And in keeping with the main thrust of this edition, we shall focus on recent releases with a Hackett connection…
First of these is the recently released Playing The History which features the remarkable talents of Marco Lo Muscio who, along with Messrs John and Steve Hackett, Carlo Matteucci, David Jackson and Giorgio Gabriel (appropriately enough a member of Italian Progressive band; The Watch) bring some of the genre’s most esteemed classics a new lease of life.
Opening proceedings we have ELP’s re-working of William Blake’s seminal hymn; Jerusalem. Already a masterpiece, this re-working is worthy of performance in any cathedral in the realm - superbly played throughout!
Speaking of cathedrals well, where better for a performance of Rick Wakeman’s epic, Katherine Of Aragon. Without doubt one of the finest pieces from the entire Prog oeuvre, here we have it re-created in a setting worthy of its subject performed entirely by Marco on pipe organ and yet again it sends shivers up and down my spine. I would dearly love to hear Marco perform this within the truly magnificent surroundings of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral one day as it is truly stunning - a veritable tour de force and one of which I am sure Mr Wakeman himself would approve.
Overnight Snow from John Hackett’s recent Moonspinner album takes us into a more tranquil realm. A pungently brittle gem in which John and Carlo execute an almost stately waltz on their respective instruments into which Marco’s pipe organ adds an unexpected edginess to the performance.
Hairless Heart and After The Ordeal are next in live and I have to admit, I had reservations about how well these would work in such a setting. I needn’t have worried, in the hands of musicians as competent as these such classics are dusted off and given an entirely new sheen. Here the brothers Hackett demonstrate exactly how sublime their combined talents really are, although anyone who has seen their acoustic shows will not be surprised by this. After The Ordeal’s opening on the pipe organ works incredibly well and a stately ballet soon ensues between that instrument and Steve’s delightful guitar work lifts this one to even greater heights of brilliance.
Next we have yet another re-working of Horizons. Well one can’t have too many now can you? However for this performance, the starring instruments are flute and piano which take the music to another different place. This is a veritable Edwardian parlour performance which makes me wonder whether Mr Hackett himself was inspired by such things when he wrote this gem all those years ago? John and Marco can perform this in my parlour any time they like!
Fanfare and Lute’s Chorus (NOT Lute’s Song as it says in the sleeve notes!) is next. Well, what can I say about any extract from Anthony Phillips’ magnificent debut album that I haven’t already said elsewhere in the pages of either TWR or The Pavilion? Well, quite a lot actually. Marco’s pipe organ gets things off to an incredibly dramatic start before John’s wonderful flute soars above it in truly wonderful style and Carlo’s impeccable bass underpins the performance in an extremely tasteful fashion.
Hammer In The Sand took over twenty years to gain its live debut as part of one of Steve’s live shows and here it is brought magnificently to life again by a virtuoso performance by Marco’s piano playing which is truly awe inspiring throughout.
Theme One is one of those oddities in Prog in so much as it was hit pretty much from the word go and has remained popular to this day. With Van der Graaf’s David Jackson very much present on this one we stare very much into the beating inventive heart of the beast that is Progressive Rock and I love it!
Following this with a rendition of the classic King Crimson track; I Talk To The Wind was an inspired decision, brining the sublime side of Prog vividly to life. Marco’s organ takes the vocal part of Greg Lake astonishingly well while John Hackett’s flute augments it and is aided and abetted by both Carlo and Giorgio in what is another master class in performance.
Shadow Of The Hierophant has enjoyed a well deserved resurgence in popularity of late with its reappearance in Steve’s shows after an absence of almost thirty years. Always a performance I relish it has once again been given a new patina of magnificence by this truly stately rendition. Bona Kim’s vocal is a delight and when it is joined by the combined powers of John’s soaring flute and Marco’s truly inspired playing on a variety of keyboard instruments this is one for Prog fans to truly relish as indeed is the next track: Hands Of The Priestess, already one which has lent itself easily to performance in a stripped down format as anyone who has seen an acoustic trio show by Steve, John and Roger King can testify. I have seldom heard Steve Hackett’s classical guitar playing quite so sublime, it really beggars belief and defies description. Couple that with some truly masterful playing by Marco and John, I would almost go so far to say that this version leaves the original standing it is THAT good and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I do NOT say things like that lightly, folks!
As the album’s sleeve notes point out, Prog has borrowed extensively from the works of Professor J R R Tolkien either for band titles or inspiration for music and so, it is quite fitting that a suite of pieces inspired by his work takes its place here. Beginning with Galadriel which is a superb piece of classical guitar from Steve although some fans may remember the central theme from 2005’s Metamorpheus album. Here it is extended and augmented by Marco’s accompaniment on piano both of which serve to brilliantly emphasise the essential contradictions that make up what is probably one of the most enigmatic characters in modern day fiction.
