Esoteric [Release date: 27.3.20]
By the early ’70s, a plethora of side projects accompanied the gentle coming-to-earth of Jefferson Airplane. A banner for socially-conscious psych-spiked folk rock, the San Franciscan ensemble was unassembling, its members distracted, often by themselves, and moved to create anew.
For co-founder and guitarist Paul Kantner and the band’s vocalist Grace Slick this motivation had kicked the decade off with showcases for their own compositions taped at the city’s Wally Heider Studios to a template of free-form rock part-extemporised by heavy guests who seemingly drifted into the sessions via an open-door policy.
Notwithstanding the participation of Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist/keyboardist David Freiberg, session guesting from nigh on twenty local scene ‘free-spirits’ including the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, David Crosby (his nicknames for Kanter and Slick give us the title) and fellow Airplane crew, 1973′s ‘Baron von Tollboth And The Chrome Nun’ exemplifies how while this context could fairly suggest it being invested with structural raggedness, the outcome is the opposite.
Hallmarked by a disciplined and rigid integrity that harnesses the raging talent of the twenty and drives forward a production of complexity and density, this is as much a testament to the high standards of its studio engineers as to its writers and performers.
The roaring jam of opener ‘Ballad Of The Chrome Nun’ fast gives way to some of their most memorable songs: ‘Fat’ sets in motion via ‘Flowers In The Night’, ‘Your Mind Has Left Your Body’, ‘Harp Tree Lament’ and closer ‘Sketches Of China’ a journey into the setting sun of Californian counter-culture, long, hot days of laying down ideas now tipping into starlit nights, distracted by great grass, ideals blurring around the edges.
This edition has been re-mastered and restores the original album artwork in a digipack with new notes; while there is no bonus recorded material, there really is no need. ****
Review by Peter Muir
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