Monday, August 17, 2015
Asoka - s/t. 1971 Sweden
UMR feature of Taste of Blues
CD reissue: 2005 Mellotronen (includes "Take Off" archival release)
LP reissue: 2005 Mellotronen
LP release of "Take Off": 2005 Mellotronen (archival recordings from 1968 to 1973)
Release details: Originals are stored in a single sleeve cover and are very rare and expensive. My first exposure to the album was via a bootleg CD edition that I picked up from a large collection buy in the late 90s. It wasn't until 2005, that legit reissues finally surfaced. The CD comes in a fine tri-fold digipak with a history of the band, and as a bonus, a full album's worth of archival material. On LP, this archival album was issued separately as "Take Off". The original album was issued on LP as well. 10 years later, and it appears the pirates are back in the Asoka business, as these reissues are becoming more and more difficult to source.
Notes: Asoka were formed from the ashes of Taste of Blues (see link above). Two-fifths of that group reformed into a new band called Take Off (more on that below), and then later merged with the rhythm section of another Malmo outfit called (appropriately enough) Rhythm and Blues, Inc. The Asoka album opens in blistering fashion, with fuzz bass blasting in your face while loud guitars pile on top. 'Ataraxia' continues in similar form, with an excellent organ solo. From here, it's a smorgasbord of early Swedish proto-prog, with the usual strong accent on blues rock overriding a jazzy undercurrent. As is often the case, the tracks sung in Swedish flow more natural than those in English. Highlights, beyond the two opening tracks, include '1975', the violin driven 'If You Feel', the very Swedish 'Tvivlaren', and the Uriah Heep like 'I'm Trying (To Find a Way to Paradise)'. Overall, Asoka is more progressive than say November or Midsommar, and the album prepared local listeners to one day be prepared for the awesome heavy progressive rock outfit Trettioariga Kriget. After a few incarnations, Asoka evolved into the also much recommended Lotus.
Notes for "Take Off": As mentioned above, Take Off was the interim group between Taste of Blues and Asoka. This archival compilation includes tracks from Asoka Mk. 2 and Mk. 3 (both recorded after the LP proper), Taste of Blues, and one extended piece from Take Off. The liner notes and ordering of the tracks are an historian's nightmare, however. The album starts with the best recorded track, the superb 'The Seeker', which clearly demonstrates that Asoka Mk. 3 sounded like Lotus at this point. Lotus, of course, being the next incarnation of Asoka. The liner notes make a reference that the band's twin guitar harmonies are "in the vein of Thin Lizzy 1977". Leading many to think this was recorded in 1977. No - it's just referencing Thin Lizzy circa 1977. The track was likely recorded in 1973 at the very end of Asoka's career. And in similar fashion, 'At El-Yago 9-3', the liner notes state it's an early version of a Lotus track released in 1974 (which is when the first Lotus album came out). Meaning, this was probably recorded in 1973 as well. Then there are three tracks, including two cover tunes, where the only cross reference is the writing credits on the one self-penned number go to the members of Asoka Mk. 2, which places the date around '71 or '72 . Though it's anyone's guess if the two cover tracks are from the same session. These songs are all interesting, very much in the same vein as the original LP. Though the sound quality is noticeably inferior. Tracks 6 and 7 are live recordings from Taste of Blues that (finally) have been appended a date, and these are both from 1968. Again, the sound quality is a bit iffy, but for the time and place, these are a couple of nice psychedelic blues rock nuggets. And the last track has to be considered the gem of the set (along with 'The Seeker'). This is the only known recording from Take Off (1970), and it's a fine period-piece psychedelic jam, sounding more like Flasket Brinner or International Harvester at this point. Would have loved to hear more from this bunch. Overall a worthy set for an archival album, though I'd recommend the CD since the album is included as bonus tracks - which, in essence, is really what they are.