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(60 min, InsideOut)
TRACK LIST: 1. Tiger's Den 3:46 2. Labyrinth 3:57 3. Band of Light 3:34 4. Ultra Definition 3:29 5. Ragga of Our Times 4:12 6. Ebb & Flow 4:03 7. Realm Thirteen 4:27 8. Without Doubt 3:45 9. Highly Strung 4:30 10. Hour of Need 5:13 11. Fool's Gold 4:05 12. Where Words Fail 4:16 13. In the Skyway 3:13 14. Livelihood 3:34 15. Free Rein 3:52 All tracks: by Howe. Produced by Howe. LINEUP: Steve Howe - guitars Tony Levin - bass Dylan Howe - drums Oliver Wakeman - keyboards Virgil Howe - keyboards
Prolusion. Steve HOWE, guitarist best known for his work with the bands Yes and Asia, (also GTR and Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe) continues to explore his expansive solo career with "Spectrum", assisted by bass player extraordinaire, Tony Levin, and the "sons of Yes", his own progeny, Dylan and Virgil, as well as Rick Wakeman's son, Oliver.
Analysis. Anyone who has seen Steve Howe play in concert knows what a workout the roadies get wheeling various stringed instruments on and off stage as needed by this versatile guitarist. "Spectrum" is a collection of 15 short guitar pieces, exploring classical, jazz, rock and even some Eastern and country sounds. Tiger's Den kicks off the album with an up-tempo piece that combines jazz and rock elements along with some slide guitar. Labyrinth surprises us by starting off with acoustic renaissance guitar, but then being echoed by the other instruments in rock mode, moving into a jazz cooker and then shifting yet again back to rock briefly and back to jazz. With all the twists and turns, you don't know where Howe will take you next, like following him at a full tilt through, well, a labyrinth. Band of Light turns country with a dobro intro sounding like some of Jerry Douglas' progressive bluegrass. Ultra Definition takes a number of stylistic turns and quite a variety of guitar tonalities, including some crisp country picking and some nice piano work by Wakeman. Sitar makes its debut on Ragga of Our Times but doesn't dominate the music for long. There's even a bit of surf style guitar woven in on this one. The beat is bouncy and the tune quite cheerful. Truly, it is amazing at how quickly and deftly Mr. Howe is able to move from one sound or style to another so smoothly. A less accomplished musician would jar the senses of the listener with such audio gymnastics. Of course, he does not do this alone and the other players in the ensemble deserve credit for their part in weaving this musical tapestry. Without detailing every tune, suffice it to say that this CD has an overall uplifting and joyful sound. Howe says, "I wanted it to reflect my approach to life by infusing it with love, optimism and a natural energy."
Conclusion. Steve Howe shows his mastery of guitar and other stringed instruments in subtle ways. He is a modest player, not ever showing off technique for technique's sake. Those who enjoy "Natural Timbre" (2001) will certainly find plenty to like here, as will other lovers of guitar-based music that does not adhere to any one genre. The progressive elements of interweaving of style and rhythms are never shocking to the senses, but rather like the aural version of looking through a kaleidoscope. This music is playful without being comical, joyful without being giddy. It is like a sunny day in spring. Howe demonstrates himself to be a gentle practitioner of prog again with "Spectrum".
KW: June 16, 2005
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