(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
The Garden of Delights label out of Germany must have a humungous vault of live recordings. They always seem to manage to include some great live bonus material on their albums and have also been able to release a series of absolutely wonderful sounding live albums. One of their latest is this gem from Xhol, recorded in early 1970 in the northwestern German town of Altena.
This band started out in the mid-sixties under the name Soul Caravan and were known for playing mostly soul music with a little jazz thrown in for good measure. As things progressed, they gradually started to expand their sound and the music got much more psychedelic and so the name changed to Xhol Caravan in 1969. This same year, the band released their most important album Electrip on the small German label Hansa. This is probably their most important album and I’d suggest it as an introductory point if you are new to the band. In early 1970, the band shortened the name to simply Xhol to avoid confusion with the British band Caravan who were then blazing a hot trail with their Canterbury sound.
The core of Xhol consisted of two saxophonists, Tim Belbe (who sadly passed away in 2004) on tenor and occasional vocals, and Hansi Fischer on soprano, also doubling on flute. The dual saxes is a very unique approach for rock music and provided some nice jazzy moments and some incredible improvisation. Also in the band were keyboardist Öcki Brevern, bassist Klaus Briest, and American-born drummer Gilbert van Wyck III a.k.a. “Skip”. This was a very formidable lineup and concocted some very wild and almost endless freakout improvs.
Over 70 minutes of this disc is contained in the two pieces “I can’t wait” and “Xholenium” which sandwich a really nice version of “Electric Fun Fair” which was the first track from the Electrip album. Aside from a few minor sonic blemishes, the sound quality on this disc is excellent. I found it absolutely amazing that a recording almost 40 years old could remain as crisp as this. This sounds way better than their 1971 long player Hau-RUK and the quality of the playing is much better here too. Like I said, there are a few minor dropouts in the sound but this seems like it was an inevitability due to the master tape.
If you’re familiar at all with the Xhol legacy or you just want to explore the early rumblings of great German jazz rock, you definitely need to look into this release. Garden of Delights certainly outdid themselves once again and, as usual, there are excellent liner notes, pictures, discographies and much more in the booklet. Oh yea, the album wasn’t recorded in that castle on the cover. They just wanted to show one of the really cool landmarks of the beautiful town of Altena. Apparently there are other Xhol recordings from Essen and Hamburg alluded to in the booklet that are of similar quality. I hope Garden of Delights manages to release these as well. As that first track says: “I can’t wait.”