The Samurai Of Prog is a project consisting of the Finland based Italian composer-bassist Marco Bernard, the American musician Steve Unruh (Willowglass, vocals, guitars, flute, violin) and the Finnish drummer Kimmo Pörsti (Paidarion, Mist Season). Their first album Undercover appeared in 2011 (see review); it contained covers of well-known prog rock tunes. All the covers on this record were worthwhile listening to, because they were creatively performed. However, the bonus tracks unfortunately were the weakest tracks on Undercover and could have performed much better by these skilled musicians! Two years later The Samurai Of Prog recorded their second album called Secrets Of Disguise, a double CD this time. Again they recorded fifteen tracks both self-written pieces and covers of prog rock tunes.
Well, reviewing all fifteen tracks of this double disc separately isn't possible of course, but I'll pick out some of the tracks that are familiar to me like for instance the opening piece of the first disc. For many people the album Garden Shed (1977) recorded by the British band England, is probably unknown. However, I still regard this record to be one of the finest prog rock albums ever. This masterpiece contains a perfect blend of the music of Genesis and Yes! Three Piece Suite is very well covered featuring Robert Webb, the original keyboard player of England. Beside Webb guitarist Ákos Bogáti-Bokor (Yesterdays, Tabula Smaragdina, The Cosmic Remedy) provides this long piece an extra dimension with his fine guitar passages.
Dancing With The Moonlit Knight by Genesis comes pretty close to the original version thanks to the fabulously performed keyboard parts by David Myers (The Musical Box) and the electric guitar parts played by Kamran Alan Shikoh (Glass Hammer). A special mention applies to the intro that was written for this great track. Myers's piano parts on the track Before The Dance sound amazingly and could have been written by Genesis. Being a fan of Gentle Giant I also enjoyed the great rendition of Aspirations. This time it sounds slightly jazzier than it was originally recorded by this British band due to the contributions of Jan-Olof Stranberg (fretless bass), Mimmo Ferri (electric piano) and Beatrice Birardi (vibraphone).
It was also a great delight to listen to Traveler, one of the early compositions by the Italian prog rockers of Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) beautifully sung by Mark Trueack (ex-Unitopia). It also contains some fine violin and acoustic guitar playing by Steve Unruh and fabulous keyboard parts by Stefano Vicarelli (Yessongs Italy). One More Red Nightmare (King Crimson) is very recognizable as well. The additional saxophone parts by Risto Salmi (Paidarion, Mist Season ) and the violin parts by Unruh make the difference compared to the original piece. To Take Him Away - originally recorded by the French band Sandrose - is a typical prog rock tune that most people aren't familiar with. The version on this album is beautiful; especially the Mellotron and electric guitar parts are just outstanding!
My last familiar song on the first disc is a cover of the Yes composition Time And A Word. It has an additional vocal intro and outro sung by Jon Davison (Yes). At the time he recorded this song he still was the lead singer with Glass Hammer. He was asked to become the frontman with Yes after finishing it. This piece surely comes close to the original version, although the Spanish interlude makes it a rather original track!
The second disc opens with a familiar piece. Singring And The Glass Guitar by Todd Rundgren's Utopia is a tongue-in-cheek epic composition from their masterpiece Ra (1977). The original version contains several solo spots performed by all band members on drums, guitar, bass and keyboards. This version is no exception and holds these solos as well, but now performed by guitarist Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), keyboardist Guy LeBlanc (Camel), bassist Jan-Olof Stranberg and drummer Kimmo Pörsti. I have to compliment vocalist Phideaux Xavier whose voice is quite similar to the voice of Rundgren. Although I wasn't familiar with Darkness, a song by Van Der Graaf Generator, I immediately recognized it as a track from this band. Especially Steve Unruh's lead vocals put me on the right track, since I thought I was listening to Peter Hammill. The last rather known piece on the second disc is Jacob's Ladder by Rush. It's again a true rendition sung by Unruh, Barbara Rubin and Ileessha Bailey.
Apart from the many beautiful covers on Secrets Of Disguise, the album also contains some original compositions. This time these originals have a higher quality level than on Undercover mainly due to the musical variety and the many stunning solos performed on the violin, the electric guitar and the synthesizer. Thanks to these stronger originals my rating for the second album by The Samurai Of Prog is higher than for the first one. No weak tracks at all this time and therefore I would like to compliment those who were responsible for collecting the good stuff. The band's third album is already in the making and will only consist of original material. One of the participating musicians will be Robert Webb, who wrote a thirty-minute long suite, and Linus Kåse (Anglagård) who will come up with a quirky, long track. This is certainly something to look out for, but for now I'll enjoy this strong second double album!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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