Jade Warrior – Wind Borne: The Island Albums 1974 - 1978

Jade Warrior – Wind Borne: The Island Albums 1974 – 1978

During their tenure with Island Records, Jade Warrior received critical plaudits while failing to garner album sales. This new box set makes the case for why that might have been. Progressive in the small “p” sense, this was a band who followed their muse wherever it led. No genre was off limits, as rock, new age, jazz, Latin and ambient styles all found their way into the melting pot that was Jade Warrior. Cherry Red has remastered these four classic albums from the original master tapes and packaged them in a clamshell box along with the stunningly beautiful artwork from the original releases.

Guitarist Tony Duhig and flautist Jon Field (in fact, both largely self-taught multi-instrumentalists) first met in the early 1960s while driving fork-lifts in a London factory. They began a musical collaboration which saw its way through several bands before the first iteration of Jade Warrior was formed and signed to Vertigo Records in 1969. With vocalist/bassist Glyn Havard, they recorded three albums between 1970 and 1973 and toured the States as an opening act for the likes of Dave Mason and Sparks, among others. Already the band’s eclecticism proved difficult for their label, and even though an additional two albums had been recorded, they were dropped from their contract. Field and Duhig continued making demos as a duo, still under the name of Jade Warrior. Steve Winwood, impressed by the band when they supported Traffic on tour, recommended them to Chris Blackwell of Island Records, who signed them in 1974.

The first album by the now instrumental duo was Floating World. The music and cover art were both inspired by the Japanese concept of Ukiya, an embrace of the pleasures offered by music, art, literature and nature. Ahead of its time in many ways, the album is to this day impossible to pin down. While guitar and flute are the primary focus instrumentally, this record explores numerous sound possibilities, layering here and paring down to almost nothing there. A trend that carries through most of the albums, the opening track Clouds begins with a barely audible choir and chimes that give way to bursts of electric guitar and soothing flute. Each track segues into the next, which works because you never know what is coming next anyway. The most beautiful moments on any of their albums come when the flute and acoustic guitar play in tandem, as they do on the track A Mountain of Fruit and Flowers. A lively drum pattern pushes the song along, and string bass adds a jazzy element. Elsewhere, exotic percussion replaces the drums – bell tree, harp and glockenspiel prominent among them. Even when there is plenty of layering in the music, the sound is so pristine that no single instrument is lost or difficult to hear. This is especially true when Tony Duhig masses his electric guitars, as on Tull-influenced rocker Red Lotus. In fact, it’s easy to draw a line between Duhig and Brian May’s approach to layered guitar (listen to May’s Procession or God Save the Queen for an example of what I’m getting at). Songs like Easty seem to presage the lite jazz craze of the ’90s, while Monkey Chant wears its world music influences on its sleeve with chanting and African talking drums leading to a crazy Hendrixian guitar solo, and Quba channels any number of Windham Hill New Age artists.

If that was not enough to make your head spin, consider Waves. Essentially a single song in two parts, this nearly 45-minute piece features fan Steve Winwood on piano and Moog. Once more, fading in from barely audible sounds, Waves builds on the stylistic schizophrenia of Floating World. The spacey intro eventually comes down to earth, building in a fresh, organic and more conventional manner than its predecessor. The jazz influence is considerably further to the fore this time, but somehow the first half of the album remains unrelentingly mellow. This is not a criticism. Field and Duhig’s ability to create one evocative mood after another and to layer without cluttering reveal new delights at every turn. Part II opens with the sounds of a forest at dawn, birds chattering away, fading into flutes and bell trees. After seven minutes, electric rhythm guitar finally gets things moving and ready for another wild solo. The flute and synth that follow keep the intensity level elevated. When the bass and percussion are added to the mix, it leads to near cacophony before succumbing to the tranquillity of the combined acoustic guitar and flute. The track closes with the return of the spacey synths and birdsong, bringing the piece full circle.

Kites, released a year later, is yet another outfit for the duo to try on. Comprising mostly short-form pieces (generally in the three- to four-minute range), the Oriental influences are most prolific on this disc. Opening with yet another fade-in, brass is used to add colour to Song of the Forest, a sort of fanfare for what follows. Wordless choral vocals and violin keep the ethereal Windsong from disappearing into the air, in lieu of a strong melodic idea. Wind Borne, the song that lends its name to this box set, is the closest the album comes to using traditional song structure. Samba, jazz and ambient influences meld to create a beautiful, unclassifiable song. The second half of the album is a song cycle based on the story of 9th Century Chinese Zen master Teh Ch’Eng, the Boat Monk. The story, which is recounted in the booklet, is reflected in the instrumentation, particularly in the elegant violin parts. Quietly By the Riverbank takes the “quietly” part a bit too literally; elsewhere, however, Duhig’s guitar speaks the loudest. It shines brightest on Arrival of Chia Shen and Arrival of the Emperor.

