Unlike most of their contemporaries on Island’s classic pink label, Quintessence hadn’t stumbled bleary eyed from the basement clubs of the British blues and folk scene. The multinational band of gypsies relocated from Australia, Greece and Canada to Ladbroke Grove to play jazz rock with Indian influences while soaking up the countercultural vibe. The group even had their own guru, Swami Ambikananda, who bestowed upon them spiritual names (hence rhythm guitarist Dave Codling becoming known as Maha Dev).
This remastered reissue comprises three Island albums as well as their 1970 single Move Into The Light/Notting Hill Gate. There’s also a live version of Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Guaranga, taken from 1970’s Bumpers compilation.
As might be expected from an outfit who once appeared on the TV show It’s Called God Rock, the lyrical content from chief songwriter Shiva Shankar Jones rarely strays from mystical matters. Debut album In Blissful Company, with its 12-page Barney Bubbles-designed gatefold sleeve, also had the distinction of being the most expensive packaging the label released.
At times the relentless invocations for Hare Krishna/love and peace are a little sugary, and by the time we reach Dive Deep, the title track of their third album, we’re drowning in syrup. While the joys of Quintessence may not inspire us to do much more than float downstream on a beanbag while chanting “om”, you can’t fault the musicianship – unless you have an aversion to heavy doses of jazz flute.
At its best, on tracks such as Dance For The One, it’s reminiscent of the trippier moments of Electric Ladyland. Producer John Barham, who also worked with George Harrison, is credited with shaping the free-form live jams in a studio setting.
There are more tablas, sitars and mantras than you can shake a joss stick at and, if that’s your bag, you’ll beam like Buddha. There’s even an illustrated booklet with liner notes by Prog’s own metal guru Malcolm Dome.