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Steve Hackett – Beyond the Shrouded Horizon

InsideOut – 0505630 – http://www.insideoutmusic.com/

Extended Version 2 CD with hardbound booklet with lyrics, credits and photos

(Also available on vinyl): http://www.hackettsongs.com/

CD 1: 1) Loch Lomond; 2) The Phoenix Flown; 3) Wanderlust; 4) Til These Eyes; 5) Prairie Angel; 6) A Place Called Freedom; 7) Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms; 8) Waking To Life; 9) Two Faces Of Cairo; 10) Looking For Fantasy; 11) Summer’s Breath; 12) Catwalk; 13) Turn This Island Earth

CD 2 (Limited Edition Bonus): 1) Four Winds: North; 2) Four Winds: South; 3) Four Winds: East; 4) Four Winds: West; 5) Pieds En L’Air; 6) She Said Maybe; 7) Enter The Night; 8) Eruption: Tommy; 9) Reconditioned Nightmare

Released in the Fall of 2011, “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” is an album that has been in steady rotation in my music room and on my iPod since that time, but I wanted to have some time to better absorb the album before writing about it.

Since the release of his last introspective album, “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth”, there have been many changes in Steve Hackett’s life, he has married his collaborator/partner Jo [Lehmann] Hackett, gotten the rights back to his recording studio as well as his musical works.  My impression is that “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth” is a deeply personal work and somewhat a reaction to his divorce during that period. “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” [BtSH] is a departure from those inward themes and seems to be more outward looking, explorations and is a journey of discovery and reinvention that Hackett has been known for over his career.  Hackett doesn’t stay still, musically for too long, although his work is immediately identifiable—a blend of the familiar along with the new.  I wouldn’t necessarily label “BtSH” a concept album, but the pieces are thematically linked.

Aside from his roots being dipped in the blues, Hackett has always been an experimenter with sounds, effect & guitar techniques (he is credited with the fretboard “tapping” style he first introduced on the Genesis album “Nursery Cryme”).  It has also been written that prior to his audition for Genesis, SH was preparing, not by playing songs of the day, but exploring new sounds with his guitar, amp and equipment.

SH has released nearly 40 studio and live albums since his departure from the band Genesis in 1977.  Sadly, many still associate his musical identity largely with his work with Genesis (though his work with them was an essential part of their output from 1971 through 1977).  Hackett, however, has had a rich solo career delving into many genres of music: electric and acoustic, blues, progressive rock, classical and including eastern Europe to the Middle and Far Eastern musical influences.  He was also one of the first rock artists to release an “unplugged” album, “Bay Of Kings”, in 1983 (leaving his then label, Charisma Records, to do it).  The music press has labeled some of his work as more heavily produced or commercial progressive rock (and was quite successful on the Billboard Charts), like the 1986 eponymous album “GTR” with Steve Howe, Max Bacon, Phil Spalding and Jonathan Mover (produced by Geoff Downes).  He has collaborated with a broad range of artists: his brother John Hackett, Nick Magnus, John Wetton, Ian McDonald, Djabe, Chris Squire, Julian Colbeck, Anthony Phillips (and I have left many names off this rather short “long” list), and his current live band including: Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann and Rob Townsend.

Since his first solo work from 1975 (while still with Genesis), “Voyage of the Acolyte”, each album has included an inventive range of sounds and emotions from the most tender to the ferocious and dark.  More recently, keyboardist Roger King has been a close collaborator, co-songwriter, and technical advisor with Hackett.  Jo [Lehmann] Hackett also co-wrote some songs on SH’s previous album “OOTTM”, but for “BtSH” most of the songs are written by the trio of SH, RK & JH with two song credits added for Steve Howe and Jonathan Mover.

In many respects this album and back to his albums including “Dark Town” from 1999, have a strong cinematic quality—very visual and punctuated with scene and mood changes and transitional links between pieces.  Many of the breaks and tempo changes during a given song are similar to cuts in a film, shifting from broad to intimate scenes (from full orchestra to lone nylon guitar).  The contrasts throughout the album (to heighten dramatic effect) are not unlike those techniques used by Robert Fripp et al in many earlier King Crimson’s albums, up to the album “Red”.

“Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” is a journey (but there is a sense of a shifting timeline and locations).  The album opens with a broad electric anthem, “Loch Lomond” (the largest freshwater lake in Great Britain, north of Glasgow, Scotland).  It appears to be a departure, leaving the old behind to seek the new.  There are alternating sections of fierce electric guitar choruses and acoustic accompaniment during the verses that documents the journey outward.  The next two pieces “The Phoenix Flown” and “Wanderlust” serve as first a majestic transport to the next destination with an acoustic six-string pause before the next piece.

“Til These Eyes”, I think, is one of the most beautiful ballads that Hackett & Co. has ever recorded.  It has a sense of reflective melancholy.  It is a song of a mature voice and clearly speaks from a life of experience.  SH’s vocals are sung in a low (almost weary) register and are well suited with the symbolism of the lyrics and accompanying music. It has the feeling of a ship’s captain, reviewing his life in a logbook, mulling over the mistakes, the losses and what is sought upon arrival at the ultimate destination: “…til these eyes have seen love.”

The journey continues and is announced by the instrumental “Prairie Angel”.  The piece begins with a first languid and then rhythmic electric guitar and then transitions to a raucous blues chorus (with SH playing harmonica) and this leads to a not entirely clear but distinct western destination, “A Place Called Freedom” and a love seen and sought.  The original “Prairie Angel” electric guitar theme returns to close the song.

“Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms” is a lullaby of sorts, a dream while traveling into the night with an orchestral interlude reminiscent of the waves carrying the ship into the next port.  “Waking To Life” is the arrival in a different land (and Amanda Lehmann sings vocals).  The piece is a cross-fertilization of Middle and Far Eastern music influences (even a sense of a Bollywood production) with an expansive orchestra following an electric guitar solo.  The closing instrumental passage and guitar solo appears to be homage to the 1978 piece “Please Don’t Touch”.

The ominous transitional flute introduction to the “Two Faces of Cairo” is reminiscent of John Hackett’s opening to “The Steppes” from the 1980 album “Defector” and then the scene is that of (and almost presages, given the time this album was recorded) the political upheaval of the recent Egyptian revolution.  An ensemble of percussion beats out the protest and is accompanied by a searing guitar solo by SH with an intermingled orchestra.  “Looking For Fantasy” seems to be another point of reflection from a different point of view and during another time, a Camelot of sorts.

“Summer’s Breath” is a nylon-stringed interlude with distant voices on the beach.  Hackett has such a gift for expressing emotions through his guitar.  This transitions into a moody and raucous blues piece, “Catwalk”, which recalls his album “Blues With A Feeling” from 1995.  One section has a fret board tapping run and solo that just rips a hole in the shifting time window of the journey (louder is better here).

“Turn This Island Earth” is the result of the collaboration of the three main songwriters along with Howe and Mover.  It is the portion of the album where the travel is science fiction.  It is the broadest, most orchestral, and dramatic piece on the album.  It is certainly taking cues from the days of GTR.  There is a middle section following an orchestral catharsis that borrows the theme of “Leaving” from the album “Defector” before moving to a dreamy march section with vocals.  The mood shifts in this piece are quite dramatic and the musical scenes are as broad as the distance traveled (even with a snippet of Greensleeves) as the journey closes.

Throughout the album, there is a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, extensive keyboards (with digital orchestral sampling), woodwinds and strong support from the rhythm section of the band.  Unlike the last release (where the drums were digital samples) “BtSH” includes both digitally sampled and actual percussion by Gary O’Toole and Simon Phillips.  The recording varies from broad to sharply compressed (heightening the scenes) and from densely layered to the intimacy of a single guitar (that sounds as if SH is playing in one’s room).  It’s an exciting journey and I hope SH continues to record and tour, for many years to come.

