International relevance: ***
If you regard the city of Uppsala (situated some 60 kilometers north of Stockholm) from a certain angle, it looks very much like a 70's progg epicentre. For instance, Uppsala had one of the first and most important music forums. The music forums were non-profit associations crucial to the progg movement, arranging concerts and generally inspiring people to come together and do their own thing regardless of – and opposed to – any commercial aesthetics.
Out of the fertile Uppsala soil grew one of the most influential progg bands of all times, Samla Mammas Manna. Founded as early as 1969, the Samlas appeared at the second Gärdet festival in 1970 alongside stellar acts such as Träd, Gräs & Stenar and Fläsket Brinner. The Samlas may be the best known Uppsala band but they were far from being the only one. Panta Rei was another.
When Panta Rei released their eponymous album in 1973, for many years their only release whatsoever, they had been together for around three years. Now highly regarded, the album failed to make any significant impression upon its release. Sales were poor – was it the fact that Panta Rei had scored a deal with major label Harvest that turned people away from them in a time when MNW and Silence had already established the do-it-yourself ethos preferred by the many proggsters?
Sometimes categorized as symphonic rock, sometimes as jazz rock (two former members of monstruous free jazz act G.L. Unit were hired specifically for the album sessions), ”Panta Rei” is in fact much too varied to pinpoint stylistically. Often good, it doesn't quite live up to its reputation. Side 'A' fares better than side 'B', with three well composed tracks with enough melodic sensibilitues to ensure a rewarding listening experience. ”Five Steps” is a jubilant way to open the album, followed by lush album highlight ”White Bells”, richly ornate with flute and acoustic guitar and quite similar in mood to UK band Traffic. The heavier ”Five O'Clock Freak” on the other hand points to both Hendrix and Soft Machine as well as Austria's Krokodil and ”Weasels Ripped My Flesh” era Mothers of Invention.
Side two is more problematic. ”The Knight” is way too ambitious for its own good, with Panta Rei unable to combine the many song segments to a cohesive unit, ending up with a sprawling, overlong mess. ”The Knight” would certainly have benefitted from a more thoughtful disposition. Oriental flavoured ”The Turk” is better, rounding the album off in playful mood, somewhat akin to city mates Samla Mammas Manna.
Despite its shortcomings, it's easy to why the album has become such a sought-after collectors item. It has more going for it than sheer scarcity. Panta Rei were a skilled bunch with a flair for combining inspirations drawn from credible sources into something original.
In 1974, the band changed their name to Allting Flyter (Swedish for ”panta rei”), and after disbanding, drummer Tomo Wihma who joined Kontinuerlig Drift who released one rarely seen album, while bass player Zeke Öhrn played with Arbete & Fritid for a short while.
In 2012, the Mellotronen label unearthed a couple of 1973 live recordings and released them on ”The Naked Truth”. One of several Panta Rei sessions made for the Swedish radio show Tonkraft appeared in 2013 as part of the massive 40CD box set ”Progglådan”. Recently, singer Georg Trolin initiated Panta Rei 2.0, releasing the album ”Last Ticket to Heaven” in 2016.