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SUBJECT ESQ. (Ohrwaschl OW010) [1972/71]
The rock importing business in the 1970s had reached a point where two companies were responsible for at least 90% of the progressive imports which turned up in American record stores. The better known was Jem Records in
The 6th Cosmos album was Sahara’s
So I searched diligently and eventually, a year or two later, came up with a copy of the original German album, on Ariola’s Pan subsidiary (the same label which issued the German versions of New Trolls’ ATOMIC SYSTEM and Uno’s self-titled album, both reviewed elsewhere here and here) (87306 IT). Unsurprisingly, it was better mastered. It was also a gatefold album, unlike the Cosmos version.
And, a couple of years later, Ariola (not Pan) issued FOR ALL THE CLOWNS (89377 OT). I was grateful I’d snapped up the import when I saw that Peters had also grabbed the album for their Cosmos label (PILPS 9017) and in the process given it an inferior and rather cheesy cover and rearranged the tracks on the first side (track 1 became track 2, track 2 became track 3, and track 3 became track 1).
In 1993 the German CD label, Ohrwaschl, reissued both albums on CD (oddly, the second one first in catalog numbering). I have no idea what the label’s relationship with Ariola is, but my impression is that in each case they used the master tapes – there is a wider dynamic range than is customary with LPs, and no discernable distortion or surface noise. Interestingly enough, Ohrwaschl had issued SUBJECT ESQ. earlier, in 1991.
SUBJECT ESQ. was the work of a group of that name which began life in the mid-‘60s as a German “beat” group originally known as The King and the Subjects (der Konig und die Untertanen), evolving into Subjects by 1967, and Subject Esq. by 1969. In 1972 they released their self-titled album on German Epic (S 64 998).
At that point the group was a quintet which consisted of Michael Hofmann on flute, alto sax and vocals; Alex Pittwohn on harmonica, 12-string guitar and vocals; Peter Stadler on keyboards; Stefan Wissnet on bass and vocals; and Harry Rosenkind on drums and percussion. The music on the 1972 album was song-oriented, but the album had only six tracks, and side two held only two long tracks. It’s hard to characterize Subject Esq.’s music: it fell into a broad area midway between mainstream rock and progressive rock – an area occupied by Traffic and a variety of other early-‘70s bands – and one can hear in it the germs of Sahara’s music, but it is less individual and less accomplished.
In addition to the Epic album, the SUBJECT ESQ. CD contains almost 29 minutes of additional material, “bonus tracks” recorded live “on 2 track tape” in
Only a year later, in “Autumn 1973,” Subject Esq. had shed Stadler, replacing him with Hennes Hering on keyboards (Hering was from Out Of Focus, a German band mostly given to boring “psychedelic” jams), and had added Nicholas Woodland on guitars to become a sextet named Sahara. Also Hofmann was now credited with woodwinds, Moog synthesizer and Mellotron in addition to vocals, and Pittwohn with harmonica, tenor sax and vocals.
This was the group which recorded
“Marie Celeste” opens with a phonograph playing a few bars of a classical warhorse, segues into some hard-rock guitar riffs, and then segues again into a spacey organ which leads into the vocals. Only gradually does the melody emerge. The piece was written by new keyboardist Hering – a sign that he was looking for a more ambitious band than Out Of Focus for his material. Alex Pittwohn’s “Circles,” too quickly dismissed by some critics, opens with familiar
Despite the attention drawn by “
There’s nothing like “
The personnel had shifted again: Rosenkind was gone, replaced by drummer Holger Brandt (from Missing Link), and
Each track is a polished gem, but the title track (originally at the end of side one), “For All The Clowns,” is the winner of the lot. It has a sublime solo section in which each soloist segues smoothly into the next and the music builds organically, accented by synthesizer swooshes which, in my 1970s Dynaquad four-speaker stereo system, circled the room impressively.
Dag Erik Asbjornsen in his Cosmic Dreams at Play: Guide to German Progressive and Electronic Rock , says “
Both Sahara albums are highly recommended; the Subject Esq. album is largely of historical value and will be disappointing to those seeking more of the accomplished music which exists on the
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