Classic Oz prog-rock outfit get the re-release they always deserved
By the early seventies progressive rock was at its peak. So was glam, and hard rock/heavy metal. Jazz fusion was also rising. It was almost as if a Pandora’s Jar had been opened, unleashing every creative possibility anyone could think of. And while it was generally England and America who were the dominating players, Australia also had its own fair share of talented musicians who were just as eager to spread their own artistic seed as anyone else in popular music. And no I’m not referring to Air Supply.
In those heady days if a band’s title didn’t contain a reference to some illicit drug then it probably wasn’t worth listening to. In this respect Kahvas Jute was no exception. I won’t delve into the background of each band member, as you can read all that for yourself in the excellent liner notes of the reissue released by Aztec Records (all I will say is that some of its members CVs are about as impressive as they come, a literal who’s who of rock royalty). In 1971 they released their first, and sadly, only album, Wide Open. Although highly respected at the time, they were quickly forgotten once prog-rock was usurped by ever changing fashions in popular music.
When the first song comes on, “Free,” it becomes immediately apparently that these guys had been listening to a lot of Cream and solo Jack Bruce. The guitars are pure Clapton, while Dennis Wilson’s vocals owe a lot to Bruce himself. Definitely a nice and relaxing start to get you in the mood. The next track, “Odyssey,” has Cream written all over it, replete with lyrics referring to ancient myths a la Pete Brown. But this is not plagiarism, not to my ears. No more than Cream themselves borrowed from Willie Dixon or Robert Johnson, and made it their own.
“Up There” finds the band exploring jazz-rock territory, in the best possible way. Here the group really swing, where second guitarist Tim Gaze gets to sing, in a familiar style to Wilson. The group rock out on “She’s So Hard to Shake,” where Wilson and Gaze tastefully duel, each proving that they were more than your average run of the mill gunslingers. “Vikings” is another inspired composition, with reflective lyrics, and Clapton-like guitar.
Side two (whatever that means in this post LP world) invites us to experience “The Steps of Time,” with nice acoustic guitar and some effective electric soloing in the middle section. “Twenty Three” starts off in generic rock mode, before a guitar solo livens things up, not to mention a (thankfully short) drum interlude (Dannie Davidson is an excellent drummer, but let’s face it, drum solos tend to work better when heard live). “Ascend” sees the group in boogie-rock mode, while on “Parade of Fools,” the album closer, consists of an extended guitar work out by Messers Wilson and Gaze, who trade licks with competent freak-rock precision.
The cd reissue I am listening to has five bonus tracks, recorded live in 2005. Now before you say, ‘I bet they sound like an old bunch of shagged out geezers reliving their glory days,’ let me tell you, each member is in top form, playing perhaps even better than they did on the original LP, something you don’t hear very often. In fact, this listener would go so far as to say that they sound far more experienced, adding a maturity to the tunes they might not have been capable of in their youth. Dennis Wilson has lost none of his vocal powers, nor his ability to “shred the axe” when required. Back in 1970, this was a band bursting with ability and talent. I only hope that the rest of the world manages to one day stop and listen.