Peter Thelen 9-April-2001 Overview

The Vertigo Period

Jade Warrior was (and is) an enigmatic and unique band with an uncategorizable sound that evolved over a lengthy career going through several different phases. Core members Tony Duhig (guitar) and Jon Field (percussionist/flute) had worked together in the late sixties in a psychedelic band called July. After July called it a day, the two worked together on various studio-based musical projects that ultimately led to Jade Warrior Mark 1, then joined by Glyn Havard (bass & vocals). The first album Jade Warrior from 1970 is a powerful opening statement, about half instrumental and half vocal, the songs cover a variety of ground but generally employ a rock base fused with world influences, with Field's flute and Duhig's non- standard guitar tuning - as well as the lack of a regular drum kit (mostly hand drums, bells and other percussion are used) giving their sound a character unlike any other. The dynamic shifts between loud and quiet passages would also be a trademark of their sound throughout their career. Some tracks are a bit more introspective and cerebral (for example "Masai Morning", "Wind Weaver" and "Slow Ride"), while others are more basic rock songs ("Petunia", "Psychiatric Sergeant", and "Telephone Girl") although these are affected by their unique style.

For their second album Released (1971), their rock edge was ratcheted up a notch or two with the addition of guests on saxes and kit drums, resulting in tracks like opener "Three Horned Dragon King", "Minnamato's Dream", and the fifteen minute rock jam "Barazinbar". And their quieter side was represented well with hauntingly beautiful pieces like "Yellow Eyes" and "Bride of Summer". Where the first album featured an array of sonic possibilities, this is an album that highlighted the contrasts within that sound. For their third album Last Autumn's Dream (also from 1971), Alan Price (who had played on Released) drums on a number of tracks, and Tony's brother David Duhig guests as second guitarist. This album takes a step back and revisits the wall-of-all-colors approach of their debut with a more surefooted and substantive instrumental approach, somewhat fleshing out their sound. Again we have the mysterious and often introspective instrumental tunes ("Dark River", "Obedience", "Borne on the Solar Wind") juxtaposed with more melodic pieces like "A Winters Tale" and "May Queen", and then a few overt rockers as well ("Snake", "The Demon Trucker", "Joanne"). One might sense in the overview that the band lost their way on the second album, and tried to put themselves back on track with the third.

Note that all of the first three albums (originally on the Vertigo label) have been reissued twice on CD: the first reissues (on the German Line label) were muddy sounding and in some cases not even derived from the original masters. Avoid like the plague. The second reissues (on the Background label) are meticulously mastered from the original master tapes, and come highly recommended.

In 1973 Jade Warrior - now a five-piece with Alan Price and David Duhig becoming full fledged members, began work on what was to be their 4th album. With enough material recorded for a 2LP set, Vertigo decided they would rather release the material as two separate albums, and even went so far as releasing a couple of the songs from the fourth album on various samplers (two versions of the Vertigo sampler Suck it and See). But it was never to happen, Vertigo changed their mind again and cancelled their contract with Jade Warrior altogether, and thus the material they had recorded for the fourth album, plus the leftover material (enough for another full album) sat on the shelf unreleased for over 25 years. Finally, in 1998 the two "lost" vertigo albums were finally released on CD: Eclipse and Fifth Element. While the sound on these two albums is very much a logical progression from the first three, while they do show the band moving in a more explorative direction, one that would be followed further and refined during their "Island Label" period, providing the missing link between the two phases of the band's history. Both of these, but especially Eclipse, are excellent releases that deserve to be heard.

In the wake of their Vertigo period, a compilation titled Reflection was released on Butt Records around 1978, which featured tracks culled from their first three albums, and a few from the then-unreleased 4th.

