One of the most original and innovative Krautrock bands, Embryo fused traditional ethnic music with their own jazzy space rock style. Over an existence spanning decades, during which Christian Burchard became the only consistent member, the group traveled the world, playing with hundreds of different musicians and releasing over 20 records.
Originally a jazzy space rock band, Embryo were formed in 1969 in Munich, Germany, by former R&B and jazz organist Christian Burchard (vibraphone, hammer dulcimer, percussion, marimba), Edgar Hofmann (saxophone), Lothar Meid (bass), Jimmy Jackson (organ), Dieter Serfas (drums, percussion), Wolfgang Paap (drums), Ingo Schmidt (saxophone), and John Kelly (guitar). However, the lineup was already different by the time sessions for their debut album began. The resulting record, Opal (1970), is considered Embryo's masterpiece of their early, more psychedelic sound. By the time of Embryo's Rache (1971), the group was already adding ethnic touches to its music.
In 1972, the same year they played at the Olympic Games in Munich, Embryo were invited by the Goethe Institute to tour Northern Africa and Portugal. In Morocco, the band was fascinated by the different tonal scales used by Moroccan musicians, profoundly shaping the group's music to come. In 1973, the band was joined by saxophonist Charlie Mariano and guitarist Roman Bunka, who were both influential in moving Embryo toward their genre-blending mixture of space rock and ethnic sounds. We Keep On, released in 1973, was the most successful album in the group's career.
However, after Surfin' (1974) and Bad Heads & Bad Cats (1975), Burchard decided Embryo were moving in too commercial a direction and led them on an eight-month excursion to India, where they met local musicians. Shobha Gurtu, an Indian singer the bandmembers met during their travels, would later record an album with them, 1979's Apo Calypso. Embryo also set up their own record label, Schneeball, with the rock band Checkpoint Charlie during this time, releasing such albums as 1979's Embryo's Reise and 1982's La Blama Sparozzi - Zwischenzonen on the imprint. Embryo also took off on a two-year journey through the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, during which the band's bus broke down in Tehran near the end of the Iranian Revolution in 1981; this musical expedition was captured by the documentary film Vagabunden-Karawane. After touring Asia, the Middle East, and Egypt during the early '80s, Embryo released their first studio album in seven years, Zack Gluck, in 1984. The band then toured Africa and became involved with Nigeria's Yoruba Dun Dun Ensemble.
However, after internal conflicts, Embryo split up. Burchard continued under the Embryo name with new musicians while a new group, Embryo's Dissidenten, was formed. Embryo continued to release both new and archival recordings into the 21st century, including 2006's Embryonnck, a collaboration with the No-Neck Blues Band. However, Burchard suffered a stroke in 2016, which effectively ended his career as a musician, and his daughter Marja took over leadership of the group. Christian Burchard died in January 2018 at the age of 71. ~ Geoff Orens