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Quintessence - In Blissful Company CD (album) cover

IN BLISSFUL COMPANY

Quintessence

 

Indo-Prog/Raga Rock

3.31 | 41 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
3 stars Many roads in rock and pop music since the 60s lead back to The Beatles and the fertile cross-pollination of Indian music with Western rock was one of the more popular ones following the Fab Four's brief stay at an ashram in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as their guru. Once George Harrison recorded his famous "Within You Without You" on the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album, the genie was out of the bottle and suddenly every musician was incorporating some sort of Indian reference in their music. While some rockers were content to simply find a spiritual guru, other's like the London based QUINTESSENCE went all the way and developed their own unique mix of jazz and psychedelic rock with progressive touches all completely infused with musical influences from India including full on chants, Indo-raga droning effects and of course the mandatory sitar and percussion. They were known for energetic and dynamic live performances.

The popularity of the whole East meets West thing grew so fast and so big that bands like QUINTESSENCE were literally snatched up after only performing a few gigs. The original line-up included Sambhu Babaji (bass guitar), Maha Dev (rhythm guitar), Shiva Shankar Jones (vocals, keyboards, percussion), Jake Milton (drums, percussion), Allan Mostert (lead guitar), and Raja Ram (flute, percussion), the last of which chose the name of the band implying a five unit quintet despite the band actually consisting of six members. Keeping with the trend, the band members were actually christened by Swami Ambikamanda who was the band's spiritual guru. Right from the bat the band had multiple record contract offers and chose the less lucrative route with Island Records because of the fact they could retain creative control.

The band's debut was released in 1969 at the height of the Indo-rock craze. The album contained eight tracks with most displaying the band more as rockers rather than Indian fusionists since the majority of the tracks are fairly typical and unfortunately rather dated sounding psychedelic rock songs from the era that implement a standard rock, bass and drum base with a passionate sort of Tom Jones vocal bravado. While firmly steeped in rock, the sitar, flute and occasional Indian percussion do add an exotic flare to their sound which for the time was fairly innovative (save The Beatles notwithstanding). Interspersed amongst the rock oriented grooves are segments that delve completely into the Indian spiritual practices such as the fifth track "Chant" which takes the listener on a psychedelic journey into the ashram for a musical meditation. Likewise the album's closer "Midnight Mode" ushers the album out in a mystical mode with more transcendental chanting and Indo-raga droning effects.

While other Indian inspired bands like John McLaughlin's Shakti were pioneers of stunning virtuosic fusion, QUINTESSENCE was a pure hippie band through and through with garage band musical talent, rather cheesy pan-continental fusion and an overwrought vocal style that seemed more fitting for the Las Vegas strip rather than a fitting tribute to Bollywood. The guitar delivers a rhythmic drive for the rock aspects and occasional bursts out some soloing as heard in "Manco Capac," but don't expect Jimi Hendrix or anything even close. One of the most pleasant aspects of the music is the sensual flute runs that sound to me like they could have inspired the flute aspects of Comus' masterpiece "First Utterance" as the style is actually quite similar although not nearly as accomplished. My buddy Ashratom (from Rate Your Music) nailed it when he pinpointed the band as a major influence on Marupilami as the vocal style, flute sounds and other aspects seemed to be primary influences in their more adventurous form of progressive rock a year later.

IN BLISSFUL COMPANY, as many others have stated, is well, rather dated! This is a period piece if there ever was one. This is not something i would choose to listen to on a regular basis. While some Indo-raga and Eastern influenced albums of the day were transcendental beyond the zeitgeist of the era and still retain an avant-garde aura, QUINTESSENCE sounds like they came out exactly when they did, namely the tail end of the 60s in the midst of the drug fueled psychedelic days of the hippie era. To be fair, the band had only just begun and immediately thrust into the studio to record this debut and they apparently were not ready for prime time. While they would improve their musical chops on subsequent albums, they would experience less than peace and love filled episodes that would cause them to slowly splinter off into irrelevance. Despite playing alongside bands like The Who and Mott The Hoople, QUINTESSENCE never quite caught on within the larger rock world. Perhaps things happened too soon for them to catch the right wave. Interesting as a relic from the era. Not a bad album but not great either.

siLLy puPPy | 3/5 |

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