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The bonus CD includes an interesting collection tracks (and well worth the added expense, although the track “Eruption: Tommy” is dropped on the LP set).  A four-part suite entitled “Four Winds” (North, East, South and West) co-written by Hackett and King (except part three by Hackett and Benedict Fenner).  The fifth piece “Pieds En L’Air” is movement five of the Capriol Suite written by Peter Warlock in 1926 and beautifully played by the trio (as a quartet) of Dick Driver on double bass, Richard Stuart on cello and Christine Townsend on both violin and viola.  From this piece, it is not difficult to hear where the flowing lyrical quality has influenced SH’s work, especially his acoustic guitar pieces.  “She Said Maybe” by Hackett and King is a Jazz-like piece that (for me) recalls some of Allan Holdsworth’s or Jan Akkerman’s work, a steady rhythm section and musical improvisations by both Hackett on guitar and King on keyboards, both solo and together.  “Enter The Night” is a vocal version of “Depth Charge” from the 1991 live album “Time Lapse”, but this appears to be a re-recording of the piece (credited to Hackett, King and Jo Hackett).  It is difficult to pick a stand out in this second CD, but “Eruption: Tommy” (actually written by Tom Barlage of the band “Solution”, not Thijs Van Leer as credited) made famous by the Dutch band “Focus” on their 1971 “Focus II” album is an absolutely splendid cover of this work.  The CD closes with a re-recording of “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare” from the 1981 album “Cured”, recast as “Reconditioned Nightmare”.

Note: This article will be published shortly at an online music and audio equipment-related e-zine.

From the recording of Loch Lomond:


In Rotation

Various albums are in rotation here at the moment, with some “classical” recordings (Bernard Herrmann, Aaron Copland and a Karajan rehearsal) on the way from an auction I recently bid on at Polyphony:

http://www.polyphonyrecordings.com/

Printed and online catalogs become available (every two or three months) and Lawrence Jones (the proprietor of Polyphony) conducts auctions as he has since 1978 (reel-to-reel tapes, LPs, books and other items).  The recordings are each graded for condition (as well as the covers) and auditioned by Larry, so one can rest assured that they arrive as described and carefully packaged.  Larry has many rare items and often entire recording collections become available, like a recent, almost complete collection of Camden label LPs, here:

http://www.polyphonyrecordings.com/camden_gallery.php

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Before anyone thinks I’m listening only to ambient music these days, here’s a brief overview of things moving between turntables and CD players:

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood – In Case The World Changes Its Mind (Live) – fabulous recording!

Van Der Graaf Generator – A Grounding In Numbers – It’s surprisingly good…and gritty.

Drums Between The Bells – Brian Eno and Rick Holland – The piece “Glitch” is remarkable, among others.

Nicholas Szczepanik – Ante Algo Azul – A twelve part suite of recordings along with artwork, custom sleeves and poetry that I am delving into now, fascinating.

Steve Wilson – Grace For Drowning – Excellent

Carolina Chocolate Drops – Luminescent Orchestrii (10″ 4 song vinyl EP)

Elizabeth Fraser –  Moses (12″ vinyl EP) – I miss her voice from the days of Cocteau Twins

James Blake – his first eponymous double vinyl LP–really interesting and a (dynamically) challenging recording of great depth. With thanks to my son for getting this for me.

The Black Keys – El Camino – kicking some rock and roll and blues butt.

Yellow Birds – The Color

Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes – More finely crafted songs.

Tom Waits – Bad As Me – This album just rips.

Wire – Chairs Missing (revisiting a great album from 1978)

Montt Mardie – Skaizerkite – Really energetic songs (AKA David Olof Peter Pagmar) from Sweden.

The Bruford Tapes – From 1979, a reissued 2 channel FM broadcast by Bill Bruford and band.

Long Way Down – Soundtrack to the African motorcycle adventure taken by Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman.

Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas – His 12th studio album…I’ve only heard excerpts and so far and I’m looking forward to this.

