CD Review – Steve Hackett – Under A Mediterranean Sky

Artists, and indeed those of a more prosaic nature, have long been inspired by places they have visited, whether it’s sweeping landscapes, flora and fauna, cultures or history, they can all be inspirational and produce dazzling interpretations in the hands and minds of supremely gifted virtuosi such as Steve Hackett. “A lot of acoustic ideas had been forming over the years, and it felt like the perfect time to create this album,” says Steve, “a time to contemplate the places we’ve visited around the Mediterranean with the kind of music which evolved from the world of imagination. Because we can’t really travel, substantially at the moment, I hope that the album will take people on that journey. Whether you sit down and listen to it or drift off to it with a glass of wine…”

Like many other musicians, Steve has found himself somewhat grounded over most of the last year with global Covid-restrictions effectively bringing an end to concert performances and touring, at least for now. Given the amount of touring Steve has undertaken over the years, not least more recently with his Genesis related concerts, this change must have been quite dramatic for him. With time on his hands, Steve has used the clock wisely, creating and constructing to produce an evocative album of beauty, superb skill and eloquence.

Surprisingly, it has been some twelve years since Steve’s last acoustic album, Tribute released in 2008. On this new release Steve has stepped away from doing an overtly classical album to something which draws on a wider palette. There are certainly classical sounding passages on display, not least the interpretation of Scarlatti Sonata which we could perhaps view as typically Hackett. But Steve’s choice of instruments gives this release its different feel, as he plays nylon, steel string and twelve string guitars, charango and Iraqi oud. The resulting textures and approach provide for an expansive and characterful listen.

In recent years Roger King has been a brilliant and somewhat under-estimated foil for Steve, both on tour and in the studio. Here not only does he receive writing credits, but he provides superb keyboards, programming and orchestral arrangements that help to bring the music to life. His keyboards on the opening track Mdina (The Walled City) are dramatic and buoyant, a great foil for Steve’s nimble fret-board work. Other featured musicians on the album are John Hackett playing excellent flute on the enchanting Casa del Fauno, along with Rob Townsend, who also brings his superb saxophone skills to The Dervish And The Djin, which sounds like a lot of fun to play, along with Malik Mansurov, tar and Arsen Petrosyan duduk; along with Christine Townsend, violin (The Memory of Myth and The Call Of The Sea).

There is a really good ebb and flow to the music. Although it is obviously split into separate tracks you could quite easily treat the album as one long track. As usual with a Steve release, the production, by Steve and Roger King, is excellent. Steve’s touch on guitar on different tunes is notable. There’s a delicacy to Adriatic Blue whereas on The Dervish And The Djin it is much more upbeat and shifting, as befits the subject matter.  Steve has had the opportunity to witness at first hand the mystical whirling Dervishes and that movement and otherworldliness is reflecting in the exotic reeling music as it colourfully unfolds. Rob Townsend’s saxophone is a treat on this track. This track, though track features the tar of Malik Mansurov (from Azerbaijan) and Armenian Arsen Petrosyan’s duduk. “Of course, those countries are virtually at war with each other,” Steve points out, “and there has been something like a thousand casualties (at the time of writing) on both sides. Again, it’s a case of music being able to do things that politicians fail to do – something constructive.”

“I had a great time doing this album, seeing it take shape, and I’m very pleased with the outcome. I’m very proud of it,” continues Steve. “The nylon guitar has a very individual sound but, within the compass of what the nylon-strung guitar can do, there are a lot of different tones. You can do the full-on attack, the kind of salvo that you expect from the flamenco players but, at the same time, it can also be very gentle, gentle as a harp. It’s shades of black and white.  It’s also exciting to play alongside instruments from around the world, as well as a wide range of orchestral sounds.”

This, then, is a delightful album that truly evokes the atmosphere of life around the Mediterranean. It is delivered with skill, dexterity and no little imagination. It has great momentum and character, and transports the listener to warmer sunnier climes. A charming elegant release. One to savour.

1. Mdina (The Walled City) 08:45

2. Adriatic Blue 04:51

3. Sirocco 05:13

4. Joie de Vivre 03:42

5. The Memory Of Myth 03:29

6. Scarlatti Sonata 03:40

7. Casa del Fauno 03:51

8. The Dervish And The Djin 04:57

9. Lorato 02:29

10. Andalusian Heart 05:34

11. The Call Of the Sea 04:44

Steve Hackett – nylon, steel string & twelve string guitars, charango, Iraqi oud (1 – 11)

John Hackett – flute (7)

Roger King – keyboards, programming & orchestral arrangements (1 – 11)

Malik Mansurov – tar (3, 8)

Arsen Petrosyan – duduk (8)

Christine Townsend – violin (5, 10)

Rob Townsend – soprano sax (8), flute (7)

Release Date: 22nd January 2021

Label: InsideOut Music

Formats: Limited CD Digipak, Gatefold 2LP + CD + LP-booklet and Digital Album

You can listen to Mdina (The Walled City) track here:

And Andalusian Heart here:

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