Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Time - Steve Howe

During a long and productive solo career Steve has pointed his guitar in all manner of directions. Sometimes he is very focused as with Turbulence and Skyline (rock and new age respectively) on other occasions almost bewilderingly versatile Beginnings/Remedy.
For Time he decided to sweep up the pieces and orchestrate them for small forces. Steve has shown in these later years with Asia and Yes a very high degree of discernment in his compositional offerings. The same approach informs Time, not 12 pieces of self-penned tunes of varying quality, instead he has dug into his love of classical composition and sought collaborators.

So what do we have, the Bachainas Brasieiras is a beautiful elegant composition by Heiter Villa lobos and is given a treatment not unlike the Vivaldi on his second CD. A sublime steel guitar takes the tune with a wonderful serious accompaniment of percussion and strings reminding us how the harmonic values of music contribute so much to the fulfilment of an inititial musical idea giving it weight and gravitas.The first piece exudes grace and timeless, a clear indication that Steve has sailed away from the deceits of fashion and is mining his inner musical taste.

The next piece penned by Biglin and Howe is really up against it to maintain the quality of composition and it is to their great credit as he switches to classical guitar that it stands proudly alongside the first piece. The arrangement is at times strident and at others reflective - enchanting and once again the success of the piece relies as much on the harmonic virtues as the melody.

Wachet Auf is a great favourite of mine. I am familiar with the Bath choir singing this piece for the darkness in to light service at Advent and so it evokes the deep fall of the year with the promise of the light to come. Steve’s reading is majestic again on the acoustic with a wonderful accompaniment. When I thread myself back to the early seventies and looked out to what might come this is it.

So far the mood has been serious. Now, Orange a jaunty folk feel to it, a great vehicle for the banjo and the chance to give the programme band width. The wind and percussion played with finesse and delicacy the right balance of joy and depth.  

Paul K Joyce’s Purification has more of the feel of an electric guitar solo on the 175 but that is because the accompaniment is so sympathetic. Some great counter point between the 175 and a mandolin sounding guitar, Uplifting joyous full of subtle beauty and glorious harmonic work from the accompanyment. If after Fragile Yes had decided to evolve into a progressive semi acoustic string quartet building on Long Distance Runaround this is what it would have sounded like.

Rose a switch to the classical guitar stately and a beautiful tune with some lovely harmonics. By this stage it is clear this is turning into a really summit for Steve. The arrangement so subtle a brief flurry of electric keyboard and some wonderful string and bassoon playing before it crescendos with some gloriously exposed picking from Steve.

Explorer is the first of two Sutin compositions. The electric lead sound reminds me of the solo that emerges at the end of Wondrous Stories except the counterpoint, the back drop, is Paul Joyce’s playful arrangement. I am very fond of Skyline with its lovely clean ascending melodies and this piece exhibits the same style. Right at the end he lifts the piece with some beautiful repeating "birdsong" phrasing.

The next tune is a huge surprise written by Virgil. Sophisticated evocative and deeply romantic, indeed like Fly from Here, in parts very cinematic. For some reason a stroll along the sands of the North Devon beach’s or a cliff top walk come into my mind. A deeply sympathetic accompaniment never intruding.

Concerto Grosso begins with a willowy wind solo evoking courtly 15th century subtly and finesse and the focus here is group rather than solo, giving the programme yet another perspective. The meshing of the electric guitar with the small orchestra is particularly effective on this piece the former only emerging towards the end. This is arguably the heaviest piece in terms of the density of the ideas.

Paul Joyce wrote the third of March and once again to follow such an important classical work with such success demonstrates the strength of the ideas and the music. At its heart a beautiful melody played out on Classical and Dobro guitars it goes through a subtle change midway ascending to a beautiful solo guitar finish restating the earlier melody. This is a master class in how to build the dynamics of a piece without the need for volume.

Steam Age like Orange changes the mood humorous light all about a bygone era. Towards the end a slightly bigger sound which gives Steve the chance to play some nice rotations on the Martin. The piece has charm and character and you begin to realise the entire programme is packed with jewels. 

Apollo celebrating the lyre guitar this piece which brings the programme to a close has a nice live feel to it full of energy and pace the acouctic delicate weaving its way round the strings and then almost concerto like slows right down picking out the melody with again a wonderful accompanyment before reigniting. This time the guitar takes the fast lead before resolving around the strings and percussion. A wonderful chase by the accompanyment brings the programme to a joyfull close.    
In 1975 Chris Welch reviewed Beginnings and finished by saying this is the work of a restless soul in search of perfection. This is the work of a contented soul who has found his artistic place and is comfortable with himself musically. There are no attempts here to position oneself, just music that shows the joy of playing, reflects on the years of developing ones craft and the peace it can bring. All involved should feel very proud of their contribution.