With little or no pomp and ceremony, the core members of The Samurai Of Prog, namely bassist Marco Bernard, drummer Kimmo Pörsti and multi-instrumentalist Steve Unruh, have released seven studio albums since 2011, plus one compilation of their long out of print early years releases. An impressive catalogue indeed, however the band remain somewhat in the shadows and seldom cited or mentioned in annual polls.
Could this be down to poorly produced work, a lack of structure, or just a matter of The Samurai’s turning out album after album for financial gain? Well, let’s discount the latter as there are few within the progressive sphere who can claim to be making a comfortable living from their music. They say never judge an album by its cover, however the sumptuous high gloss gatefold layout, with striking artwork from graphic artist Ed Unitsky, must discount the band from ‘doing it on the cheap’, and that’s without mentioning the 20-page full cover booklet that accompanies the CD.
So all that remains is the music. Well although the core of the band are a trio – as if that format could ever work 🙂 – the list of guest musicians should dispel any notion that this is nothing less than a well conceived and thought out album. Not a concept album as such, rather a common theme for Toki No Kaze (Windows of Time), revolving around the films of Japanese animator and manga artist Hayao Miyazaki.
Musically Toki No Kaze is a varied release, although influenced by the past masters it is rarely a slave to them. The diverse nature of the guest composers and musicians offer a colourful range of textures and hues. So does this work across the album? Toki No Kaze opens with the ambitious Octavio Stampalìa composition A Tear in the Sunset, and from the delicate opening piano the track weaves from the pastoral to the chaos of urban life and back once again. Impressive stuff! In contrast, the jaunty Fair Play, by pianist David Myers, features Steve Unruh on violin and flute and returns us to the sunny days by the river.
For those who have not come across The Samurai Of Prog previously, what might you expect to hear? In many ways I would suggest that The Samurai’s music might best fall into the cauldron of “old school prog”, and despite the rise in popularity of the “progressive” genre as a whole, those band’s whose music harks back to the halcyon days have found less favour. There are those who believe that the genre should follow the title and progress – and I wholeheartedly agree! There is still however room for releases that wish to re-spark the music of yesteryear, offering up contemporary alternatives. I suggest there’s an unknowing and untapped listenership for releases such as these, if only they were a little less pre-occupied, re-buying expensive versions of albums they already own. My apologies to The Samurai Of Prog for using this review of Toki No Kaze to have this little dig.
Having very recently reviewed TSOP’s last album Archiviarum I would say this latest offering is a more equable, perhaps reflective of the works of Hayao Miyazaki? As I’ve not seen any of Miyazaki’s films, I can’t comment I’m afraid. What I can say is there’s an airiness to Toki No Kaze, and no better captured than within the ever-shifting layers of The Bicycle Ride. The track pulls together both old and new, with Steve Unruh’s violin meshing nicely with silky Moogs and Marek Arnold’s emotive saxophone, a texture the band continue into Castle Blue Dream and one that can be discovered across the entire release.
Other worthy mentions might be Alice Scherani’s vocals and vocalisations on Nausicaa e i Custodi Della Vita, recalling Annie Haslam and Renaissance; the ELP/UK/MMEB timbres conjured up during the Michele Mutti composition Think Green; or maybe the closing track with an equally twisting structure from keyboardist and composer Elisa Montaldo, who also delivers a fine vocal throughout the piece.
Now you’re thinking, have I bought six reissues or only five? Now to tell you the truth with old age creeping in I’ve forgotten myself in all the excitement. But being that this is the third definitive version, of the most re-mastered album in the world, and will sound almost exactly the same, you’ve gotta ask yourself a question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya…
Or, should you take a punt on one of the Samurai’s albums? Toki No Kaze reviewed here perhaps, or the recently reviewed Archiviarum or Omnibus – The Early Years, which features Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Jon Davison (Yes) and Steve Babb (Glass Hammer). Well, that’s down to you of course…
01. A Tear in the Sunset (8:07)
02. Fair Play (2:34)
03. Zero (7:40)
04. The Never-Ending Line (4:55)
05. Au Contraire (5:07)
06. Reality (9:24)
07. The Bicycle Ride (4:36)
08. Castle Blue Dream (7:38)
09. The Spirits Around Us (5:59)
10. Nausicaa e i Custodi Della Vita (5:48)
11. Think Green (6:30)
12. La Magia è la Realtà (6:20)
Total Time – 74:46
Marco Bernard – Bass
Kimmo Pörsti – Drums, Percussion
Steve Unruh – Vocals, Violin, Flute, Guitars
Octavio Stampalìa – Keyboards
Marc Papeghin – French Horn, Trumpet
Kari Riihimäki – Guitars
Pablo Robotti – Guitars
Elisa Montaldo – Keyboards, Vocals
Ruben Alvarez – Guitars
José Medina – Orchestration
Danilo Sesti – Keyboards
Fran Turner – Guitars
Kenrou Tanaka – Guitars
Oliviero Lacagnina – Keyboards
Luca Scherani – Keyboards
Marcella Arganese – Guitars
Alice Scherani – Vocalisation
Yuko Tomiyama – Vocals, Keyboards
Alan Kamran Shikoh – Guitars
Roberto Vitelli – Taurus Bass PedalS
Alessandro di Benedetti – Keyboards
Federico Tetti – Guitars
Daniel Fäldt – Vocals
Antony Kalugin – Keyboards
Marek Arnold – Saxophone
Sergio Chierici – Keyboards
David Myers – Piano
Massimo Sposaro – Guitars
Michele Mutti – Keyboards
Michele Marinini – Vocals
Record Label: Seacrest Oy
Date of Release: 26th April 2019