ranger is here as well, in its original album form, and the 1979 remix which hit the top 5. Originally released in 1976 it was named Tony Blackburns record of the week, and was starting to sneak into the top 30, when the BBC banned it due to its drug references and homoerotic lyrical content. Then due to Kenny Everett using its distinctive opening on his various radio and TV shows, the song was remixed and released where it achieved its full potential. Also included are the single b side Drift, and several remixes from 1979’s compilation album Mixing, which subtly updated the jazz fusion sound of Quantum Jump with some more sophisticated synthesisers.
Come 1977 and Quantum Jump reconvened for the follow up to their debut, the brilliant Barracuda, beautifully reissued here in a double disc set including a complete BBC Radio One in concert from 1977, previously unreleased on CD and the mopping up of the tracks from the Mixing compilation.
Down to a core trio of Hine, Perry & Morais, this picks up where the debut left off, with a similar vibe on the record, and of interest to Caravan fans Geoffrey Richardson adding viola, guitar and flute amongst others, whilst Elkie Brooks adds her familiar vocals to the record.
The air of sophistication surrounds Barracuda, and it’s an incongruous record for the time (1976) it was recorded in, of course punks impact is often overstated (after all Disco was bigger than punk, and one of the biggest selling bands of the period were the immaculately produced ELO) however it undoubtedly had an impact on Quantum Jump who weren’t big enough to not be caught up in punks year zero approach.
However the loss at the time is our gain, as what we have here is an immaculately produced, intelligently written album, with some fantastic use of brass and strings, as well as fantastic lyrics from Martin Hall & Jeanette Obstoj, which by dint of having a huge element of care over the production means it sounds timeless and hasn’t dated anywhere near as much as some of the original punk sounds.
The vocal harmonies, particularly on the opener Don’t Look Now, with it’s smooth blend of funk and rock are superb, whilst the strings on The Séance (too Spooky) are hauntingly perfect and the fine blend of funk and rock that is the Quantum Jump trademark is sublime.
The title track features some great keyboard work from Hine, whilst throughout the record the drums and bass from Morais and Perry is superb as they bounce off each other and work as the lynch pins to the record.
Bonus tracks include a sublime single version of Summer in the City, which is a fantastic cover.
Disc 2 is taken up by the BBC Radio One live in concert, where Roye Albrighton from Nektar joins the Quantum Jump trio on guitar and Geoffrey Richardson renewing his working relationship with John G Perry.
The concert is a fantastic testament to Quantum Jumps live prowess and features a great mix of material from both albums, with Barracuda well featured by a blistering version of the title track, Don’t Look Now, Starbright Park and a great version of The Séance (Too Spooky) whilst their signature track The Lone Ranger gets a great live workout and tracks like No American Starship (Looking for the Next World) and Over Rio show their versatility and great songwriting skills.
These two albums beautifully remastered and with some great liner notes tell the complete Quantum Jump history, and are a fantastic couple of records with a real groove and some stunning musicianship.
If you’ve never heard of Quantum Jump then now is the time you discovered them.
John Cale & Terry Riley: Church of Anthrax
Fresh from the Velvet Underground CBS Masterworks signed John Cale to a two-album deal, one was his debut solo album, the rather wonderful Vintage Violence, and the other was this, his collaboration with underground minimalist composing genius Terry Riley (whose A Rainbow in Curved Air & In C were both highly acclaimed)
Taking Cales compositional style and mixing it with Rileys was an inspired idea, as the two men both worked in similar vein, and their styles are complimentary. Despite Riley leaving the project at mixing stage, there is still a lot of Terry Riley within this record.
It makes it’s overdue reappearance here on CD, newly remastered and with incisive notes from Sid Smith, and at points throughout the record it sounds so far ahead of it’s time it is unbelievable.
The opening title track with it’s pulsating and clashing keyboards and insinuating metronomic riffs is an opening statement of intent, and takes Cales musicality out of the Velvet underground, and into a new playground, and with both men operating in a similar vein it is hard to tell where Cale ends and Riley begins as it’s 9 minutes plus musical power sounds like a proto-krautrock epic.
The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, like most of the tracks, are all built round improvisations, and its wonderful to hear them pushing each other out there, as Cale and Riley trade riffs and piano sounds.
The Soul of Patrick Lee, the only track on here with vocals provided by Adam Miller, is the only song provided by John Cale, it foreshadows Cales solo career, with its superb lyrics and great musical performance, and could have easily fallen onto Cales albums like Vintage Violence or Paris, 1919.
Ides of March is another superb musical collaboration, with the stereo phasing being put to good use, and the insistent piano and percussion counterpoint working wonderfully together.
Closing with the short guitar driven The Protégé, which of all the compositions on here sounds closet to Cales work with the Velvet Underground than any of the more minimalist stylings of Riley, the piano is still to the fore and the sound here is taut and powerful, finishing off an immense record in style.
This is a fantastic collaboration between two intelligent and visionary musicians and composers and it is fantastic that it is now available again, providing the missing link between John Cales Velvet Underground work and his impressive and inventive solo career.
Man: The Twang Dynasty
Call Down the Moon
Continuing their remastering and definitive edition reissue of the Man catalogue, and to prepare us for the new Man album later on in the year, Esoteric have reissued two of Mans late period studio albums, 1992’s Twang Dynasty & 1995’s Call Down the Moon.
The Twang Dynasty was their first studio album in 16 years, and is expanded here with the addition of the complete Live at Glastonbury show they did in 1994 over two extra discs.
The band, at this point Martin Ace, Micky Jones, Deke Leonard and John Weathers had been touring constantly since a 1983 reformation, and ended up as the Manbands longest serving incarnation, and in terms of getting down to recording a new album, a 9 year wait is par for the course for the Manband.