The Island Period

Chris Blackwell at Island records had heard of Jade Warrior (thanks to the efforts of Steve Winwood, one of the band's early allies), liked what he heard, and ultimately offered them a contract to do a series of instrumental concept albums. The contract was offered only to Jon Field and Tony Duhig, but not to Glyn Havard or other band members. Hence from this point forward (until the 1990's), Jade Warrior would be a duo. They immediately began work on the first album for Island, Floating World (1974), a concept album structured around the Japanese philosophy of Ukiyo, the acceptance of life and its surroundings, living only for the moment, " a gourd floating along the river current.." to quote the album's liner notes. As before, their sound was based on a unique combination of rock, jazz, classical and world influences, employing the extremities of dynamic range. One moment a piece may be quiet and serene, and seconds later explode into a loud percussive or rock driven segment. On some pieces - usually the more quiet and introspective ("Waterfall", "Rainflower", and "Memories of a Distant Sea"), multi-instrumentalists Duhig and Field provide all the instrumentation, whereas on other tracks ("Easty, "Mountain of Fruit and Flowers", and "Red Lotus", among others) guest musicians are brought in on drums, string bass, harp, lead guitar and even female voice on the hauntingly beautiful "Quba". One of the albums high points is "Monkey Chant", a collision of the ancient traditional Balinese Kecac pitted against David Duhig's screaming rock guitar solo.

The second Island period album was Waves (1975), and is dedicated to "...the last whale", and while the concept here is not as vivid as its predecessor, the music takes a slight turn for the jazzier, and features Steve Winwood in numerous guest roles on piano and moog. There are numerous tracks on the album, but for whatever reason it was decided to label each side as only one track: "Waves part one" and "Waves part two". This writers hope was that when this was finally released on CD that all the various tracks would be indexed, but it was not to be.

Kites from 1976 probably presents them at their most musically abstract and progressive, featuring a larger number of guest musicians than any previous album, each side being essentially a long concept piece. Side A was Jon Field's side, five pieces beginning with the serene "Songs of the Forest" leading into the haunting "Wind Song", then on to "Emperor Kite" and others, inspired by abstract artist Paul Klee's painting "The Kingdom of the Air". On side B, driven by Tony Duhig, the wandering Zen boat monk Teh Ch'eng in 9th century China becomes the conceptual focus. Here the music is filled with sharp contrasts, haunting melodies, and jagged rhythms. Tracks like "Toward The Mountains" and "The Last Question" are high water marks for the band, both instrumentally and conceptually. Where could they go from here?

To Central America and the world of the Aztecs, 1978's Way Of The Sun captures a more vibrant and festive feel, with upbeat melodies and percussive intensity. Here the music shines boldly like the sun god it seems to worship, with an almost-orchestral fervency and driving spirit. This was unlike anything the band had done before. Tracks like "Carnival", "Dance of the Sun" and the title track are at once overtly rhythmic and infused with a strong multifaceted melodic sensibility. Other pieces, like "Moontears" and "Heaven Stone" explore other sides of their sound in a more subtle and relaxed atmosphere, while the closer "Death of Ra" has an almost pensive melodic figure, full of emotion and imagination, like an unforgettable soundtrack theme. This would be Jade Warrior's final release for the Island label.

Original LPs of the Island period (relegated to their Antilles sub-label in the US) are almost uniformly poor quality, with clicks, pops and other defects right out of the shrink-wrap. This writer went through several copies of some of these trying to find one that was clean, but to no avail. Floating World and Way of the Sun were released as CDs in the late `80's, but Waves and Kites never got the digital treatment as individual discs. More importantly, however, all four Island period albums were released on a 2CD set titled Elements: The Island Anthology in 1995, and quickly went out of print. The set was re- released again in 2001. Highly Recommended.

The Underground Years: The Eighties

Often referred to as the "missing years", actually Jade Warrior was not missing at all but just way way underground in the world of private releases and fly-by-night independent labels. After Way of The Sun there were no new recordings for six years. Most of the band's loyal followers (self included) figured they must have dropped off the face of the earth. When Horizen was released on the obscure Pulse label in 1984, it received virtually no press attention, and had very poor distribution. One had to first know about the album's existence (this writer found out about it in '86 via the track "East Wind" on an Erdenklang sampler CD), and then seek it out through mail order sources - which in my case took almost a year.

