The Samurai Of Prog is a rather new musical project formed in 2009 by the Finland-based Italian composer and bassist Marco Bernard. He's been active in the Finnish Association for Progressive Music since 1995, and has been involved in their Colossus Magazine since 1996. He assisted with the Colossus-series of theme albums created in cooperation with the French label Musea Records. It was for a contribution to one of these projects that The Samurai Of Prog was born.
Undercover is the first full-length album of this project. Together with the American artist Steve Unruh (vocals, guitars, flute, violin) and the Finnish drummer Kimmo Pörsti (Paidarion, Mist Season), Marco Bernard form the core of this project. With the help of other musicians they covered nine songs from well-known progressive rock artists. The list of guest musicians is very long, so I won't mention all of them. The performances of these classic prog tunes are excellent and not too close to the original tunes.
The album starts beautifully with a two-minute piano solo of The Lamia (Genesis) by David Myers immediately followed by this piece wherein Steve Unruh proves to be a very good singer. In a way he reminded me of Peter Nicholls (IQ). On guitar you can enjoy Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings). This song stays very close to the original version. However, Starship Trooper (Yes) shows how well the musicians can improvise on a classic prog song with excellent guitar and synthesizer solos. A special mention goes to Jon Davison (Glass Hammer, Yes) who sounds a lot like Jon Anderson. The fusion-like instrumental World Of Adventures (The Flower Kings) is another stunning piece of music that rocks like hell. Flower King Jonas Reingold plays the bass on this track! Next is Assassing (Marillion), a fine cover wherein Steve Unruh tries very hard to sound like Fish. Music wise this track sounds more like jazz-rock and fusion than the original. Gravitá (Arti & Mestieri) is way too short. This classic Italian jazz-rock piece sounds excellent and the Mellotron-part at the end gives you the idea that something really special is going to happen. Unfortunately it ends abruptly!
Jerusalem (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) starts very strong with an acoustic piano before it changes in the direction of the way ELP arranged this piece written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. Dogs (Pink Floyd) is another highlight, especially the new instrumental section is brilliant due to great solos performed by Guy Le Blanc (synthesizer), Risto Salmi (saxophone) and Roine Stolt (guitar). Again you can enjoy the outstanding vocals of Jon Davison on this track. The Promise is the only new composition written by drummer Kimmo Pörsti. This instrumental starts with an Eastern melody before it changes into more Western sounds. The flute solo played in the first part reminded me of the albums Thijs van Leer (Focus) made with a classical orchestra. Furthermore the violin and the electric guitar get some solo spots as well.
The last sixteen minutes contain songs that can be regarded as bonus tracks. They included five tracks as a tribute for the band Electro Shock, Marco Bernard's first band in the seventies. The first one …Zap is a ten-second intro to Stranger, a piece of music made by Resistor in the vein of Rush. This band features Steve Unruh on vocals, guitars and violin. The next track Blood Sacrifice, wherein the Mellotron-flutes are leading, is performed by Costa & Mariotti. Next is Roz Vitalis with Asylum, another fine ballad. Contrarian might also be influenced by Rush, since their rendition of Prisoner Of The World resembles the music of this famous Canadian band.
Anyone who's familiar with this album will agree that all these covers are worthwhile listening to, because they're very well and creatively performed. Especially the way they played the versions of these classic prog tunes made me realize that a number of skilled musicians participated who can improvise as well. However, the bonus tracks all had a lower level. This made me decide to rate this album lower than I intended in the first place, but then I had only heard the covers. Sadly, because otherwise this release would have got more stars!
***+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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