Steve Howe’s Guitar Turbulence

Most recent effort takes direction of the rock instrumental

He may not have the hot chops of Joe Satriani or the flair and flurry of Steve Vai. He may not brandish the looks and licks of Nuno Bettencourt or inflict the decadence of Slash. The ‘80s heavy metal mentality laid down those trite descriptions of guitarist necessities. This guitarist reaches back much farther into a rich background of versatile styles and textures that evoke the apt title of “progressive.” This virtuoso is Steve Howe and his latest effort is called Turbulence.

Released by Relativity Records, Turbulence features ten instrumental tracks written, arranged and produced by Howe, who boasts a legendary recording history with rock giants Yes, Asia, and GTR.

No less than fifteen guitars comprise Howe’s array of lead and support mechanisms which create a multi-layered, pure guitarist’s recording. Howe also plays bass, Japanese koto, keyboards on one track, and percussion on two other tracks. Featured on drums is ex-Yes mate Bill Bruford and keyboardist Billy Currie, formerly of new wave favorite, Ultravox.

In contrast to Howe’s two prior solo works, Beginnings (1976) and The Steve Howe Album (1979) which demonstrated his versatility in mastering rock, classical, country, and jazz styles along with vocals, Turbulence takes the focused direction of the rock instrumental.

The forty-four year-old Howe said he hopes to continue this style of recording for Relativity Records.

“I really thought the other styles deserved their own time and space. I felt more comfortable using the rock instrumental mode with electric guitar. Given it’s not the seventies, I wasn’t intent on doing what I think of as a jamboree with orchestras or group tracks or strictly solo tracks.”

Howe’s new music evokes reflection not only with his skillful technique but also by applying his guitarist philosophy to the mix. “Running the Human Race” is an homage to the late cellist Jacqueline Dupre. Howe’s create a pathos and drama by weaving four guitars: three Fenders and a Martin acoustic.

“’Running the Human Race’ was the pay-off line, if you like, on a song about people being on 24-hour call–people whose lives are very much like that of a mother, if not my wife—people who are so dedicated that they start giving all of their time, even their nights to their job. That’s a bit like Jacqueline Dupre with her music, and myself before I was thirty,” Howe explained.

Fortunately, Turbulence is not laden with predictable hooks or inane solos. Instead, Howe uses his guitars purposefully, either to create a pensive mood, form a counter, or build a climax. Each track is an electric short story, every guitar a different character poised in contemplation or action. At times Turbulence does sound a bit mechanical, at least rhythmically, suffering from a less than inspired contribution from the otherwise brilliant Bill Bruford. It certainly lacks the earthiness of his two previous efforts, but as a nineties recording, Howe leaves a memorable statement for the modern guitarist.

Turbulence was actually completed a couple of years ago, but Howe had some difficulty finding a record label. Other labels were looking for a hit single. Resignedly, Howe returned to the studio and recorded a cover version of The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run,” and even tried out “Classical Gas” a Mason Williams piece he would sometimes add into the middle of his live performance of “Clap” while touring with Yes in the early seventies.

“I felt that ‘Classical Gas’ was slightly connected with me and a good version could be used as a single,” Howe remarked. “I even got as far as putting Bill [Bruford] on that one, but unfortunately, I had to drop it because it didn’t really reach the same standard that I’d accomplished with my own material.”

Howe recently performed a variety of acoustic pieces for more than 700 fans at a convention in Philadelphia called YesFest ’91. He also plans to take Turbulence on the road this Fall, depending on tour plans with Yes who have just completed a successful summer reunion tour as an eight-piece group.

Howe believes that the stage is the place where the performer has to be tremendously honest.

“You have to be yourself, but not every performer sees it that way. They see it as a place where they can be someone else, and I think both ideas are admirable. It just depends how good you are at whichever one you choose. The music I play is very real and original, as opposed to commercial. That’s what I’ve done with Turbulence.”

(Published in The Staten Island Advance, September 8, 1991)