Jade Warrior's self-titled debut contains some remarkable music and is especially notable as the first chapter for a band that created some of the most eclectic and beautiful rock music of the 70's. I tend to disagree with critics' later assignment of the "world music" label to Jade Warrior's music; yes, they are eclectic and often utilize instruments, scales, and folk melodies from different cultures the world round, Jade Warrior is ultimately a rock band putting a decidedly aggressive spin on these so-called "world" music elements. For any fan of progressive, psychedelic, and experimental or art rock from the 70's, Jade Warrior is bound to be a satisfying investment.
"The Traveller" is a truly sublime opener, with two guitars tentatively probing over extended chords, framing a mysterious flute line. This figure is interrupted by some unusual percussion instruments, which gives way to an expansive, atmospheric, pulsing chord over which Tony Duhig's massively-fuzzed guitar soars. This is the kind of music that really feels like a journey to another world, or at least a very compelling impression of this one. By the time the sung lyrics enter (the end of the song), you'll probably be hooked.
In many ways, "The Traveler" sums up the best characteristics of this album and, in turn, the band itself. When they put their minds to it, Jade Warrior are unmatched at marrying philosophical/mystical concepts to expressive music. Although they're using some typical 70's rock instrumentation (electric guitar and bass), the intelligence of the arrangements and obvious thought they've put into having each musical move mean something conceptually really shows, and can be a powerful listening experience. "Windweaver" proves this in spades, with a fluxing arrangement that buoys the song's images of nature contemplation. The band's less usual instruments--flute (no, it's not very much like Jethro Tull just because it has a flute, and yes it is played with much more skill than labelmates Gravy Train), "world" percussion, and some chanting--serve to elevate the music to unique and forceful heights. The unorthodox percussion lends a heavy, thudding groove to the nearly menacing "A Prenormal Day In Brighton" (which could equally apply to both powerful drug and religious experiences). To my knowledge, there isn't a standard drum kit on the record, which really sounds fresh, making the percussion stand out a lot more than your average rock beat, which is exactly what it does on the sometimes-manic "Masai Morning," which musically and lyrically narrates a jungle hunt from perspective of both hunter and hunted, punctuated by some spectral wordless chanting. Likewise, the haunting flute and narrative qualities of the music make the metamorphosing "Dragonfly Day" a grand listening journey worthy of this album's beautiful cover art. These gorgeous, palpable atmospheres resurface on the album's two closing tracks, "Slow Ride" and "Sundial Song."
The main detractors of the album are definitely the first 3 songs on side two: "Petunia," "Telephone Girl," and "Psychiatric Sergeant." Although they're not terrible by any standard, they effectively break the resonant and mysterious spell that the first half of the album casts on the listener. "Telephone Girl" is typical 70's hedonistic rock on which the band's interesting percussion sounds out of place, while the surprisingly jazzy flute opening to "Psychiatric Sergeant" is undercut by the song's middling lyrics. The bluesy "Petunia" is actually a pretty good (if lecherous) song, but loses points because it really doesn't fit with the lustrous landscapes painted by the band on side one--after they've shown how capable they are at surprising the listener's ear with unconventional, otherworldly melody and texture, why waste time with the oh-so-familiar and mainstream sounds of blues? By the time the record ends, the last two tracks echo the gorgeous first half, but in a way that makes the middle that much less appealing.
Overall, Jade Warrior's debut is a worthwhile effort; the low points aren't unlistenable by any means, and the high points are something to behold. As with a lot of experimental music, it's reasonable to forgive a band's uneven missteps into ordinary territory for their efforts to come up with something entirely new, which Jade Warrior certainly succeeds in doing here. If you enjoy this album (which you probably will if you managed to find out about it), Released and Last Autumn's Dream continue in a similarly rewarding (if flawed) direction. Later, when the band signed with Island, they dropped the vocals and focused heavily on instrumentals and captured some really impressive atmospheres and musical journeys on albums like Floating World and Way of the Sun, for listeners who are particularly impressed with the band's instrumental skills and don't mind an absence of vocals.