The artists formerly known as Soul Caravan relaunched themselves in 1969 as Xhol Caravan with this wild album that melds Soft Machine-style jazz prog with something a bit more rock n roll and something a bit weird. It keeps up these frantic, storming rhythms while the jazz gets out there. It sounds miles away from anything the other jazzy krautrock bands like Embryo and Brainticket did. Mainly because it does stay closer to the jazz.
The first track “Electric Fun Fair” starts off with a toilet flushing before the band all jump in. It makes me think a bit of Zappa’s livelier jazz pieces from late 60s/early 70s with its melodic but hypnotic stabs of sound and ever changing timing. “Pop Games” starts off with sped-up chattering voices and then kicks in the jazz. This time it is at a bit more laid-back pace but still grooving along at a toe-tapping pace. It does intensify half-way through into a bit of wilder honking but overall remains something a bit more mainstream. Side one ends with “All Green” which sees wild, free-wheeling drumming set to a more conventional, organ-heavy jazz number. It wigs out a little towards the end for a few seconds but then calms down a bit apart from a tiny bit of electronics.
Most of side two is taken up with “Raise Up High”. There are almost hints of classic rock with as a proper gravelly-voiced singer going on about getting stoned but then the horns and organ come sneaking in and doodle all around us, getting more and more frantic over seventeen minutes. It suddenly gets all slow-mo and cosmic, suddenly starts backtracking, abstracts about a bit and then hurtles off into wild jazz jump. It is kind of like Sun Ra you can dance to.
It all ends with a quick track called “Walla Mashalla” which is less than two minutes long and whimsical little piece with an African/Eastern feel. Yeah, so there is no point picking up this album if you don’t enjoy some jazz. There are little snatches of strange sounds in here but they are just brief asides from what is very much a musician’s album.
It often gets relegated to the fringes of krautrock simply because it has so little in common with its peers. In fact, you could easily entertain a Blue Note collector with this album, although they would find it a little unusual in places but it wouldn’t alienate them. If you enjoy those first few Soft Machine albums then you would do well to tune into this.
The album made its official CD debut in 2000 in a snazzy edition with a 32 page booklet, nice remastering and two tracks off the 1969 7″ single “Planet Earth” thrown in as bonus tracks. The title track on side A is like a John Barry number with Jimi Hendrix on vocals. Side B is blues guitar and vocals. Obviously, due to the format they are two short tracks, quite fun, slightly cheesy but the remastering is non existant, they sound ripped straight from a dusty 45rpm. Their addition without pause creates an awkward epilogue to a good album.