Samurai - Samurai [Esoteric Recordings/ Cherry Red - 2020]Released back in 1971 Samurai's self-titled debut album is grooving-to- bounding, at times downbeat example of jazz-rock songcraft, which features a sprinkling of more prog & off-kilter moments. Here from Esoteric Recordings- Cherry Red’s more prog-centric focused sub-label is a recent CD release of this album.
The release is presented in a dull card digipak- this features on it’s outside the original groovy artwork- which finds a drawing of a topless Asian woman leaning on her joint licking & shades wearing boyfriend with a backdrop of big flower wallpaper. Inside we get a picture of the five-piece band walking into a large industrial unit. We also get a
twenty-page inlay booklet, featuring a recent interview with the band's key songwriter Dave Lawson.
The origins of Samurai date back to 1968, and the British blues Jazz band The Web( later just Web)- who released three albums between 1968 and 1970- which saw their sound shifting from proto-prog to jazz-prog. So they decide to change their name to Samurai- though seemingly within a year or so the project had completely fizzled out as Keyboardist/ vocalist Dave Lawson departed for the more keyboard focused prog-rock group Greenslade.
The line-up with Samuria- the bands one & only album was the five picec of: Dave Lawson- Keyboards & Vocals, Tony Edwards- Electric & Acoustic bass, John Eaton- Bass, Kenny Beveridge- drums, Lennie Wright- vibes, drums & percussion. With supporting roles from Tony Roberts- Tenor sax, concert & alto flutes, bass clarinet. Don Fay- tenor Sax & Concert Flute.
The original album takes in seven tracks in all- and for sonic references, I’d say think the less quirky side of Zappa’s 1970’s jazz-rock band output, or maybe a more straight version of Second hand- the crazed London based jazz/ rock/ prog band- though Samurai do certainly have their own take on the whole jazz-rock band thing. The seven tracks run between three & eight minutes- though largely fall between the three/four-minute mark. We go back from the mellow-if-glum "More Rain" with its blend of tight bass work, clear guitar strumming, lightly grooving horn work & clip-clopping percussion- having an almost acid jazz ballad vibe about it. Onto the bounding wow-wow rock riffing meets vibe edged thick & swinging horn grinding of “Give A Little Love. Through to marching jazz, prog-rock start of “Face In The Mirror” which later switches to a more pared tolling–to-jiving piano/organ, snaking vibe edged percussion, and harmonizing stagey vocals that very much brought to mind the Flo And Eddie front Zappa band- but with -none of the comedic elements. With the album leading out with the longest track here the eight minutes twenty of “As I Dried The Tears Away”- which moves between vibe, twanging guitar & organ bounce, signer-songwriter pop-rock showness, and moments of weird darting guitar phonics,off-kilter organ groove and jaunting vibe playing- all making for a very quirky end to proceedings.
The CD is finished off with three live tracks recorded in Sweden 1971- these are all album tracks, so no great revelation- but it’s great to hear the band in fine grooving & bounding live form.
It’s great to see Esoteric Recordings diging deeper into the lesser-known regions of 1970’s British jazz-rock/ prog with this release- and I’d say if you enjoy more horn-led & grooving- through at times downbeat/ serious side of band focused Jazz-rock- you’ll be needing to pick this up.