Michael Franks – Time Together (released in the summer of 2011) – some great songs from the humorous “Mice” to the heartfelt farewell to his family’s pup, Flora. Gil Goldstein’s arrangements on this are absolutely magical.

Trombone Shorty – For True – Get your funk on!

Taylor Deupree – his albums Shoals and Northern (on his 12K label), electronic/acoustic explorations, beautifully packaged.

Tomas Phillips + Mari Hiko – Prosa (on M. Ostermeier’s Tench label) – Dynamic recording and imagery.

John Zorn – The Gates of Paradise – inspired by the works of William Blake with John Medeski, Kenny Wollesen, Trevor Dunn and Joey Baron – A really beautiful, lyrical and mysterious work inspired by the mystic.

Martin Schulte (Marat Shibaev) – Silent Stars, Odysseia and Treasure – Atmospheric Techno

bvdub – Then – House, Techno, experimental and ambient

There just isn’t enough time in the day (nor money in the music budget).  Anyone else have suggestions?


Forthcoming Reviews

“Winter Garden”, the new instrumental CD by Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie on the RareNoiseRecords label: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/ The album is also available at Darla Records: http://darla.com/ This IS a solicited review, but I already owned the recording.

“Beyond the Shrouded Horizon”, Steve Hackett’s new album available on the InsideOut label and through the artist’s website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/


My Online Reviews Currently Appear At…

http://affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html and http://www.hifizine.com/   Stay tuned for additional online locations.


Nick Magnus – Children of Another God – CD

Magick Nuns Records – MNCD 1002: http://www.magnus-music.com/coag.htm

1) Children of Another God, 2) Doctor Prometheus, 3) Twenty Summers, 4) Identity Theft, 5) The Colony is King, 6) Crimewave Monkeys, 7) The Others, 8) Babel Tower, 9) Howl the Stars Down

Short version: Buy this CD; it’s one of the best progressive rock albums, front to back that you will ever hear.  It’s beautifully produced, packaged and recorded and the videos at Nick’s website work very well with the story of the album.

Long version: Nick was first a student steeped in analog synthesizers and keyboard works with progressive bands such as The Enid and Autumn.  The latter band made a recording in 1977 when Nick was a mere 22 and it was released privately as a CD entitled “Oceanworld” in 1999 on Autumn Records.  Before his solo career started Nick was best known as a long time collaborator with Steve Hackett until the late 1980s.  There’s a very good history of Nick’s career at his website.  He has also recorded as a guest musician with Renaissance, China Crisis and many others.

Nick is also a pioneer in the transition from an analog to digital recording studio and keyboards.  He was also largely responsible for what’s probably the first recording of the Linn Drum on Steve Hackett’s LP “Cured” in 1981.  For some, this was Steve’s most pop LP, but it established Steve as more of a songwriter, in addition to his well known instrumental works.  Nick’s playing, engineering and production work had a great influence of Hackett’s sound during that period.  Nick over time has also created an almost flawless analog “sound” to digital recording and sampled instruments.  Since the early 1990s he has been sought out as a consultant on digital recording techniques and electronic percussion. And although in the earlier days he worked with one of my favorite keyboard instruments, the Mellotron (and successor Novatron), his work continues to feature this instrument in a sampled digital form.  He was also a large force behind the now out-of-print and much sought-after 1993 CD on the Voiceprint label, “Rime of the Ancient Sampler”, which features the Mellotron and Chamberlin recorded in many forms in original works by a well-known cast of progressive artists from Wooly Wolstenholme (Barclay James Harvest) to Michael Pinder (Moody Blues).  Nick’s recording on this CD is an alternate mix of his piece “Night of the Condor” from his 1993 solo Voiceprint CD (VP142CD) “Straight On Till Morning” (“SOTM”).

“Children of Another God” (“COAG”) is the follow-up to Nick’s previous solo works “SOTM”, “Inhaling Green”, “Hexameron” and collaborations with Pete Hicks (former Steve Hackett vocalist) “Flat Pack” and John Hackett’s (Steve’s brother) marvelous CD “Checking Out of London”.  “COAG” has some familiar guest artists: Steve Hackett, John Hackett, Tony Patterson (Re-Genesis and solo works), Pete Hicks, Linda John-Pierre, Andy Neve and Glenn Tollett.