Way of the Sun arrived in 1978 and ended the band’s association with Island. Despite using the character of Ra, the story is based on South American culture. Field attributes the inclusion of Ra to his belief that “it was all taken over there by the Egyptians in the first place”. Breaking the cycle, Sun Ra opens with a crashing gong and a flurry of flutes. Duhig’s electric guitar promises good things to come while tympani builds excitement in a decidedly cinematic style. Everything coalesces into a bright and energetic final minute, leading into the evocative and whimsical Sun Child. The ghost of Michael Hedges haunts the acoustic rhythm guitar of Heaven Stone, made only more enchanting by the flutes and bell tree. Way of the Sun uses Latin percussion to give the song a lift, creating a sound akin to Brian May fronting Tito Puente. Piano places emphasis on the Latin vibe while adding a nice change of texture. Rhythm rules in both Carnival, a joyous and danceable guitar-centric romp, and Dance of the Sun, where jungle drums set the stage for gorgeous guitar and flute call and response. It is the final song on the album, Death of Ra, which is the crowning achievement. It is elegiac, but not maudlin. Its melody brings to mind Greg Lake’s C’est La Vie, an emotional finale and one of the finest songs in The Jade Warrior canon.

Listening to these four albums in sequence, it is easy to see how the band was unable to reach a wider audience. But if music really matters to you, it’s hard to see how you can ignore Jade Warrior. What they lack in the way of absurd time signatures and show-off instrumental heroics, they make up for in adventurousness, inventiveness and eclecticism. Yes, there are shortcomings (some tunes are so amorphous they register as barely more than half-formed ideas), but the strengths are rock solid and lead to one musical delight after another. Jade Warrior is a name the band chose to reflect both the power and subtle artistry of their music. Wind Borne shows that the band was successful in achieving both. If you missed them the first time around, consider this your second chance.

CD1 – Floating World (1974)

01. Clouds (2:54)
02. Mountain of Fruit and Flowers (3:16)
03. Waterfall (5:58)
04. Red Lotus (4:34)
05. Clouds II (1:36)
06. Rain Flower (2:45)
07. Easty (5:25)
08. Monkey Chant (2:22)
09. Memories of A Distant Sea (3:37)
10. Quba (4:14)

Time – 36:41

CD2 – Waves (1975)
01. Waves – Part I (19:51)
02. Waves – Part II (24:41)

Time – 44:32

CD3 – Kites (1976)
01. Song of the Forest (3:12)
02. Wind Song (4:05)
03. The Emperor Kite (1:58)
04. Wind Borne (6:51)
05. Kite Song (3:05)
06. Land of the Warrior (3:29)
07. Quietly By the River Bank (3:20)
08. Arrival of the Emperor: “What Does The Venerable Sir Do?” (1:07)
09. Teh Ch’Eng: “Do You Understand This?” (2:32)
10. Arrival of Chia Shan: ”Disclosure and Liberation” (4:10)
11. Towards the Mountains (2:03)
12. The Last Question (0:37)

Time – 36:29

CD4 – Way of the Sun (1978)
01. Sun Ra (3:32)
02. Sun Child (2:43)
03. Moontears (4:04)
04. Heaven Stone (5:27)
05. Way of the Sun (6:02)
06. River Song (5:03)
07. Carnival (2:17)
08. Dance of the Sun (4:54)
09. Death of Ra (7:21)

Time – 41:23

Total Time – 159:05

Jon Field – Gaelic Harp, Gong, Glockenspiel, Vibes, Alto, Concert & Japanese Flutes, Conga Drums, Bell Tree, African Talking Drums, Cello, Piano, Organ, Acoustic Guitar
Tony Duhig – Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Electric Bass, Piano, Glockenspiel, Organ, Vibes
~ with:
Orpington Junior Girls Choir – Vocals (CD1, tracks 1 & 5)
Chris Carran – Drums (CD1, tracks 1 & 2)
Coldridge Good – String Bass (CD1, track 2; CD3, track 4)
Graham Deacon – Drums (CD1, track 4)
David Duhig – Electric Guitar (CD1, track 8; CD2)
Skalia Kanga – Harp (CD1, track 9; CD4, track 2)
Martha Mdenge – Words & Voice (CD1, track 10)
Steve Winwood – Piano & Moog (CD2)
Graham Morgan – Drums (CD2; CD3, tracks 3 & 7; CD4, track 8)
Pete Gibson – Brass (CD3, tracks 1 & 4)
Clodagh Simonds – Girls Choir (CD3, tracks 1 & 2)
Debbie Hall – Violins (CD3, tracks 3 & 5)
Willie – Snare & Bass Drum (CD 3, track 1)
Jeff Westley – Electric Piano (CD3, track 4)
Fred Frith – Violins (CD3, track 9)
Joe O’Donnell- Violins (CD3, tracks 3,7 & 10)
John Denith – Drums (CD4, tracks 1 & 7)
Bill Smith – Bass (CD4, track 7)
Godfrey, Kuma, Alan – Drums, Bass & Congas (CD4, track 5)
Gowan Turnball – Saxophone (CD4, track 7)
Dick Cuthell – Flugelhorn (CD4, track 1)

Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 31st March 2023

Jade Warrior – Website | Facebook