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Steve Hackett: Under A Mediterranean Sky

Steve Hackett is one of a very few guitarists who can shift from electric to nylon-string guitar without missing a beat. Since he left Genesis in 1977, Hackett has covered a number of musical genres, playing jazz with the Hungarian group Djabe, recreating Genesis staples and recording solo discs. His latest album, Under A Mediterranean Sky, is an acoustic travelogue that illustrates the musical diversity of the Mediterranean in much the same way his father painted landscapes of exotic locales. Hackett notes, “it’s painting pictures of these various places to take you there in a time when you can’t go.”

The journey begins with “Mdina (The Walled City).” Orchestral bombast exposes the relatively impenetrable nature of the city, while Hackett’s classical technique recounts the beauty residing inside the walls. Over the course of almost nine minutes there are occasional bursts from outside, yet for the most part the piece focuses on the gorgeous nature of the historic Maltese capital city, with Spanish guitar and Roger King’s string arrangement creating a pastoral blend.

Equally compelling in a solo framework, “Adriatic Blue” contemplates the sea at its most gentle. There is a fluidity to Hackett’s solo guitar runs that highlight the other side of this musical adventure, illustrating how absorbing he can be in a solo context. Reflecting the relatively calm nature of the Adriatic Sea, he fills the piece with the smooth, inspired runs that haven’t always on display within and without the realm of Genesis. Seeing the waves and feeling the warm currents, one can envision the tall, forested cliffs that plunge to the sea on the Croatian coast.

The winds of “Sirocco” play out on guitar before the desert drums and strings provide glimpses into this Egyptian wind. Feeling the heat blowing into region, the violins create a sense of scope. Hackett’s technique, while massive, is never used simply to be showy. His fills while impressive, are always used to create soundscapes that highlight the colors and textures of the region. Displaying the French wine country, “Joie de Vivre” plays like a French cousin to Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” yet covers a lot more territory. Moving on to Spain, flamenco textures are illustrated during “The Memory of Myth.” The opening violin solo by Christine Townsend establishes a weepy tone that gives Hackett a chance for interplay. There’s an aching beauty to the piece, and Hackett’s sense of touch is exquisite.

Travels to Pompeii form the basis for “Casa del Fauno.” Lush lines from John Hackett’s flute, along with strings, recreate the enchantment felt by Hackett and his wife as they viewed the little statue in the House of the Faun. “The villas there seemed to come back to life as we walked through those wonderful atriums and gardens,” he writes. Similarly, Persian civilization serves as the basis for “The Dervish and the Djin.” Helping to capture the exotic nature of this region are the tar of Azerbaijan’s Malik Mansurov and Armenian Arsen Petrosyan’s duduk.

The flamenco music of Andalucía comes to life on “Andalusian Heart.” Hackett notes, “Seeing the gypsies playing and dancing in caves there, you get the feeling that these people are dancing for their lives.” More than merely capturing the techniques, the orchestral arrangement seems to capture the heart of the people and the dance itself. The album closes with “The Call of the Sea,” a reflection on a body of water that has tied together civilizations for centuries. Hackett’s guitar playing on the piece reflects the vast impact of the region. Strings offer a counterpoint to the guitarist, framing the piece, serving to underscore the beauty of the water.

The nylon guitar has a tone all its own. It’s not just one tone, but a range of tones that each require their own mastery. Under A Mediterranean Sky reveals the depths of Steve Hackett’s talent, with a technique that few can match.

Summary
Electric guitarist’s inspired nylon-stringed travelogue.
80 %
Acoustic journeys abroad

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