“ESP records is surely one of the strangest companies (and much of their product among the most elusive) in history”. So wrote Lester Bangs in his brilliant essay from 1971’s Creem magazine called ‘Do The Godz Speak Esperanto’ which can be found in the essential collection (and splendidly titled) Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung .
In the age of digital downloads, the elusive part may no longer be true but ESP was ,and remains, a label that specialises in bringing strange music and recordings into the public domain. It has kept faithful to the principle that the artist alone should decide on the content.
The label was founded in 1960 by lawyer Bernard Stollman and originally continued until it ran out of funding in 1974. Reissues on CD were licensed to labels in Europe as ESP-Disk. In 2005 ESP Disk of New York resumed manufacturing and is bringing out reissues, previously unreleased material and new releases.
Bangs went on to write of the label: “Cloaked in mystery, inevitably issuing from New York City, they’ve recorded some of the greatest jazz and most unclassifiable idiosyncrasies of our time”.
The classic jazz includes names like Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday.
Idiosyncracies include Nu Kantu En Esperanto (Sing Along in Esperanto) by Franz Jahger/Duncan Charters/Julius Balbin as well as those strongly linked to the hippy scene like Timothy Leary’s ‘Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out’.
Lester Bangs’ essay focused mainly on the Psych-Rock band The Godz who he describes as “the most inept recording band I’ve ever heard”, although he perversely is full of praise for their first two albums.
I returned to this essay because I was curious to read if Bangs made any reference to another notorious ESP release – Cromagnon’s ‘Orgasm’.
This album was originally released 1969 and has to be one of the single freakiest out there records of all time; I can’t believe I haven’t come across it before.
It is all the more remarkable because while the primitive animal like sounds and general mayhem are quite common in recent industrial noise, black metal and freak folk there was absolutely nothing to compare with it back in the 1960s.
It was, perhaps not surprisingly, the only album Cromagnon made and was the brainchild of a duo Brian Elliot and Austin Grasmere who up to then had produced bubblegum pop. When Bernard Stollman asked them what the theme of the record was, Elliot replied: “Everything is one” and Stollman said, “Go do it.”
For their creation they called what they called their “Connecticut tribe” of seven like minded individuals. Imagine the musical ‘Hair’ on a bad trip and you get some idea of the finished results!
There are pounding tribal beats, screams, groans, chants, sirens …..and bagpipes. The latter feature on the album’s best known track, a pseudo-Scottish number called Caledonia which you can hear on this YouTube click:
The album was re-issued on CD in 2001 as Cave Rock, a title which makes it sound like a soundtrack to The Flintstones and prudishly directs attention away the sexual dimensions which are obvious from track names like ‘Ritual Feast of the Libido’ and ‘Genitalia’ .
Many have written this unique record off as an anomoly or as sick joke but I think critic Raul d’Gama Rose (AllAboutJazz.com) hit the nail on the head when he wrote “Cromagnon’s exposé features the hypocrisy of society in the urban landscape. The pretense of living the bourgeois lie is all-pervasive throughout the record”.
I think Lester Bangs would have agreed.