Mention Steve Howe's name to most people, and they immediately think of his work with the British progressive rock powerhouse Yes. But there is more to Howe than progressive rock; outside of Yes, the guitarist has also embraced Spanish flamenco, ragtime, and many other things. Howe is versatile and eclectic, and on Masterpiece Guitars, he demonstrates that Bill Bruford isn't the only Yes member (past or present) who is capable of playing jazz. Howe co-leads this session with fellow guitarist Martin Taylor, who is primarily a jazz musician -- and the results are a long way from Howe's work with Yes. You won't hear "Close to the Edge," "Long Distance Runaround," "The Gates of Delirium," or "Starship Trooper" on this album. What you will hear is a lot of bop -- very straight-ahead, swinging, acoustic-oriented bop -- and the two guitarists enjoy a strong rapport on original material as well as inspired performances of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are," and Lerner & Loewe's "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." On a few occasions, Masterpiece Guitars strays from jazz; Howe's "Tailpiece," for example, is perhaps best described as progressive bluegrass. It certainly has that down-home country twang. But if Masterpiece Guitars offers a few side dishes that aren't jazz, it's safe to say that straight-ahead jazz is the main course. Straight-ahead jazz is Taylor's strong point -- that's what he does best, and on Masterpiece Guitars, jazz also works enjoyably well for the broad-minded Steve Howe.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson