Mashmakhan

Mashmakhan

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Canadian quartet Mashmakhan -- featuring Pierre Senecal (vocals/keyboards/sax/woodwinds), Rayburn Blake (guitar), Brian Edwards (bass) and Gerry Mercer (drums) -- blended intricate progressive rock with resilient jazz fusion-inspired rhythms. As the ten tracks on their self-titled debut long-player demonstrate, they consistently came up with brilliant material, rivalling many of their American contemporaries. Prior to the addition of Mercer -- who was hired after a newly recruited drummer failed to make a live gig -- Senecal, Blake and Edwards were performing in and around Montreal. Among their chosen monikers were the Phantoms, Dominoes, Ray Blake's Combo and Triangle. It was under the latter that they were discovered by producer Bob Hahn during a stint supporting local soul singer Trevor Payne. It was Hahn who brought them to the attention of Columbia Records subsidiary Epic and they subsequently changed their handle for a final time to Mashmakhan, purportedly as an homage to a popular street drug that had recently surfaced. "Days When We Are Free" kicks off Mashmakhan (1970) with a rousing and assertive groove steeped in percussive funk, showing off just what they are capable of. The slightly off-center "I Know I've Been Wrong" begins with a moody introduction, dominated by Senecal's punctuating organ inflections as they shore up the firm mid-tempo backbeat. "As the Years Go By" not only became the band's biggest hit on both sides of the 49th Parallel, it was a million-seller in (of all places) Japan. Although the lyrics are undeniably puerile, texturally the connotations of the word 'love' remain eternal. "Afraid of Losing You" returns with an edgier vibe, building off a solid Memphis-style R&B and some wailing instrumental work from the entire unit. The light and affective "Gladwin" -- the second single from the Mashmakhan album -- recalls Jethro Tull as Senecal's impressive flute runs are adorned by Blake's delicate acoustic guitar, all of which cascade over the catchy, slightly syncopated melody. The trippy "Happy You Should Be" and the extended sonic excursion "Letter From Zambia" similarly stand out and are worthy of repeated spins. Interested parties can locate Mashmakhan and its follow-up, The Family (1971) on a two-fer CD from Collectibles. Caveat Emptor: It is worth noting that due to the time limitations, "Mr. Tree" from The Family is not included on the otherwise recommended anthology.

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