STEVE GARRETT – Discover And Endure (Alt Mor Records ALT-MOR2)

Diiscover And EndureSteve Garrett’s Discover And Endure consists of solo electric guitar pieces, “inspired by stories and experience of landscape, exploration and human endurance.” On this CD his Gibson ES-335 is sparingly augmented with some minimal but effective looping/drone and percussive effects by way of an Electro-Harmonix Freeze pedal, and a sub-octave pedal (an EH Octave Multiplexer perhaps?). While you may associate solo electric guitar with jazz – and Steve is clearly at home in that genre – some of the source material here is actually quite folky, and there’s also an ambitious take on a musical gem by Gustav Holst.

Here’s the track listing:

  1. ‘Discover And Endure’ was composed by Steve Garrett, taking its inspiration from the RRS Discovery expedition to the Antarctic between 1901 and 1904. Conceptually, it could be described as the centrepiece of the CD, in that the team at RRS Discovery have played a large part in the project and the forthcoming launch event. Indeed, the accompanying booklet includes a number of photographs of Steve’s own Antarctic landscape watercolours. Though it’s not the longest track on the CD, it packs a wide range of dynamic and musical variation into its four minutes and 43 seconds.
  2. ‘Summer River’ is another Steve Garrett composition, representing sunlight shimmering on water. It features melodic lead voicings over an arpeggiated loop, and certainly offers a relaxed ambience to match the experience it represents.
  3. ‘Lament For The Children’ takes as its starting point a heartfelt 17th century tune by Padruig Mor MacCrimmon “from the piobaireachd tradition … Dedicated to those who have endured the loss of a child.” (MacCrimmon himself lost seven of his eight sons within the space of a year.) While Steve sets parts of the tune against a drone, much of this rendition is chordal, giving it a very different feel to the same tune played on the pipes, as do the very clean tone of the guitar and the freer (presumably improvised) mid-section. What matters, though, is that it somehow maintains both the beauty of the melody and its intrinsic melancholy.
  4. ‘Midwinter Gathering’ is another of Steve Garrett’s compositions. Percussion effects recalling a rather muffled bodhrán (though actually meant to represent “the chaotic footfall of ceilidh dancers” are set against a sprightly reel in the first section, followed by ‘A folk-rock jam section‘. Almost a sub-polar, instrumental counterpart to Bill Caddick’s ‘Winter Fair’. I particularly like this one.
  5. ‘Egdon Heath’ adapts Holst’s underrated composition, originally dedicated to Thomas Hardy. (Egdon Heath is the fictitious area of Wessex which is the setting for The Return Of The Native and features in a number of Hardy’s other stories.) While the intrinsic nature of the instrument is inevitably unable to match the range of instrumental colour and dynamics we hear in an orchestral rendition, this adaptation does capture much of the atmosphere of the piece, and the restrained use of a drone effect adds a richness that would be hard to achieve in a purely acoustic transcription.
  6. ‘Lassie Lie Near Me’ (Roud B44150) is a folk song well-known in association with a lyric collected and adapted by Robert Burns, and a melody sometimes attributed to Thomas Blacklock. This version is faster and freer than I’ve heard in most vocal versions, but it makes an attractive solo piece.
  7. ‘Clifftop Storm’ is another piece by Steve, which he describes as “Variations on a theme by Dave Grohl over a desert drumbeat.” I can’t comment on its resemblance to anything by Foo Fighters, but it seemed eerily appropriate on my iPod when caught in a rainstorm while hillwalking in Cornwall. The section with single string work over a drone is jazzier, and contrasts with the more chordal sections that precede and follow it.
  8. The CD finishes with Steve’s ‘Black Sail Hut’, inspired by a stay at the very remote hostel at the head of the Ennerdale valley, in the Lake District. It’s a gentle, jazz-accented piece that reminded me a little of John Martyn’s ‘Small Hours’, in atmosphere if not in melodic content. Lovely.

While some of Steve Garrett’s admirers have emphasised the serenity and tranquillity of his performances, don’t mistake this for ambient music of the aural wallpaper persuasion. Behind that cool, clear single-string work and those unaggressively jazzy chords, there’s sensitivity as well as technique, and musicality that goes far beyond easy listening. While I can’t altogether like the tone of the percussive effects, the CD as a whole certainly had me reaching for my Les Paul…

Fittingly, the album will be launched on April 5th at 19:30, at RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, the ship that carried the Discovery Expedition (a.k.a. British National Antarctic Expedition) and now a visitor attraction at Discovery Quay, in Dundee.

David Harley

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Artist’s website: www.stevegarrettguitar.com

Not from this album, but recommended: