The Steve Howe Trio ‘New Frontier’ LP/CD (Esoteric Antenna) 3/5

“New Frontier” is the new studio album from celebrated Yes guitarist Steve Howe, following on from two relatively recent releases, the studio album “The Haunted Melody” and the live recording “Travelling”. This release is a trio session, featuring the guitarist’s son Dylan on drums, and Ross Stanley on organ.

There’s a natural warmth running through this album, with Howe’s guitar playing touching on several styles making for a nicely varied set of tunes. Dylan Howe and Ross Stanley both bring plenty to the musical table, drawing on their own experiences to create a lovely fluid, intuitive feel to the recording. Dylan Howe’s work with Wilco Johnson along with his perceptive and engaging musicianship as a band leader (Subterraneans in particular) pairs him well with organist Ross Stanley, who’s own career has blossomed performing with the likes of Dennis Rollins, Stan Sulzman, Steve Arguelles and Clark Tracey, among others. Together, the trio move effortlessly from rock to blues to jazz and back again.

The album opens with “Hiatus”, featuring some excellent classical guitar work from Howe, punctuated with Stanley’s 70’s sounding organ. “Left To Chance” has that prog-rock feel to it that one might expect, it’s cool bluesy groove acting as a counterpoint to the memories one initially gets of Yes in their heyday. The first of three tunes co-written with former band-mate Bill Bruford, “Fair Weather Friend” benefits from a cool, jazzy vibe, largely created by Howe’s engaging guitar riffs. “Zodiac” sounds like an old-time blues piece, one from a late night dance hall. The guitar and organ collide on “Gilded Splinter”, with some fascinating interplay and variation from all three band members. The fusion is strong on “Showdown”, whilst the highly original “Missing Link” benefits from some unified, intuitive playing from the threesome. “Outer Limit” has a distinctly Caribbean flavour to it, with a rockier vibe peeking through as the tune progresses. “Western Sun” sparkles with life, before the session closes with an especially sentimental sounding piece called “The Changing Same”, another tune co-written with Bill Bruford.

“New Frontier” might not be a groundbreaking album, but let’s face it, Steve Howe really has nothing left to prove. What it is though, is an enjoyable slice of fusion, well crafted and benefitting from a genuine warmth and relaxed sincerity. There are some strong tunes on here, with the trio blending their electric and acoustic sounds in an artful and intelligent way. As you’d expect, Howe is just as at home playing an effects-driven electric guitar, as he is playing acoustically, and although this album never really catches fire, it is still very well worth a listen, especially for Howe fans.

Mike Gates