Give Steve Hackett credit for grace under pressure. With the 2020 leg of his Genesis Revisited tour stopped in its tracks by COVID-19, Hackett retreated to his London home, pulled out the acoustic guitar ideas he had been accumulating since 2008’s Tribute album, and huddled with wife Jo and keyboardist/musical director Roger King. Under A Mediterranean Sky is the sultry, stirring result, a first-rate blend of the world musics Hackett explored on recent electric albums The Night Siren and At the Edge of Light with the lush orchestral settings of his vintage classical efforts A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Metamorpheus. If you’re currently cooped up inside (whether due to the pandemic, winter in the Northern Hemisphere or both), this welcoming sonic travelogue will transport you to a brighter, better place.
Under A Mediterranean Sky grabs the listener right from the start with “Mdina (The Walled City). King’s opening orchestrations (a rich blend of acoustic instruments and synths throughout) seethe and sprawl, giving way to Hackett’s virtuosic solo work on nylon-string guitar; at the end, it’s a headlong dash to a sprightly finish, the guitar bursting forward as the symphonic storm gives way to sunshine on the coast of Malta. As a mission statement for the album, it could hardly be bettered.
Organically structured to circle the Mediterranean coast, Hackett’s musical portraits are drawn with ever-present grace and appealing variety. The delectable arpeggiated melody of “Adriatic Blue”, the pensive lines that link up with galloping Middle Eastern percussion on “Sirocco”, the folky, almost downhome French vibe of “Joie de Vivre” and the haunting, romantic Grecian portrait “The Memory of Myth” each tantalize in their own unique way. At the heart of the album comes Hackett’s only solo piece, a sonata by Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) that features both breathtaking technique and a profound feel for melodic line, harmonic depth and rhythmic panache. It’s drop dead gorgeous, a true testimony to his heartfelt love for the classical guitar tradition.
The latter half of the program broadens the musical palette as the voyage continues, with stellar guest turns by brother John Hackett and regular band member Rob Townsend on flutes (a lush duet on “Casa del Fauno”), Azerbaijan tar virtuoso Malik Mansurov and Armenian duduk master Arsen Petrosyan (the dizzying, atmospheric “The Dervish and the Djin”), and oboist Frank Avril and violinist/violist Christine Townsend on “Andalusian Heart” (which also spotlights stunning extended flamenco work by Hackett). The poignant, rhapsodic finale “The Call of the Sea” is the perfect capstone to the album, winding down the journey to leave the listener at peace in heart and spirit.
Under A Mediterranean Sky is not just a welcome detour from Steve Hackett’s familiar sonic paths; it’s also a culmination to his lifetime pursuit of musical excellence. Hackett’s compositions and performances here are filled to the brim with both the fire of the young at heart and the canny craft of the mature, seasoned performer. Making this album obviously refreshed him during a difficult time; if my experience is any indication, hearing it — in fact, returning to it again and again — will refresh you as well.
— Rick Krueger