(All Album Reviews by Phil Jackson)
The subject of jest by some critics, but ignore Quintessence at your peril! Sadly most writers do ignore them but kudos to Paul Stump for including them in his ‘The Music’s All That Matters’. He describes them as specialising in ‘Roland Kirkish flute and guitar based rock with mantric chanting’ so that gives the unfamiliar some idea of what to expect. Also, there’s no ignoring the fact that Quintessence sold a lot of albums in the UK (their first “Open Up To You” nearly made the top 20).
Bypassing the opening two tunes, the unconvincing “Cosmic Surfer” and the rather limp ballad “Wonders of the Universe” which do not, I think, show the band at their best, the ‘infectious self-enjoyment’ which Naradia Muni refers to in the original album sleeve notes finds ultimate expression on “Vishnu-narain” with magical flute and guitar work approximating if not quite reaching Jerry Garcia’s acid drenched playing.
“Hallelujad” is another strong track as the rhythm section propel the ‘worshippers’ into a ‘frenzy’- this could have been another “My Sweet Lord” or “Bangladesh” but maybe that’s just me getting carried away!
The original album concluded with two live tracks from an inspired performance at Exeter University in December, 1972 (“Freedom” and “Water Goddess”), the latter notable for some distinctly Grateful Dead type instrumental meanderings.
There are two bonus tracks on this Esoteric remaster, the a-side and b-side of an RCA Neon single released in November, 1971: “Sweet Jesus” backed by “You Never Stay the Same” which is, in fact, “Vishnu-narain” (6 minutes long!) and presented here in reverse order.
However, you describe the music of Quintessence (Stump uses the curious phrase ‘gnostic arcane and spiritual liberty’), their mixture of Indian music and acid rock was a potent one, enjoying a great deal of popularity at the time and indeed ‘Self’ itself reached #50 in the UK album charts. A welcome re-issue.