This in turn is followed by Galadriel’s Memories, an altogether more serene and stately performance which to my ears has echoes of some of Willliam Walton’s glorious compositions with more than an echo of Crown Imperial in it to me and that is nothing to be sneezed at - another truly remarkable performance all round.
Bilbo’s Dream is a masterful composition for solo flute executed here in truly remarkable style by John Hackett and I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment of Marco’s composition in the sleeve notes and I love the (unintended I suspect) reference to Vaughan Williams in the jaunty coda - a piece truly deserving of its place in the concert repertoire.
Visions From Minas Tirith opens with some awesome organ almost as if you are approaching the City Of Kings and see its majestic walls for the first time. We are soon joined by John Hackett’s superb flute as we glimpse the scion of Nimloth The Fair (that’s The White Tree to those of you who don’t know your Tolkien - shame on you!) in the Court of the Kings. There are also some brilliant characterisations of both Gandalf and The Steward of Gondor. A spritely pirouette is executed by Marco’s organ for the Dance Of Victory with its incessant rhythms reminding me of the finale to The Rite Of Spring although here it is a paean to life which culminates in the truly heroic Fanfare and Finale bringing this suitably Wakemanesque work to a suitably emphatic conclusion.
The album itself returns to one of Prog’s best known albums next with a superb rendition of Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky which gives Marco and co plenty of room for pyrotechnics and here it is undoubtedly the guitar work of Giorgio and Carlo’s Rickenbacker bass which help bring this marvellous album to a suitably majestic close.
There you have it folks, an album chock full of masterful performances from all involved all of which would not sound out of place being performed at a concert hall near you - superb stuff highly recommended!
Marco Lo Muscio - Playing The History. Hacktrax HTRX006.
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Next up, another one of those collaborative efforts which modern Prog seems to churn up with increasing regularity. The Rome Pro(g)ject is the brainchild of Vincenzo Ricca and features a whole host of stars from the world of Prog including both the Hackett brothers. A historical look at some of the Eternal City’s 2000 year history through the eyes of Prog! Quite a project (pun intended!). If you like your albums redolent and heavy with Prog cliches then this one is definitely for you! Musically, this is an enjoyable effort throughout although Steve’s contribution is reserved primarily to one track : Down To The Domus Aurea (the golden palace which was built for the Emperor Nero, in case you were wondering, folks!). Hackett’s unmistakable guitar work shines like the gold that coated the palace no doubt! Towards The Future gives John Hackett a chance to shine with a performance full of warmth and vitality. All in all, an album worthy of a listen - a brave stab at a noble subject!
The Rome Pro(g)ject. TRP CDALB01.
The next item is perhaps the most unlikely album to be associated with the world of Prog but there you go! A Proggy Christmas does exactly what it says on the CD label. Frankly this is an incredibly silly but extremely enjoyable romp through some of the best known Christmas related songs and carols done in a truly Prog fashion! Steve’s contribution can be heard on the opening track: Joy To The World. One to crank up over a glass or two of sloe gin next Christmas, perhaps?
A Proggy Christmas - Radiant/Metal Records 3984-15157-2.
Lifesigns is the long awaited project featuring Nick Beggs and several others among the world of Progressive music. A much more acceptable and enjoyable offering this, a darker slice of Prog with echoes of several vintage Prog bands on show here but all given a 21st century Prog slant. Steve puts in several notable performances on this as he no doubt begins to repay the favours done to him on Genesis Revisited II - it sure beats minding the kids or painting the house, eh Steve? An excellent slice of modern prog worth a listen.
Life signs - Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1011.
Down And Up is the latest release from Hungarian Jazzers, Djabe and features a bonus studio recording of Camino Royale. Jazz isn’t really my forte I’m afraid and Steve’s guest appearance is really the only item of interest here although it has to be said, that the ensemble do perform incredibly well and if jazz is your thing then this is worth investigating.
Djabe - Down And Up. Gramy Records GR-100-2.
Finally, in terms of the Hackett connection is the Kompendium project organised under the auspices of Magenta’s front man, Rob Reed. A truly magnificent album this from the majestic Exordium onwards this album is a veritable tour de force of modern Prog at its best. Mind you with a cast list including Steve Hackett, Francis Dunnery, Troy Donockley and Nick Barrrett amongst others how could it be otherwise? And I hate to say it but for someone who has tended to keep “Neo Prog” at a respectable distance, if this is what it is capable of producing then I might be expanding my CD catalogue in the near future! Excellent stuff all round!
