Third Ear Band

Alchemy

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Started in 1968 by percussionist Glen Sweeney and reedist Paul Minns, Third Ear Band was formed from the ashes of a previous Sweeney project, the psych band Hydrogen Juke Box. While generally overlooked in the history of British and improvised music, Third Ear Band developed a distinctive and aesthetically important sound -- equal parts Indian, psychedelic, and minimalist -- dubbed "electric-acid-raga" by Sweeney. Alchemy, their first release, is a wonderful record. With shorter tracks than found on later albums, Third Ear Band here makes excursions into improvised chamber music. In the opener, "Mosaic," which is at seven minutes one of the longest cuts, guitar meets recorder and violin in a disharmonic free jazz summit that fades away before building into a trancy mini-crescendo. On "Stone Circle," recorder lines interweave over an unadorned drum's repetitive rhythm. At times the recorder lines are so fluid and unnatural they sound like they're being played backwards -- which indeed they just might be. Generally the remainder of the tracks run the course between half-structured improv and droning chaos. Comparisons could be drawn to Soft Machine or the Dream Syndicate, but neither quite has the sense of "collective first" nor the repetitive insistence of Third Ear Band. The songs, to quote Sweeney again, are "alike or unlike as trees." For those even vaguely interested in the history of innovative music, Alchemy is worth hunting down.

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