With Horizen, there were still strong links to the Island period sound (especially Tony Duhig's unmistakable guitar sound), yet this album has it's own unique character, and was written and conceived by Tony Duhig, essentially a solo project with numerous guests on flute, sax, drums, steel drums, bass, and David Duhig on lead guitar. Jon Field only played on a couple tracks, if any (according to the CD reissue released on Earthsounds in late 2000, Field wasn't involved at all). The album opens with the twelve minute epic "Images of Dune", inspired by the Frank Herbert novels, a dark and foreboding multi-part opus that captures the spirit of the Herbert's imagery, and stands as the abum's strongest track. "Caribbean Wave" is an uptempo piece featuring steel drums that might have been right at home on Way of The Sun, while "East Wind" reflects the unique melodic pastoral sound that typified their work during the Island period. While Horizen as an album is certainly not as strong as anything from the Island quadrilogy, its best tracks certainly rise to that level.

Five years later Jade Warrior would release what is probably the most atypical album of their entire catalog. At Peace (1989, but recorded in '86) contains simplified melodic figures within lush ambient/electronic soundscapes. Containing only three lengthy tracks, much of it is very quiet and meditative, created using synths, synth guitar and flute, and virtually no percussion, and with (presumably) no guest musicians involved. From the CD liner notes: "This new music reflects the rolling landscapes of the countryside where we now live. We are writing for the first time by looking out the window." Indeed, this is a far cry from "Barazinbar", but it clearly reflects some of the more pastoral and reflective ideas that were first explored in the Island era.

The Red Hot Period

The nineties brought with them a renewed sense of interest on the part of Field and Duhig, and plans were made to get the band back on track. Two new members, Dave Sturt (bass) and Colin Henson (guitar, keyboards) were recruited, and some rehearsal sessions with all four members ensued, but sadly Tony Duhig had a fatal heart attack before he could contribute to the new album. The remaining three members forged ahead, and in early 1992 Breathing The Storm was released on the Red Hot label. It began to recapture the spirit of the Island period, albeit with a more laid-back approach, and not quite as focused compositionally. Tony Duhig's guitar playing is sorely missed, yet Henson does decent job of attempting to maintain that part of the band's sound. To its credit, however, there is a new infusion of jazz ideas, reflecting in part the background of the two new members.

For Distant Echoes (1993), they had assembled all of their best inclinations, given them new life, and embarked on a new forward looking journey. Unlike it's moodier predecessor, Distant Echoes rings with liveliness, forcefully encompassing all emotions. Once again, the lineup included Colin Henson on guitars and Dave Sturt on fretless bass, but this time included a long list of session musicians on violins, saxes, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, drums and choirs. The album opener "Evocation" recalls the gritty guitars and dissonance employed on their album Released, and then moves on to "Into The Sunlight", an eight minute piece recalling the Airto Moreira Brazilian percussive sound overlaid with the trademark JW wall of flutes and guitars; Henson does an admirable job at keeping Tony Duhig's guitar sound alive. The album continues to alternate low key and uptempo pieces: "Night of The Shaman" delves into an eerie melodic cycle on violin (vaguely reminiscent of the sound achieved by the Beatles on "Within You Without You") supported by guitar and percussion, topped off with spicy guitar leads and scatting flutes. "Snake Goddess" uses choirs piano, and saxes to cover some new ground, while "Timeless Journey" and the album closer "Spirits Of The Water" recall the pastoral symphonics of Kites. All taken, Distant Echoes is a rejuvenated Jade Warrior fully realized, fresh with spirited compositional ideas.

Since 1993 there has been nothing new, although in a 1996 report from Dave Platt (curator of the Friends of Jade Warrior web page) Jon Field spoke of new work in progress. To date nothing further regarding this has been mentioned. Field, Sturt, and Henson are apparently living in different parts of England now, making progress on new material even less likely. But hope springs eternal.

Update from the band 18-July-2008:
And then in 2006 things started happening. Original vocalist Glyn Havard was invited to join the band and so work could progress on the new album, however Colin Henson wanted to try a new direction and subsequently left the band to pursue a solo project. The three remaining members Field, Havard, and Sturt continued with the album along with the help of some guest musicians. The album, entitled 'NOW' was released on June 30th 2008 on the WindWeaver label.

Links for further information