Looking for an easy comparative hook to swing Heaven from, contemporary critics opted for Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Well, like both those bands, Heaven boasted a brass section, so that, apparently, was that. In reality, though, the octet was progressive with nary a commercial bone in their body, a wild amalgamation of bluesy, R&B inspired prog rock, with pastoral leanings and a strong improvisational bend. Formed in Hampton around 1968, Heaven's first appearance at the Isle of Wight festival made few waves. Their second, though, created a tsunami. The band swiftly inked a deal with CBS and released their debut album, the double Brass Rock 1 set, in 1971. Comprising only ten tracks, most clocking in at around five minutes, the band left themselves plenty of room for musical exploration. The rockin' R&B of "Never Say Die" was the most accessible number on the set, and probably responsible for those Chicago and Blood comparisons. It was also the least representative of Heaven's true experimental style. In contrast, on the flute-led "This Time Tomorrow" and "Dawning," Heaven happily wafted into Canterbury territory. "Morning Coffee (A Theme to a Film)" was as cinematic as its title, and wove its way through shadowed Spanish plains and into Santana-esque territory. Those are the quiet pieces, the rest of the set is given over to bolder sounds. "Number One (Last Request)" is an exhilarating journey into avant-garde blues, "Number Two (Down at the Mission)," swings into heavy-duty, R&B-laced rock, with the brass smoking Stax style. "Things I Should've Known" roams down similar musical paths but from an improvisational jazz direction. However, "Song for Chaos" is the band's prog rock triumph, incorporating both brass and flute led passages, alongside one of the smokiest trumpet solos ever heard on a rock record. That's brilliant, but the group's epiphany is the epic "Got to Get Away." Opening with a regal flourish, Heaven roam from Eastern flavored clarinet solos across Latin rhythms, through a searing guitar solo, and into funky brass passages before they reach a crescendo of harmonic vocals and exultant horns. All told, Brass Rock 1 is an awe-inspiring set, a jazz-rock-folk-blues fusion that trods down virtually unexplored musical avenues. But even for the time, the album was just too adventurous, with poor sales leading to Heaven's demise. Now this fabulous album has been resurrected and lovingly remastered, allowing listeners to once again enter Heaven's stunning musical gates.
Brass Rock 1 Review
by Jo-Ann Greene