“COAG” is (as many progressive works are) a concept album; it tells a story, but it is subject to the interpretation of the listener.  Nick’s other collaborator is lyricist Dick Foster, who has contributed lyrics and the back-story to some of Nick’s other solo works.  Briefly, the story is contemporary and plausible; ten cloned brothers are violently separated at birth and are drawn together later in adult life.  The album has a motto, “Conformity is Power, Diversity is Progress”.  I’ll let the listener draw their own conclusions on the outcome of the story and the social commentary, but these are certainly issues that we face as a society as science races ahead of public policy.

The CD starts with the anthem and story “COAG” (video at Nick’s website and youtube along with two other videos).  Tony Patterson is the vocalist and everything that a solid progressive album should have is present: guitars, keyboards, Mellotron strings and choir and bass pedals—the song and story builds and then will fill your listening room.  “Doctor Prometheus” with Pete Hicks providing vocals, follows with an instantly memorable rhythm and Greek story line that parallels the concept and adds wit (for those not familiar with the myth of Prometheus, search the web or reach for your Greek mythology books!).  As is the case with many of Nick’s works, he often pays an homage to other progressive artists and “Twenty Summers”, which serves as an instrumental link to the fourth track “Identity Theft” includes rhythms and sounds that will be familiar to many from Yes to an instantly recognizable homage to the short-lived band UK (“In The Dead of Night”) from their 1977 eponymous LP.  “Identity Theft” is, I think, Nick’s solo vocal debut (video also at Nick’s website) and once the song begins he is joined by ex-Enid bassist Glenn Tollett who provides a sensual jazz-like acoustic bass line that intertwines with sonorous wine-glass sampling and vibraphone throughout the song—the story of the clones continues.  “The Colony is King” includes chilling vocals by Andy Neve and features sweeping flute from John Hackett and screaming riffs from Steve Hackett’s Fernandes guitar, paralleled with haunting Mellotron—this is a beautiful recording and pulls one into the emotion of the story; a nightmare soundtrack of sorts.

Pete Hicks returns for “Crimewave Monkeys” with a musical introduction that will challenge the sonic and dynamic capabilities of any audio system—a broad and sweeping recording that quickly transitions into a tight rhythmic riff and the vocals depicting a fast-paced hyped twenty-four hour news cycle reporting violence; strong social commentary here.  Next is Linda John-Pierre’s emotional vocal presenting a mother’s story of receiving a son and then how the boy is taken by “The Others”, the song’s title.  The sentimental power of this piece is very evident and some may criticize it for not being truly a “progressive” work, but the lyrics provide the guidance for the treatment of the music and for me it works very well with the whole.

More history books required along with contemporary parallels in the next track “Babel Tower” sung by Tony Patterson (with his Peter Gabriel-esque vocal treatment); this is where the story, like the tower, falls and we are returned to a reprise of the opening theme of “COAG”, more stirring and sonically broader than the first, but this is not the end.  There is a postscript: “Howl the Stars Down” is a somber conclusion to the story, brilliantly sung by Tony Patterson; the song, the vocals and the lyrics are raw, tragic and have the feeling of being in slow motion.  This is Tony’s own vocal sound, no imitation here.  Nick’s piano and strings paint a stark reality and the vocals are nothing but beautiful.

This work is the complete package; in music and story, from beginning to end, beautifully recorded, played and told.  Listen to it over and over; it will be well worth your time.

More on Nick Magnus:  Although not well known for this, Nick and Dick Foster recently (and quietly) released an album of “pop” songs in 2009, available only as a download from his website, under the moniker “Magnus & Foster – Don’t Look Back”.  It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like beautifully crafted songs, catchy tunes and thoughtful lyrics, it’s well worth it!

This review was first published at Audiokarma.org in 2010