Djabe / Steve Hackett

Back to Sardinia

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Back to Sardinia Review

by Thom Jurek

In 2003, Steve Hackett met the Hungarian jazz fusion septet Djabe and contributed to their album Táncolnak A Kazlak. They got on so well that they played shows together whenever possible. In 2016, Djabe and Hackett got together for improvised recording sessions in the parsonage of a Sardinian cathedral. The flow of ideas and easy rapport netted the widely celebrated Life Is a Journey: The Sardinia Tapes. A year later, the guitarist and band took the material on tour, resulting in the document Life Is a Journey: The Budapest Live Tapes. Djabe returned to the same spot earlier in 2019, without Hackett; his touring schedule wouldn’t allow him to participate live. Instead, a few weeks later while in Budapest, he took the recorded material and overdubbed his parts, which brings us to Back to Sardinia. Djabe, together since 1996, saw no need to prepare before they entered the makeshift studio outside Cathedral Nostra Signore di Tergu. They followed the same spontaneous M.O. they employed in 2016. Given their developed musical dialogue with one another, as well as with Hackett, the flow remained easy and inspired, resulting in an album that acquits itself beautifully when compared to its predecessor. Djabe are not super choppers. They follow a more intuitive and subtle path. Hackett expands the personnel to an octet. The sound on the first half of the 76-minute record is akin to the Pat Metheny Group circa Offramp and Travels. Gently euphoric melodic improvisations are woven through complex, time-stretching, rhythmic statements and airy textural frameworks, as evidenced by the title track "Happy Tergu" and the heartbreakingly beautiful "Lake by the Sea" (where Tamás Barabás' bass and Attila Égerházi's and Hackett's guitars, along with Áron Koós-Hutás' trumpet, weave an incantatory spell above elegantly skittering snare and hi-hat fills. The intensity increases on "Girl in the Palau Woods," where drums and bass create a limpid groove that the guitars build on as Janos Nagy's keyboards color the foreground. A chorus of wordless vocals swoon in as guitar lines twin with a muted trumpet. Halfway through, the jam turns back on itself as power chords administer the changes, spiraling solos burst from the frame, ratcheting up toward a bracing conclusion. "Flying Kites" begins like a guitar-centered nursery rhyme before Nagy's incandescent pianism and Barabás' fleet-fingered soloing claim center stage. "Dancing in a Jar" sounds like a Nino Rota-inspired film cue for Fellini. "Cinquecento Fragole" is trumpet-fronted jazz-funk; it's suave and soulful, with excellent solos from Hackett, Koós-Hutás, and Egerhazi. Led by Barabas' knotty, fretless bassline, muted trumpet, and wafting synths, "Floating Boat" returns to the melodic euphoria of the album's first half, creating a sweeping and swooning effect as the set closes. The upshot from Back to Sardinia is that Hackett and Djabe are so complementary that it doesn't matter where or how they record; it all ends the same way: in a seamless, highly engaged offering of progressive fusion. [The package also includes a bonus DVD with stereo and surround mixes of the album, three live clips, and a short film.]

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