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Quintessence - Rebirth - Live at Glastonbury 2010 CD (album) cover




Indo-Prog/Raga Rock

3.18 | 2 ratings

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3 stars My property in the Welsh hills is the long-lapsed inheritance of a local clergyman's son, who went to India in the 1970's and was never heard from since. This poignant glimpse into history shows how, for certain Western hippies, the spiritual draw of Indian culture was real and powerful. And the album under review is a rather charming closure for a pre-eminent rock band of this enigmatic tendency.

So, Quintessence... if you run the Prog Archives ranking for the Indo-Prog/Raga-Rock sub-genre (which I doubt many do), using joint studio & live filters, you may find the #1 album is called 'Infinite Love', a 1971 London concert by this band. If you run the live filter only, that album is almost certain to be top, but then there are only two in the list. Anyway, you get the picture: a few of us think this band were great in their day (I still remember the ethnic drums and scent of joss sticks as I sat cross-legged on the floor at one such concert...).

Quintessence, indeed, were so prominent in the underground rock scene of 1970 that they earned the historic distinction of being the opening band at the first ever Glastonbury Festival, where they performed in front of 1,500 members of the counterculture, sharing the bill with T. Rex, Al Stewart and Stackridge. They returned in 1971 along with David Bowie, Hawkwind, Fairport Convention, Traffic, etc for an audience of 12,000. So when it was suggested that Quintessence re-form for the 40th anniversary Festival, whose attendance would be 177,500, with acts including Muse, Lou Reed, Stevie Wonder, Kylie Minogue, guests from Radiohead and U2 etc, there was of course no problem from the organisers. The only problem was Quintessence, who split very acrimoniously in 1972 and dispersed across the globe.

To cut a long story short, the performers recorded on 'Rebirth - Live at Glastonbury 2010' include two key original band members: Maha Dev, the English rhythm guitarist, and Shiva, the Australian vocalist and principal song-writer. They notably did not include Raja Ram, the Australian flautist and subsequent founder of the Psytrance band Shpongle. For those familiar with Quintessence, the 'Rebirth' concert is revealing about the true core of the original music - what Maha Dev and Shiva recreate is not that far off. In particular, I should say that Shiva confirms his exceptional talent - always a highlight of vintage Quintessence, his vocal performance on 'Rebirth' is incredible for his age. Shiva also surprises with his new prowess as a didgeridoo player. Maha Dev falls over a model of Stonehenge on stage, and makes the corny hippy joke that 'I really enjoyed my trip!' - this is a concert with real, if zany, personality.

So what songs do we get? The classic Quintessence mix from far-out spirituality ('Mount Kailash', 'Dance for the One') to unintentionally comic pop ('Cosmic Surfer', and we don't escape 'We're getting it straight in Notting Hill Gate / We all sit around and mediate'), with 'Only Love' and 'Ganga Mai' in between. This selection appears to be not much more than a quarter of the weekend's recordings, due to technical issues. It is a pity because the tracks on offer are of very worthwhile musical quality - had everything survived, I can imagine giving this concert four stars.

Due to the unplanned shortage of concert material, the album ended up divided into 'Part One: Glastonbury 2010 Performance' and 'Part Two: Sattvic Meditation Suite'. There is a proportion of 'filler' masterminded by their distinguished producer, John Barham, who was responsible for their early studio albums. Barham was an intimate musical associate and producer of George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, so his contributions to 'Rebirth' are interesting in their own right. They comprise three short creations involving flute, birdsong and eastern drones. In addition there are three spiritual pieces recorded by Shiva in the USA: 'Shiva's Chant', a type of track familiar to Quintessence fans and it's nice; 'Sunrise', a sung poem in tribute to the band's late manager Stanley Barr; and 'When Thy Song Flows Through Me', written by the guru Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship in California.

If you want to investigate the real Quintessence, obviously go for 'Infinite Love', or their earlier studio albums. To appreciate 'Rebirth' you really need to understand all the background. But for existing fans (or spiritual devotees), 'Rebirth' is better than you might expect.

Verdict: I really enjoyed my trip...

Einwahn | 3/5 |


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