Kompendium - Beneath The Waves . 7Stones Records TMRCD1012.
Next up a long overdue debut album by Duncan Parsons who has been a friend of John Hackett’s for a good many years and has experienced the tutelage (as he puts it in the press release) of Bill Bruford no less. Duncan’s influences on the intriguingly titled Abandoned Buildings album take you on a veritable who’s who of Prog from Steely Dan. Ten CC, Genesis and Gentle Giant to name but a few. Duncan’s music reflects an incredibly diverse and eclectic style.
Thought provoking and at times wryly humorous, this is a delightful collection which mixes a dry wit with a wonderfully observant line in lyrics, this is an album that will both delight and provoke thought in equal measures. Musicianship is of the highest standard (including guest appearances by John Hackett on flute and vocals) throughout and although I am sure Duncan would be the first to admit that his vocal style might not be the greatest, nevertheless, his delivery fits the music like a glove. An extremely enjoyable effort and one which rewards consistent listening with something new every time and there’s not a lot of music around in these days of manufactured pap, that I can say that about so well done to all involved.
Duncan Parsons - Abandoned Buildings Rough Draft Audio RDACD001.
Our final set of offerings takes us out of the realms of Genesis-related music entirely and first up is the new album by Leatherat who have appeared previously in the pages of TWR. This band are without doubt one of the finest ensembles to emerge out of the burgeoning folk scene here in the UK. Folk they may be but with a harder edge and a wonderful line in bitingly sarcastic lyrics. Their new album, Uprising has it all, swaggering rhythms and superbly catchy songs. As its title might suggest this one has its eyes firmly set on the wrongs of society and doesn’t pull its punches. Lyrically observant, and downright infectious tunes make this one of my favourite albums of the year thus far and if you have the chance to catch the band on tour or at one of their regular festival appearances, then I promise you, you will not regret it!
Leatherat - Uprising Meaty Music HSPLTD0008.
Next up, a brace of releases by Oz Knozz, who hail from Texas land of the mighty ZZ Top. Are Oz Knozz a chip of that block? Not on your life! What you have here on 2008’s 10,000 Days & Nights and 2011’s True Believer are two hefty slices of rock ‘n’ prog US style. Throughout both of these excellent albums, musicianship shines without becoming a wallow in showmanship and excess. There are passing nods to the likes of Gentle Giant and Styx here but at no time do the band fall into the trap of effectively mimicking those bands. Instead, what you have on both of these records is a healthy mix of good old fashioned rock ‘n’roll with a prog edge which I am sure will find favour with a lot of readers of TWR. Personally I think theses guys would have gone down a storm at the sadly short-lived High Voltage Festival, they’re that good - excellent stuff all round!
For more information: www.reverbnation.com/ozknozz
Next up a delightful little disc put together by one of TWR’s longest standing (mostly in the corner but that’s another story!) readers. Yes, at long last the Mighty Mellotron Mr Kevin Powell has finally ensconced himself within a recording studio and come up with the intriguingly titled The Swiss Drive Sessions CD. Here we have a showcase for some of Kevin’s influences including a brace of covers by a Mr P Gabriel - remember him, folks? I always knew that Kevin could sing, after all I have had the “pleasure” of hearing his dulcet tones accompanying my own at more gigs than I care to remember over the years.
Anyway, what we have hear is a truly enjoyable set of well executed covers including a few lesser known tracks by artists such as Roxy Music and Traffic. The disc opens with a marvellous rendition of Solsbury Hill and an equally enjoyable of Johnny And Mary. Man Of The World is a masterful performance, while Kev’s take on the Stones’ classic Jumping Jack Flash had me in stitches with pure enjoyment! Truth be told, there isn’t a duff track on this little gem and I or one would gladly pay the entrance fee to see Kev do a “gig” sometime - how about it, Kev? If you need a roadie, I’m available at very reasonable rates. Now where have I heard that before…?!
Finally this time round, a series of discs from The Crucified Twins, a local band hailing from Birkenhead. As yet, these have not been committed to a fully fledged CD but the sooner they are the better because the music deserves a wider audience. Ian Jones’ voice reminds me somewhat of Nick Barrett from Pendragon but the music is all of its own. There are echoes of all kinds of different styles blended throughout the tracks on the three discs I have in my possession but influences are all they are, the music remains uniquely the band’s. Difficult to pigeonhole and that’s precisely why I like what I am hearing and I can’t wait for the band’s first full-blown CD. The band are regulars on the festival scene so if you get the chance, check them out.
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