There is a certain irony in that most progressive rock fans have a tendency to, in the words of Jethro Tull, be found Living In The Past. I can often be guilty of this myself, is it that I hanker after a bygone age where I was young, free and single or is it more that I was growing up in an era where music had meaning and a certain quality? That’s probably a whole different essay, either way, whilst there are very many exciting new bands around that are taking prog forward again once more, there are also more opportunities to delve into the hidden corners and recesses of progressive music and to rediscover the overlooked, unsung artists who helped make the 1970’s such an interesting and innovative age, in the time before punk’s angry young men came along, wiping out much of that innocence and the beauty away.
Whilst it may be argued that it was time for another musical direction to emerge, it was the sheer disdain and hatred for what had been unceremoniously dumped that was such an affront to most serious prog fans who found this new development and style a very bitter pill to swallow and adapt to. Well it seemed that way to me as an 18 year old boy from the Midlands. Which brings us to this great set of albums that Jade Warrior made for Island records between 1974 to 1978, comprising the four albums made in that period, ‘Floating World’ (1974), ‘Waves’ (1975), ‘Kites’ (1976) and finally ‘Way Of The Sun’ (1978). This set, called ‘Wind Borne’ brings all four together in a nifty and attractive set with an always excellent sound and a great and informative booklet outlining the history of the band and how these albums came about.
I was aware of these albums and had often seen them about in the record shops that I was a frequent visitor to in Birmingham, yet I’d never actually listened to them properly. None of my friends were raving about them, they received little or no press that made them figure on my radar, so, like many others, I simply ignored them, considering them unworthy of my attention. There were lots of bands that met a similar response, sadly, I missed out on much fine music in those days.
Jade Warrior’s story is an interesting one, especially when you take into account that the two men who were the core of the band, Jon Field (flute) and Tony Duhig (guitars), were largely self taught. The music they created was different, other worldly and unique, music that was progressive in its style but was also a reflection of their interest in oriental art forms. You could cite this as being almost new-age in style, certainly it was an inspiration for the likes of Brian Eno who’s avant-garde music of the late 70’s can be traced back to Jade Warrior’s music and style.
The music is not an easy listening experience as it requires real attention to get the most out of it but, heard carefully, you can find much to appreciate in its very mellow and subdued tones. This music shimmers and builds in its intensity like layers of sound emerging and evolving, it is all extremely well crafted and put together with real care and respect for the musical form they were creating. This is subtle music, no blaring guitars as such, and probably all the better for the slow build. I suppose you could say it is minimalist new age music really as it is rather subdued. Unsurprisingly, the outfit’s second album ‘Waves’ is well suited to such an approach as waves are constantly building, growing then crashing and receding, only to return again in an endless cycle.
Their interest and affinity for things oriental came at a time when most Britons experience of oriental fare was a Vesta curry or a Chinese takeaway. Japanese culture was totally alien, apart from the ‘Made In Japan’ album, and had not yet made much of an impact in the U.K. at the time. Jade Warrior received far more critical acclaim than commercial success, their record contract with Island came about through the intervention of Traffic’s Steve Winwood when he recommended them to to the label’s Chris Blackwell. Winwood would later appear on their second album ‘Waves’ providing Piano and moog synthesisers. That album is a very interesting album being, as it is, two tracks of side long length that give much space for themes to emerge, develop and evolve throughout. There are also has some exciting guitar passages that certainly impress. There are some drums on the album but even so this does not rock out much, if at all, it’s more there to add dynamics. The music is largely instrumental, although there are choral parts to the tracks Clouds and Clouds II on the ‘Floating World’ album.
The third album ‘Kites’ features the Chinese tale of Emperor Kite and the boat man, which is a 9th century story about life. This is a very fine series of tracks that together tell the tale of how the emperor interacts with a boat man at the riverside. The tale is detailed in the booklet which makes everything make sense.
The final album, ‘Way Of The Sun’, had a different feel as it concerned itself with a different set of influences, namely Inca and Mayan ones, which allowed for different musical paths to be taken. This approach seems to be effective and the album received significantly more interest than earlier albums but still did not result in more commercial success. Sadly, as a result, they ended their association with Island Records but, undeterred, continued to make music for different labels. They recorded the album ‘Horizen’ (1984) before drifting apart although they did reform in 1989 releasing ‘At Peace’.
Jon Field returned to London and found new musicians to work with though before they could record with Tony Duhig, he suffered a fatal heart attack. Field and co would record three albums under the Jade Warrior banner, ‘Breathing The Storm’ (1992), ‘Distant Echoes’ (1993) and ‘Fifth Element’ before heir final album ‘Now’ in 2008. Sadly their influence, whilst admirable and widely acknowledged, failed to translate into sales. Even so, these Island albums are definitely of interest and value as they show an extraordinary vision and sound that was of its time for sure but all very impressive still and I certainly enjoyed this collection of ambient progressive minimalism.
Released 31st March, 2023
Order from Cherry Red here:
Jade Warrior: Wind Borne – The Island Albums 1974-1978, 4CD Box Set – Cherry Red Records