(All Album Reviews by Phil Jackson)
The first East of Eden album appeared in February, 1969. The poster accompanying the original release on Deram Records proclaimed “Sounds from every hemisphere fuse and form cosmoramic rock!” The back of the LP sleeve itself was more erudite: “Take one electric violin which blows rock and Bartok, add one flute from the East, mix in Sumerian saxophones, bass, drums, guitar and liquid word pictures.”
The first song is a catchy 5 minute violin propelled rocker entitled “Northern Hemisphere” that includes some memorable ‘out there’ lyrics like “We like the northern hemisphere, that’s where the strangest things appear” imbuing the music with a mystical quality. The utterly eclectic nature of East of Eden is demonstrated 1:46 into the gentle psychedelic ballad “Isadora” plaintively sung by Geoff Nicholson when the beat shifts to ‘ska’ with Dave Arbus’ flute whistling away, duetting with sax player Ron Caines, a ‘song within a song’. “Waterways” is an atmospheric ‘eastern’ piece with slightly melancholy but haunting violin refrain and is described as a ‘Nilotic landscape in 5/4 (answers on a postcard please!) It actually reminded me very much of what Camel would do later.
Steve York adds harmonica and Ron Caines takes the vocal duties on the hilarious blues/ jazz rude pastiche “Centaur Woman” with its extraordinary walking bass line joined by flute and sax. There’s even a ‘bass duel’ between, well York and York the ‘finest young bass player in the universe’, ‘Half woman, half beast, half bass guitar’ is how “Centaur Woman” is described on the original sleeve- fair enough! At the end, free from jazz erupts, is every bit as chaotic as contemporary Dave Jackson’s work with Van Der Graaf Generator. “Bathers” is pastoral, early Pink Floyd inflected
“Communion” is ‘inspired by a Bartok string quartet and, after a brief oppressive opening contains some incongruously light and airy flute and some inspired drumming. Nicholson’s charming vocal style is perfect for the short psychedelic song “Moth” while “In The Stable of the Sphinx” is an 8:30 instrumental that sees the musicians take stock and suddenly become disciplined.
The Esoteric remaster has three bonus tracks, all worthwhile in their own way. The “In The Stable of the Sphinx” demo is 2:40 longer than the version that made the album and I prefer it in many ways despite the slightly inferior sound quality. There’s a harder edge, more of a driving rock quality about this version than the one that ended up on the album. The demo version of “Waterways” is also more daring than the one that ended up on the official release.
There’s also a faithful evocation of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” stretched to nearly 7 minutes that the band recorded in early September, 1969. Some spirited playing redeems the questionable vocals and the band leave with (more or less) their reputations intact. It actually suits Dave Arbus’ fluid, pterodactyl like violin and the strident rhythm section rather well and allows Geoff to play probably his best guitar break to date.
So East of Eden were a true musical collective playing an exotic, eclectic an unique brand of jazz/ avant-garde influenced progressive rock with every musician’s contribution valued and highlighted and every composition credited ‘East of Eden’. Finally, a reminded that Mercator Projected made the top 30 of the recent progressive ears 1969 albums of the year poll.
East of Eden were certainly one of the most original and inventive bands to grace the progressive rock/ underground scene. A more in depth look at Mercator Projected and Snafu and a more comprehensive look at the career of East of Eden including an interview with Ron Caines and Geoff Nicholson, original members of the band, is coming up in the next edition of ‘Acid Dragon’, the small but friendly prog fanzine. Please support Thierry Sportouche by taking out a subscription (at modest cost) to this under supported champion of progressive rock. Let me know what you think on email@example.com