Esoteric Recordings have, for me, always come up with hidden treasure when it comes to discovering unearthed gems that might otherwise have been lost. Whether it’s Marsupilami, Mellow Candle, Eyes of Blue, Julian’s Treatment, or Galliard, to name a few, they’ve always peaked my interest since discovering the label around ten years ago.
Last year Esoteric reissued this album from a band that originated in the Boston area and who released their only album on the RCA label back in 1970. I first heard a track from the seven-piece band called Osmosis on Sid Smith’s Podcasts from the Yellow Room, and I was completely blown away by their sound.
From what I’ve read about them, the band featured two drummers and were completely off the wall and very powerful. They combined Jazz, Rock, Avant-Garde, and Psychedelic music into a compelling, daring, dark and menacing experience. Led by the late flautist and saxophonist Charlie Mariano, you might want to prepare yourself to embark on a journey with Osmosis’ music.
Mariano started his career in the early 1940s when he was in Army bands during World War II. After his services, he attended the Schillinger House of Music which would later change its name to the Berklee College of Music. He became a leader with the release of his debut album, Octet, in 1949 and would later work with Chico Hamilton, Embryo, Stan Kelton, Elvin Jones and his first wife, pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi from 1959 to 1967.
But let’s get to the music of Osmosis. When I listened to this album from start to finish, it felt like a cannon blast that was ready to go off at any second. Now I wouldn’t compare this music to Van der Graaf Generator, but more like a cross between Frijid Pink, John Coltrane, Marsupilami’s Arena-era, and Arzachel (pre-Egg with Steve Hillage). They also shared a bill with Miles Davis as opening act at the “Boston Tea Party” venue at 15 Lansdowne Street.
The opener, Of War and Peace (In Part) begins with bells chiming and a gong, as if it was recorded inside an abandoned gothic cathedral, as Bobby Knox’s vocals give a sermon by singing “Let us feed, You and I, Of life and death, Of war and of peace”, before shoutsing “AND THE DEAD, BARREL LAND, AND OF ALL BROTHERS, SOMEWHERE OUR WARLORD’S THERE, PICK THE FRUIT OF THE SOUL, LET THE BODY DIE!”
Then it segues into Beezlebub. You can hear the dooming Rhodes, wah-wah guitar and Mariano’s sax as it goes through a climatic free-for-all introduction. The riffs between Andy Steinborn’s guitar and Danny Comfort’s bass create a nightmarish dystopia in a stop-and-go section, giving Knox the powers that be, and a brief section of the eerie nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb lets the listener know that the nightmare itself has only begun.
Sunrise features a climatic introduction from the two drummers, Lou Peterson and Bobby Clark, setting the band up to make sure the engines are revved and ready to go. Steinborn produces a rumbling tidal wave from his guitar and the repeated chant of “Your Love and my Love” moves from normal to intensive speed before seguing into Shadows. It begins in a desert-like setting as Mariano’s nadaswaram (a double-reed wind instrument that is used in the traditional classical music of the Tamilandu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka regions of India) creates a free-jazz style with Lol Coxhill’s vibration.
It changes into some hypnotic moody samba thanks to Danny Comfort’s bass and Charlie Belcher’s organ, making it sound as if the sun is rising for a brand new day, before descending into improv. The piece is beautifully done with some great textures combining world music, ballads, and avant-jazz.
When you listen to Scorpio Rising, you begin to wonder if Osmosis wrote this as a sequel to the 1973 Michael Winner film, starring Burt Lancaster. But not really. Bobby Clark takes over vocal duties on this track, the song having a heavenly jazz-pop atmosphere with uplifting moments from Mariano’s flute. With angelic background vocalizations, it is a different approach for the septet asthey delve into the psych-jazz-pop sound, and here Mariano’s flute leads the way through various mysterious passageways.
And then we come to Of War & Peace (In Full), the band uniting as if they have come full circle. It’s a reprise of the shorter version that featured earlier, a cross between Black Sabbath’s debut album, Marsupilami, and Jefferson Airplane as if they were in the studio together creating a gigantic free-for-all by ramping the sound up to ramming speed. Steinborn lays dome harder lines on his guitar while Peterson and Clark drum duel.
The two drummers bring in the thunder and lightning to create the storms as Mariano wails down the sax, taking some incredible solos, as if paying a nod to King Crimson’s Ian McDonald and Mel Collins. And then, at the last minute, I almost felt a tug back to my childhood, hearing the funding credits from Sesame Street of Joe Raposo’s Funky Chimes before Knox ends the sermon on a climactic note as the cathedral closes its doors.
The booklet contains 16-pages of liner notes by Sid Smith, including an interview with Andy Steinborn about the history of the band that gives the history and many additional details. This is now my tenth time listening to Osmosis, and while it’s a shame that the band never got the recognition it deserved, this album may not be for the faint of heart. It has given me chills every time I’ve listened to it, again and again. Esoteric really knocked my socks off with the intensity of Osmosis.
01. Of War and Peace (In Part) (1:06)
02. Beelzebub (3:57)
03. Thoughts Often Stray (2:54)
04. Sunrise (2:31)
05. Shadows (3:39)
06. Adrift (4:56)
07. Sunlight (2:36)
08. Scorpio Rising (3:01)
09. Please Let Me Go (4:27)
10. Geoffrey’s Tune (3:44)
11. Of War and Peace (In Full) (7:23)
12. Sleep, My Love (Epilogue) (1:54)
Total Time: 42:16
Charlie Bechler – Keyboards, Melodica, Timpani, Chimes
Bobby Clark – Percussion, Drums, Vocals (track 8)
Lou Peterson – Drums
Andy Steinborn – Guitar, Background Vocals
Bobby Knox – Lead Vocals
Danny Comfort – Bass Guitar
Charlie Mariano – Flute, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Nadaswaram
Osmosis – Cherry Red Product Page