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Steve Howe

Spectrum

Review by Gary Hill

Steve Howe never seems to be content to stay with one style or another for his solo albums. That means that every disc he does represents a bit of a surprise. It also means that no two of them will ever be mistaken for the same album. That makes all of them a winner in one form or another. This one might possibly be the best that he has done, though. Certainly the combination of jazzy, rock and country textures makes for a CD of intriguing moods and modes. The musicians on show here - two of them (besides the maestro himself) are Howes. Virgil Howe provides some of the keyboards for the disc and Dylan Howe lays down the drums. Rounding out the group is a Wakeman - Oliver (son of Howe's band mate Rick) also on keyboards and a Levin (Tony who is Mr. prog rock bass having played in King Crimson, Peter Gabriel's band, Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe - and those are just some of the bigger names) on bass. This instrumental CD is exceptionally strong and should be a treat both for Yes fans and those who like instrumental prog in general.

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Track by Track Review
Tiger's Den
A fast paced riff that's one part rock and roller and one part Asia (the continent, not the band) makes up the main theme here. The song carries forward with some almost countryish textures at times, but the overall mode is a strong proggy rock instrumental. They drop it towards ambient fusion for a segment later.
Labyrinth
Pretty and intricate acoustic modes make up the early segments here. Then a hard-edged jam serves as counter point to these segments. The song then shifts gears to a fun jazz like jam. It moves through a couple variations on this until a harder more energized rock segment takes over. Then playful jazzy textures emerge with Howe laying down some guitar work that is exceptionally tasty. They drop it to a new classical prog rock segment to carry forward, then the acoustic guitar returns unaccompanied to end it.
Band of Light
As acoustic guitar starts this, it again has a minor country texture, but as it carries forward a more straightforward rock theme takes this. It feels almost like a prog rock take on electrified Dylan (Bob not Howe) at times. This runs through more rocking and mellower textures moving the theme forward all the time.
Ultra Definition
This comes in mellow, but very dramatic. The instrumental moves into new territory rather quickly running through one harder edged segment until a new faster paced section moves it forward. This one just keeps reworking and reinventing. Howe's work is especially powerful on this cut, as is the bluesy keyboard solo, and this is one of the strongest tracks on the CD. It gets into some really soulful territory at times, too. I really love this one.
Ragga Of Our Times
Psychedelic sitar type music starts this. They turn this into a fast paced jam that has bot basic rock and roll overtones and jazzy sounds. This even turns a bit surf-like at points. This moves through quite a few changes, sitar sounds coming back later with some fiery guitar work.
Ebb and Flow
An old time rock and roll texture with some minor Yesish tendencies create the texture for this slower rock cut. After a while in a mellow mode it crunches out and Howe solos all over the top. Then it drops back to the mellow to continue. It alternates between these modes as it carries forward in an "ebb and flow" pattern. This one is both soothing and dramatic - and very effective.
Realm Thirteen
This one starts quite mellow, then jumps up just a bit in the start of a gradual build up. Howe puts in some more very cool work on this one. It moves through several changes and theme reiterations as it carries forward. Howe truly works some magic on this one.
Without Doubt
This one starts in fairly mellow, yet distorted tones on just guitar. As the other instruments join the cut becomes a lively jam that is one of the few on the disc that has Yesish textures. Indeed, this feels like it could easily have fit on The Ladder. It manages to move through a number of varying textures and segments and still remains consistent.
Highly Strung
A fairly quick paced harder edged jam starts this. It drops to a mellower mode to carry on and feels a bit like a cross between Hawkwind and Yes at times. As it carries forward, this one even turns a little surf music like at times. This is another very strong one and another that keeps reinventing itself. How's guitar almost seems to talk at times on this.
Hour of Need
This comes in mellow and just a little bluesy. As it carries forward a very dramatic classic rock textures makes up the theme here. This one is an exceptionally powerful and very cool jam that's one of my favorites on the disc. The tone to this is just incredible. Howe's soloing is downright stellar here, too. This one is the longest track on the album at a little over five minutes - and definitely one of the most powerful and effective.
Fools Gold
This is a playful rock and roll based jam that's good clean fun. It's bouncy and just a little off kilter. Howe's soloing on this one feels like old school jazzing adding to the retro texture of the piece. This feels a times a little like Booker T & The MG's. A little different, this one is cool enough to make it a real standout. Dylan (Howe not Bob) even gets in a bit of a jazzy drum solo on this one.
When Words Fail
Acoustic guitar starts this a little tentatively, then a somewhat bouncy melody emerges and the guitar begins soloing overtop. This is a mellow, but not boring or even restful cut. It has plenty of color textures, changes and killer jamming to keep it from becoming boring. A rather Yes-like segment mid song provides a great change and plenty of opportunity for Howe to provide some inspired fretwork. This is another quite dynamic and very effective piece and one of my favorites on show here. Howe just comes on fire (you'd almost expect to hear him say "flame on") later in this one.
In the Skyway
More sedate tones make up the overall theme here. This one feels like a dramatic rather countrified sound. As it rocks a little harder it takes on Floyd like textures. It is another very dramatic standout cut - another highlight of the disc. Slide guitar on this one is very effective.
Livelihood
This comes in playful and more mellow. It's a fun, if not overly exceptional number. Still almost any cut would pale coming after "In The Skyway".
Free Rein
A dramatic acoustic guitar mode starts this and they build on it ever so gradually, feeling both a bit like Floyd and Yes. This gets quite involved and powerful. While it's not the best track on the disc, it is very strong and makes for a great album closer.
 
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