Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Bruce Palmer—
The Cycle Is Complete


Released 1971 on Verve-Forecast
The Seth Man, September 2011ce
‘Mysterious’ and ‘deep’ were listed under Bruce Palmer’s column of descriptive adjectives on the back sleeve of the first Buffalo Springfield album and five years later, they remained even more in place for the camera-shy musician’s first and last solo album, “The Cycle Is Complete.” Depicted on the cover in head-bowed profile all but shrouded in hair and darkness with the only colour emanating conspicuously from his hand-tinted headband, “The Cycle Is Complete” remains the sole legacy of Palmer’s songwriting set down on wax. Absent for nearly half the period spent in the band he’d helped create, the itinerant Springalo bass player was arrested four times between 1966-1968 with charges ranging from drug possession, speeding without a license and, as a Canadian national, lacking both work permit and visa. In 1969, he would fail as candidate for the bass spot in CSN&Y and then spend the following year gigging sporadically in Canada until approached by MGM/Verve Records to record an album.

This was an inexplicable turn of events (not least of all because Palmer, by his own admission, had never written a song before in his life except for “Recital Palmer” on ex-Springfield drummer Dewey Martin’s 1970 solo album) and what was eventually handed in to Verve-Forecast was a four track album of spontaneously-created instrumentals. Palmer handled all acoustic, electric and bass guitars on the album joined by Ed Roth (organ), Rick Matthews (percussion and vocals), Big Black (congas) alongside Templeton Parcely (aka Max Buda, aka Fenrus Epp, aka Chester Crill) on violin, Richard Aplan on oboe and flute, Jeff Kaplan on piano, and Paul Lagos on drums. This latter-named quartet were members of Kaleidoscope enlisted by Don Hall, who co-produced the album along with Palmer. Organist Ed Roth was a fellow Canadian as was Rick Matthews -- Matthews having spent time in the pre-Springfield group The Mynah Birds with Palmer and Neil Young, who would wind up gaining fame on in the far side of the seventies as Rick James. But in 1971, he was still a proto-super freak providing ad-libbed gospelisations and occasional percussion nearly a decade before breaking out of L7 -- Something Bruce Palmer was already in the process of doing by recording an album so off and under the commercial radar that it guaranteed him no future whatsoever in a sleazy business he’d been in for years. Once “The Cycle Is Complete” was released, the label freaked at the results (but released it anyway), he quit the music business and relocated back to his native Canada only to resurface once -- eleven years later on bass for Neil Young’s “Trans” album and its supporting tour.

The majority of the album consists of a pair of tracks cut from the same hours-long cloth of improvisation that was excerpted and stitched together into two sprawling instrumentals, “Alpha-Omega-Apocalypse” and “Oxo.” However, both of these tracks on the Collector’s Choice Music/Universal Special Products CD reissue do not match with those found on the original Verve-Forecast album. Although “Oxo” from the original album is present in its entirety on the CD, it’s as the final 7 minutes of “Alpha-Omega-Apocalypse” while conversely: “Alpha-Omega-Apocalypse” (from approximately 4:20-9:00) is used as the first 4:40 minutes of the CD version of “Oxo.” Outside of these two overlapping transpositions, about 11 minutes of previously unreleased material is present on the CD version while much of the album version of “Alpha-Omega-Apocalypse” is unique to the album. So, “The Cycle Is Complete” on CD is not...complete.

It may also be worth noting that the titles “Alpha-Omega-Apocalypse” and “Oxo” were in all certainty inspired by the work of the San Franciscan psychedelic artist, Rick Griffin. Not only did the symbolism of alpha and omega litter many of Griffin’s San Francisco ballroom posters but his use of Kabalistic imagery and palindromes came to an obsessive head in the equally palindromic year of ‘69 with his sleeve design and title for The Grateful Dead’s “Aoxomoxoa” album as well as several strips for Zap Comix and his own fully illustrated magazine, “The Man From Utopia.” The final, full-page pen and ink illustration of this latter-named work was entitled “OXO”: a depiction of a character who appears as both Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ simultaneously while expanding his peripheral vision to 360 degrees as a small corner schematic links ‘OXO’ with the electromagnetic spectrum. (WARNING: Do not read “The Man From Utopia” stoned or it will freeze time...Forever.)

“Alpha-Omega-Apocalypse” all but swallows up side one with 16½ minutes of sprawling acoustic 3am Laurel Canyon campfire assemblages. Palmer’s phlanged bass and skeletal acoustic guitar submerges and reemerges beneath amassed thickets of organ passages, percussion and other primarily acoustic backing. Chester Crill’s deft violin seasoning is excellent as is the soaring oboe work of Richard Aplan while Ed Roth wafts in daubs of organ fills, Rick takes care of the percussion (plus evasive, non-lyric verbiage) and Big Black mans the congas.

The brief “Interlude” closes side one as it quickly brings to mind the simple thematic feel of Traffic’s “Low Spark Of The High-Heeled Boys.” Although predating it by six months, it’s a similar low-key and late night vibe of sparse piano and quietly picked acoustic guitar while sandpapery percussion unhurriedly brushes by in the background.

As noted above, “Oxo” is similar in approach to “Alpha-Omega-Apocalypse” as both are a loose weave of impressionistic interplays within rambling yet unswerving rhythmic extemporizations. One of the main differences on “Oxo” is Richard Aplan’s switch from oboe to flute as well as more contributions of unrelated verbal imagery from Rick Matthews while the meandering and unstructured interplay continues with as much flow as there is little thematic linkage.

Utilising only bass, acoustic guitar and congas behind prominent banks of swelling mellotron, “Calm Before the Storm” is hung out in an hour of not quite rain. The mellotron balances and switches between string and male choir settings in front of the late evening backing and it’s this contrast of the organic horizon of the acoustic accompaniment against the towering verticality of the mellotron coursing that creates a mood of fathomless and introspective stillness. Weirdly, no mention is made anywhere on the album as to the presence of either the mellotron or its player. Needless to say, a mellotron parked off to the side in a Los Angeles studio in 1970 was not a common sight but whether engineer Dave Hassinger secured it especially for the session or it was still there after a previous one, it’s there -- and it adds a weight to the proceedings that makes an album already mysterious and deep even more so.