Sunday, November 11, 2012

Steve Howe – Beginnings

   Steve Howe is one of legendary rock guitar masters, very famous in seventies, then taking his place in losing its popularity rock scene. His high position he established in seventies when he was one of highly respected guitarists and one of the most influencing artists of progressive rock, and one of leading personalities involved in the development of progrock subgenres like art rock and symphonic rock. Playing with Yes group since The Yes Album, he made a significant contribution to the bands characteristic sound. Also his later career with such bands as Asia and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe can be seen as natural consequence of his possibilities and realization of his earlier plans.
   In 1975, when Yes and many other groups were in stagnation, progressive rock fans were ready to buy any album connected to the current. This moment Atlantic label has published Yes’ compilation album Yesterdays and became publishing the series of solo albums by each member of the band. Steve Howe’s first solo album has been called Beginnings. It was the part of promotional strategy, the same label and the same style of Roger Dean’s cover design gave this edition characteristics of being the part of the Yes’ albums series. And this was kind of message the fans and records collectors never missed.
   It’s not easy to explain why this record became a failure. Maybe there were too much ambitions or not enough time, nor self-criticism, the result could be disappointing even for the most loyal fans. To be quite fair, the instrumental parts are perfectly played and mastered into the one complementary whole. Guitar solos and riffs are original, creative, in many parts are just catching. Vocal parts make listener feel uncomfortable. He sings with weak, humdrum voice with lack of vocal technique giving tiring impression Howe fights with higher notes and tightens the throat. This was aggravated by the fact, he was trying to sing like Jon Anderson, in too high register. Vocal performances are better in the low register choirs, the best example one can find in Lost Symphony, where low register vocals are corresponding with saxophones by Bud Beadle and Mick Eve.

Steve Howe – Beginnings (1975)

   The program of this album has been set as if the main idea was to demonstrate the originality and versatility of the artist. After many recordings with various bands in sixties, after hit records with Yes, Beginnings was Steve Howe’s debut under his own name. No wonder young artist was trying to build possibly complex vision of his music. If he had given up singing, this album would be much better. The interesting feature of this album is almost absolute lack of jamming, composed solos were connected with arrangements joining with them.
   Two of three instrumental pieces are better realization of art rock idea. Symphonic rock style was basis for idea of eponymous composition opening B-Side. Eight members of Philomusica (string quintet, flutes, oboe and bassoon) gave basic orchestral sound for three Yes’ musicians, Steve Howe on guitars, Patrick Moraz playing harpsichord, piano and moog, who was also author of this arrangement. In final part of Beginnings, the band is augmented by drummer Alan White, who played in most songs of this album. There were also David Oberle playing drums in Australia and Bill Bruford playing in last two songs. Third composition Ram is quite interesting sound sample, but showing only technical precision, it says nothing new about music.
   On a side note, it is worth considering what elements are creating the group’s achievements where every musician is different personality and final effect is much higher than result of adding its elements. Sometimes these influences are really hard to trace. Recorded after the greatest Yes’ albums of early 70’s Steve Howe’s Beginnings tells a lot about professional achievements and artistic possibilities of Yes’ guitarist. It also shows some lacks of his vocal technique. If not the weak voice and orchestral arrangements remaining in some fragments cartoon soundtracks, this album could get more power for Howe’s career. But it still gives some satisfaction for fans of Yes’ guitarist.

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