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Steve Hackett - "Tribute"

When people think of Steve Hackett, their first image is this: an introverted man with beard, black curling hair and horn-rimmed spectacles who provided progressive guitar solos for the band he made up with Phil Collins on drums, Peter Gabriel on the microphone, Mike Rutherford on bass and Tony Banks on keyboards, a band that would make only (art) pop music after he left.

Some remember his past as an art rock / prog musician with Spectral Mornings and other great records – and sundry fine rock and prog side projects. Now he indulges in his love for classical music. On May 19 [2008] his Tribute to his guitar role models was published (and those who pre-ordered received signed copies).  On this album Steve Hackett plays nothing but nylon guitar. Pure acoustic guitar, as it were.

Light acoustic guitar sounds lead the listener straightaway into the world of classical guitar music. The door opens, in comes Hackett and begins with a merry, light-footed piece by Bach, the Gavottes (BWV 1012).  Segovia has joined two of Bach’s gavottes, two melodies, as it were, two dances that mingle with each other. Here Hackett makes much use of dynamics: Soft strumming and hard plucking interchange. A good choice for an opening piece - it shows that this album is going to be good.

Follows the Courante (BWV 1009), another one by Bach, much faster, almost dissonant. The tastefully designed dark booklet reveals that this piece was written for cello – you can hear that. Hackett’s interpretation is very enjoyable (even though the reviewer does not know the original).

Another Bach: Jesu Joy (BWV 147), a calm piece with gentle guitar chords and a lovely melody. The original is a famous chorale in the Heart And Mouth And Deed And Life cantata. Hackett calls it a “gorgeous lullaby” in the booklet, and it is soothing and relaxing.

The piece after that is one of Hackett’s own compositions, the Fountain Suite. Hectic vibrato, lots of flageolet sounds – this could well be the classical continuation of The Return Of The Giant HogweedThe Fountain Suite calms down to baroque chord sequences, rhythm changes, lots of echo, lots of legato. Hackett need not fear comparison with the other maestro: It does not stick out after the three-piece-run by Bach, for it is brilliant and exciting. Hackett heaps more praise on Segovia, by whom, according to his own statement, his playing has been influenced a lot.

A jump back in time brings us to late medieval music as Hackett interprets a Pavane by William Byrd, Earl of Salisbury. Hackett does full justice to this song that was originally written for organ. It is only around ninety seconds long, but is certainly is another gem in this treasure chest.  Friends of classical guitar music will be able to compare Hackett to other famous musicians, e.g. John Williams. Williams has been focusing on classical music all his life. His sound is harder, but similar, particularly in his varied vibratos.

The piece after that is a tribute to the forest, to nature and to Barrios, who had written La Catedral as a tribute to the forest. You can almost hear the leaves fall from the trees and float in the wind in this fast piece in ¾.

On we go to a peaceful, gentle, traditional piece. El Noy De La Mare is a song Hackett reveres. In the notes he explains that he would love to shake the composer’s hand. Though only two minutes long it is a very fine number.

Cascada is much livelier. Hackett demonstrates how agile his fingers are, and how accomplished a writer he is. Cascada shows that a piece of music can be dynamic and driving without using any instrument but the guitar.

Sapphires is, as Hackett explains, the first piece he wrote and really liked. It was actually written before he joined Genesis. Sapphires is a trip to the past because you can hear what guitar music used to sound like back then.

Another tribute to Bach is accompanied by much praise in the booklet. The Prelude in D (BWV 998) is a merry piece, brief, but wonderful.

The Prelude in C Minor (BWV 999) is another Bach piece less than one minute long. Hackett finds that this piece says more than all the music some other musicians have written in their whole life. The reviewer agrees; it is a very expressive piece that may occupy you for much longer than it takes to hear it.

“Time for something longer after all these short pieces” was what the reviewer thought when he first listened to this CD (he did not have a tracklist with play times). This next piece is almost 15 minutes long. The booklet explains that Chaconne (BWV 1004) is a piece J.S.Bach dedicated to his first wife. Hackett has admiring words for the transition from flat to sharp in the middle – and it really is such a subtle transition that one hardly notices it. But stop that modesty, Mr Hackett! After all, you are the musician who compiled all these pieces and fit them into his excellent overall concept. But that’s not all…

In the end there are five more minutes of Spanish folklore. La Maja De Goya is the only piece that stands out stylistically from the others. It was written by Enrique Granados. Despite its obvious differences it fits in well with the rest of the music; they’re all masterpieces. La Maja features flageolet (but rather off) tones, just like one imagines guitar music from the Mediterranean.

And that is that, the doors to the exhibition of guitar gems close.

The former Genesis guitarist has given us a unique presentation, on which he comments with characteristic and charming hesitation, heaping praise on the composers, his role models, while presenting himself as the humble servant of this wonderful music.

The reviewer, however, begs to differ in this point: such a quiet and emotional interpretation is the tell-tale sign of a master. Other guitarist may be more perfect or play the pieces faster, but this one does honest work with a feeling, and it is easy to hear Hackett’s style everywhere.

The composers play an important role – obviously. But Hackett’s three own creations show that he himself is a good composer. He became a favourite with prog fans by playing spectacular solos on the electric guitar, and now he releases a very consistent album recorded with lots of love – a kind of Pictures Of A Guitar Music Exhibition assembled from all over the world. Together with John Williams and many others he has joined the “acoustic guitarreros” though those who enjoy classical guitar music will rather enjoy the music of Rodrigo, John Williams and Narciso Yepes because Hackett’s 50 minute-CD is not up to par with the works of other guitarists. There are certainly other records on which the guitarist plays even more perfectly and even faster. I love Hackett’s Tribute, though I wish he had included his interpretation of my favourite composition for acoustic guitar, Francesco Tarrega’s Recuerdos del Alhambra. But this will not affect the overall rating…

One frequently reads that this CD should have been longer. The reviewer disagrees. It is all about quality, not quantity, and the quality is very high here. Classical music to relax to, no frills, a welcome alternative to the rock music we enjoy so much otherwise.

Hackett has made the reviewer, who usually prefers rock music, curious for acoustic guitar music. The reviewer has listened to quite a number albums of acoustic guitar music, but only Tribute has really convinced him – which, of course, strongly recommends it to everybody who are looking for an entry-way into acoustic guitar music.

by Max B.
translated by Martin Klinkhardt

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