We are now into the second year of this wretched virus, this time last year we were eagerly looking forward to a holiday we had booked to Italy in Sorrento with a view across the water to Pompeii.
This was, of course, cancelled by the virus and we watched in horror as Italy became the focus of the world, the virus spreading around the country and then globally. Obviously, this has had a massive impact on our abilities in what we can do, where we can go, all events have pretty much been cancelled leaving touring activities curtailed with most musicians left high and dry, unable to do anything really which has in turn led to a raft of new music being created. This new album from Steve Hackett being amongst that number.
This being Steve Hackett, he has done something rather different from the norm in that he has created an acoustic album, his first since 2007’s ‘Tribute’. This is an album of instrumental mood pieces, themed around travels that Steve has made in recent times.
The album opens with the epic song M’dina – The Walled City with a similar sound to those used on the Fallen Walls and Pedestals from Steve’s ‘At the Edge of Light‘ album of 2018. The big difference here being that, instead of a bold electric guitar, this is all performed on acoustic guitar, backed by the expansive and atmospheric keyboard orchestrations of Roger King. This piece is almost a mini concerto in the style of the Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell (that was written for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight which was concerned with the polish struggle in 1939 against Nazi Germany), Malta, itself, has seen its share of occupation by hostile forces, especially during World War 2 when the island was occupied by the Nazi’s.
Steve of is of Polish immigration historically as his grandparents escaped the pogroms of Poland in 1919 and the ethnic cleansing of the Jews. As such, he feels strongly about the rights of people who are being oppressed or persecuted, this piece reflects those feelings and conflicts using lots of orchestration that is intercut with gentle but evocative guitar runs from the fleet fingers of Steve.
Adriatic Blue is a far more mellow piece with chiming guitar lines and some delicately plucked finger-style playing. Sirocco then follows, bringing to mind the wonders of Egypt, Jordan and other desert lands. Steve has been to the Pyramids in Cairo, along the Nile and also to Petra in Jordan and this song reflects those travels with ethnic percussion elements amongst the orchestration and a decidedly Arabian swing and feel to this piece. It is all very evocative of distant lands and of Arabian nights in the desert under the skies and stars of the region. This really is an excellent and emotive piece that acts as an imagined journey for the listener to those lands full of imagery and magic.
Joie De Vivre is a reflection in the joy of life that travelling offers, a chance to escape an everyday world by taking or making voyages of adventure, exploring different cultures and ways of life and the feelings of freedom that these voyages provide. As listeners who are unable to travel at the present time, these musical pictures offer relief to the humdrum existence we are all under until this blasted virus has been curtailed and we have been inoculated against so that we can resume our everyday lives.
The Memory of Myth is a further invocation of the sounds and senses of desert lands and the mystery and magic of these desolate places that have remained largely unchanged for millennia. The evocative violin of Christine Townsend underpins the whole track, really adding to the mysterious aura.
Scarlatti Sonata is a piece that Steve has composed in hour of Domenico Scarlatti who was an Italian composer in the 17th Century. Born in Naples in 1685 he was a composer in the Baroque style.He is known largely for his 555 keyboard sonatas and spent much of his life in the service of the Spanish and Portuguese royal families.
We are then treated to the very evocative piece The Dervish and the Djinn which includes contributions from Rob Townsend on Woodwind instrumentation that evoke imagery of whirling dervishes and their mischief. This is also a fine exponent of Steve’s fabulous guitar playing along with the added impact of drums that really creates an exciting mood picture. Lorato is a brief piece full of Spanish guitar flourishes with a fine melody that recurs throughout the track.
Andalusian Heart is another strong Spanish themed track with lots of Flamenco type playing throughout that reminds me of Steve’s guitar work on I Wish by Amy Birks (a track that he provided Spanish guitar for). This song has a similar feel to that song but without the vocals and is another very expressive and imaginative piece with the sumptuous orchestration giving sense of stately majesty.
The Call of the Sea is Steve’s reflections on staring across the Mediterranean Sea to distant lands and how this body of water connects us together, geographically, musically, and emotionally. It is another excellent piece of music that conveys its message without words and closes this rather different, but no less satisfying, album in fine style.
The cover of the album is in itself rather evocative, with its image of a wall overlooking the blue sea under a cloudless sky. It’s a beautiful image and one that fits in perfectly with this armchair voyage of musical discovery.
This album is so different to Steve’s usual output but, nonetheless, it is a journey of musical delights and very fitting and welcome at this strange time. As you can’t take a holiday at the present time, this is a worthy musical trip around the Mediterranean. Why not take this trip for yourself? you will feel better for it I’m sure.
Released 22nd January 2021
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