Vertigo 1969 / Dunhill 1970 / Esoteric 2017
When containers groan as they come together, intrepid English explorers create ritual recipes of immortality.
It’s a rare instance of invoking greatness in transition: on the way from debut LP that outlined their instrumental brilliance to a resplendent ensemble able to conjure magic out of every sound, COLOSSEUM came up with what can be considered the collective’s finest hour. This record pushed them ahead of the curve many of that era’s experimental works attempted to cut, and secured the group’s place on a pedestal of eternal respect despite some less impressive, in comparison to the album’s overall grandeur, moments.
It’s all about the energy so, without much ado, the band delve into “The Kettle” whose steamy funk, tied into nervous knots by John Hiseman‘s jazzy drumming and Tony Reeves‘ fuzzy bass, is pierced with James Litherland’s bluesy guitar and voice – all multi-tracked to create a throbbing wall of many colors – to a gripping effect, before Dick Heckstall-Smith‘s saxes blare the elegant glory in “Elegy” where the album truly takes off. By the time it reaches “Butty’s Blues” that’s almost orchestral in the thickness of the quintet’s riveting interplay, traditional forms blur into something defying a particular genre’s definition; that’s why the three-part titular epic is such a fabulous expanse of ideas so daring as to place what had essentially been a rhythm-and-blues combo – whose roots are bared here in a then-unreleased playful “Tell Me Now” – in a progressive category.
The group’s magnum opus, driven and embroidered by Dave Greenslade’s organ and vibes, may meander melodically in an adventurous way to allow each player come forward and shine, yet it never loses its focus: from a Bach’s fugue to faux dixieland to renaissance chorale, there’s grandiosity delivered with a lot of gusto. Singled out and expanded as a fantastically textured standalone feature a few months down the line, “The Grass Is Always Greener,” the epic’s intense closing section, would be picked as a title for the collective’s American debut: comprised of three tracks cut anew, with Clen Clempson as a six-string and singing force, three freshly fashioned pieces, and “Elegy” which retained its initial shape.
Vice versa to the title track of the U.S. album that’s placed on the second CD of this reissue, the originally somewhat breezy “The Machine Demands A Sacrifice” gets shortened but fleshed out to become muscular, a flute caress notwithstanding, whereas the band’s wigout take on Ravel’s “Bolero” comes across as a demonstration of their strengths rather than telepathy. There’s a deeper scope, though, to “Jumping Off The Sun” whose bells-enhanced vigor is possessed with artsy, infectious heaviness, while sophisticated, if mellifluous, vocal harmomies render the mostly acoustic “Rope Ladder To The Moon” irresistibly airy, unlike the laughter-hiding “Lost Angeles” which is hot and humid thanks to the brass licks and hefty pounding of rhythm section whence wah-wah soars and dives.
The group would add another dimension to some of the LP’s pieces on their "Live" album yet, as it is, this record has never ceased to amaze.