However the twang Dynasty was well worth the wait, and mixing their twin guitar sound and vocals, the album is a fantastic piece of rock, opening with a powerful trio of songs A feather on the Scales of Justice, Mad on Her and Jumpin’ Like a Kangaroo, all of which remained as staples in their live set (listening to the versions of Mad on Her and A Feather on the Scales of Justice on Disc 2 & 3 of this set respectively shows why)
The songwriting and performance here is top notch, with the band on top form, but then as they had been touring together for so longer they were on fine form.
Tracks like The Chinese Cut, the rather splendid Out of the Darkness and the closing rocker The Wings of Mercury (which again made it into the live set) are sublime, and show that despite the gap since the last record Man hadn’t lost their Mojo or power.
Discs 2 & 3 come from surprisingly enough their first performance at Glastonbury, and alongside the Twang tracks, it features some blinding performances of tracks from their 70’s heyday, versions of Many are called but few get/the Strom, Bananas and Romain prove that they still cut it as an almighty live band, and provide a fantastic companion to one of the great comeback albums of all time.
1995’s Call Down the Moon was the second album in a row from the same line-up, and the confidence from The Twang Dynasty is obvious to hear, as this album follows on from where that left off, with some sublime musical moments, building on their past the ten minute title track developed from an improvised riff used during their classic song C’mon, which was so good they built on it, and the title track was born seamlessly blending the old and the new, and creating a contemporary Man classic as they went along, yet this was still a departure from the classic sound as Deke Leonard focused more on keyboards than guitar, and so some of the twin guitar sound that was classic Man had snuck away. The improvisational way of writing worked on here, as this is an incredibly great album, with some fantastic tracks on here, like the wonderful piano driven Blackout, the funky Heaven & Hell with some classic Deke Leonard lyrics, and has some fantastic musical interplay between the whole band.
With some classic Man tracks like The Girl is trouble and the original album closer Burn my Workin’ Clothes which gives John Weathers a chance to sing and has some fab slide guitar all over it. The two bonus tracks are the original version of Dream Away and an unfinished piece known as Micky Buys a Round, which show the genesis of the work on the album.
These two remasters are a fine return to musical form for the Manband, and make a welcome return to CD, sounding as great as Man ever did, and are worth getting hold of.
David Sancious: Forest of Feelings
David Sancious & Tone: Transformation (The speed of Love)
Take the prodigious keyboard talent David Sancious, who had been a lynchpin up til 1974 in Bruce Springsteens E Street Band, add his old sparring partner drummer Ernest Carter from the E-Street band and Gerald Carboy on bass, add the production skills of one of the greatest drummers around Billy Cobham, who also contributes to Suite Cassandra, The Forest of Feelings & Further into the Forest of Feelings, and let them loose into the studio, and what do you get?
You get Forest of Feelings, originally unleashed on an unsuspecting world back in 1975, bear in mind when you listen to this, that the immensely talented Sancious was only 21 when this was made, and it blows your mind that a record this assured, this well performed, and this damn fantastic was his debut solo release.
Cobham’s production was a masterstroke, as it allows each performer to breathe, each note to resonate, and this falls somewhere between the prog work of keyboard players like Dave Greenslade, and the more full on jazz of Cobham, and is a million light years away from the working man rock of Springsteen.
From the opening Suite Cassandra, with its mix of classical, jazz, and progressive themes all building and flitting from one mood to the other. With Cobham producing of course there’s going to be comparisons with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which is inevitable, but Sancious is very much his own composer. One of the stand out pieces on here is Sancious obvious reworking of Dixie, into a far more contemporary piece with nods towards the race relations movement, and turning it into a darker piece.
With some superb performances throughout from Carter & Carboy, this is a true power trio at work, particularly on some of the moments within title track as Carters drumming is relentless, and ably complimenting Sancious stunning playing.
Nicely rounded out with the bonus track Promise of Light, which offers a melodic contrast to what, has gone before, this is a stunning debut from Sancious, laying down a marker as to what will follow.
What did follow was 1976’s Transformation (The Speed of Love) where the band was now called Tone, and Sancious was keen to progress his sound from the debut album, also the band had been working together as tight unit, so there is a lot of confidence and power about the band on this ambitious second album.
Produced by another musical alumni Bruce Botnik, who also worked with the Doors, the progressive influence is also shown here, on the title track, which takes up the whole of what would have been side two, but more on that later.
Coming to the fore on this album alongside his keyboard skills is Sancious ferocious guitar playing, particularly on the tremendous opener Piktors Metamorphosis, whilst the 8 minute plus majesty of Sky Church Hymn #9 is inspired by Jimi Hendrix, and features some astonishing slide guitar, and the work of Carter & Carboy cannot be praised enough, their style and tone works so well with Sancious, and live I can imagine they would have blown anyone away.
The fourth track on the album, the 18 minute epic Transformation (The speed of love) manages to distil all the disparate influences and styles that Sancious and Tone were so adept in into one long piece of music, that is effortless in its beauty and majesty and the intensity of the piece, with the trio all bouncing off each other, is an art form in itself. The way that Sancious works the keyboards and drives the piece along is wonderful to hear whilst the drumming of Carter and the subtle insinuating bass of Carboy is a joy to hear.
When the power trio works well it is indisputably the finest combination in music, and here we have a jazz/prog/rock power trio at the peak of their game, giving us some phenomenal music.
These two albums are an absolute must own for any fan of early to mid 70’s keyboard work.
All these releases can be found at http://www.esotericrecordings.com