THIRD EAR BAND – Alchemy

Harvest 1969 / Esoteric 2019

THIRD EAR BAND –
Alchemy

Tribal brewing from British combo with alien tones were rooted in traditional tunes – refined and expanded for further focus.

They may have played in Hyde Park on the same bill as THE STONES and KING CRIMSON in 1969 and shared the stage with THE WHO at the Isle of White festival a little later, yet in terms of intensity THIRD EAR BAND seemed totally opposed to their more prominent and longer lasting contemporaries. While others rolled on, dwelling on a single note or two for a protracted period of time – where time could take on very irregular signatures – was typical for the English quartet whose relation to rock had always been tenuous. Nevertheless, in the climate of the day, the ensemble entered progressive stream and got ahead of the curve by confessing minimalism much earlier than many an avant-garde-minded artist, and their debut still affects the listener’s psyche fifty years on.

Although the foursome ascribed their efforts to a raga tradition, what they did had a lot in common with traditional Celtic drone, rather than with Indian lore, but the album’s opener “Mosaic” oozes exotica once plucked cello has met the bow and ushered pipes in, for the resulting mesmeric miasma to be spiced up by hand drums without leaving its chimes-laden chamber soundscape. Still, if pieces such as shamanic, yet static, “Druid One” (also present on this double-CD reissue in a lengthier, albeit less abstract, take from the band’s BBC session and in a fantastic rendition from the group’s next line-up) suggest claustrophobia, the multidimensional, momentum-gaining expanse of a 10-minute “Ghetto Raga” – which Glen Sweeney’s tabla and Paul Minns’ oboe and recorders drive towards delirium – is as exposed to elements as it gets for the players who participated in pagan rituals at Glastonbury Tor.

It’s whence that the strangely jubilant “Stone Circle” emerged to wrap heartbeat in the thick, but breathing, web of woodwind, while the strings-drenched “Egyptian Book Of The Dead” plunges into modal play, simultaneously plumbing low frequencies and scaling high notes to an increasingly horrific effect which is dispelled when the Eastern sonics of “Area Three” blow up and expire to leave cosmic conscience cleansed. Whereas the many incidental parallels in “Dragon Lines” render this piece cinematic, “Lark Rise” offers a simple folk motif and reveals the inspiration behind most of the album’s tunes, yet two takes on “Hyde Park Raga” – one laid down at Abbey Road, the other delivered for the Beeb – reflect the most perfect blend of so disparate, sources, and it’s a pity the track didn’t make the LP cut.

Neither did the three melodies the ensemble recorded early on, in 1968, even though the humbler-in-scope “Devil’s Weed” and “Cosmic Trip” feel as mind-boggling as the album’s material, but 1969’s “Unity” is given sparse grandeur of symphonic sort, with specters of Ravel and Ligeti lurking in penumbral agitation, and “The Sea” anticipates electronic escapades of the nearest future. For TEB the future would hold music to Roman Polanski’s “Macbeth” – their most memorable work – yet “Alchemy” remains as magical as it was supposed to be.

*****

July 10, 2019

Category(s): Reissues
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