sábado, febrero 17, 2007

Rick Wakeman: The Lord of the Keyboards Bewitches Havana
By Félix Eduardo Varela

Havana.- With the grandeur of King Arthur himself, he showed up in stage wearing all-black below a gleaming golden cloak. Leaving those who impatiently awaited for him breathless, Rick Wakeman opened his first concert in Havana.

In a flawless concert, a reply to the invitation extended by Cuban friends in Switzerland and the Cuban Music Institute, the famous keyboard player left no doubts of his genius, marking the history of Havana’s Karl Marx Theater, a venue that has hosted quite a few important figures.

The immensity of the artist on stage was backed up by the New English Rock Ensemble, an outfit that also showed precision and talent, also supported by Cuban top ethno-rock band Sintesis, and the Swiss band Cross Fires.

Before Wakeman, the words by Leo Brouwer, most important living composer in the world, highlighted the innovating achievements of the British musician and the relevance of his visit to Cuba.

Excellent music was in the air short after 9, in a night opened by Sintesis, trailed by international fame and awards, including a nomination for the prestigious Grammy Awards.

With three of their classics, these pioneers of progressive rock in Cuba, followers of the work by bands such as Yes, Pink Floyd and other projects, showed why their work can be linked to that by the English pianist.

Hard rock classics came with the Swiss-Italian band Cross Fire, second guest for the special night. These first-rank openers dusted old sings such as Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone and Paul Rodgers’s Can’t Get Enough of Your Love (Bad Company,) with excelling guitar work and choirs.

After 10 songs, Cross Fire was followed by the main attraction of the night. Entering by the left corner of the stage, the author of Piano Vibrations smiled his way to the keyboards, to play for the audience in the land of Benny More and Miguel Matamoros, or “the Court of Son,” as a local critic called it.

In the few words he uttered for the audience during the show, Wakeman expressed his happiness for being in Havana, stressed the warmness he got from everyone around him and clarified it was his music and not his laconic speech the star in the night.

He was right. Since minute one to the last, the people at the Karl Marx enjoyed the flair of the journey his finger made over the set of keyboards organized around him, and the “collective individualities” of the musicians.

Inspired in Jules Verne’s work, Journey to the Centre Of the Earth (1974), a very important album in his career, was chosen for the opening.

One of the musicians who worked in Wakeman’s first solo adventure, vocalist Ashley Holt joined guitarist Dave Colquhoun, bassist Lee Pomeroy and Ash Soan in the drums (the latter played a masterly solo).

A special moment came with Arthur, the most famous of Wakeman’s song in Cuba, the title theme for the local film television show Historia del Cine, in the air for more than 30 years.

From his first solo album The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973), he selected three songs: Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr and Jane Seymour. In the latter mentioned, he plays a variation of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, impressing with the immaculate classic music graciousness.

The Cuban wit surfaced in certain moment, when an straightforward fan shouted from the audience: “Estás pasa’o, broder!” (You’re out of this world, bro!).

Since Wakeman knew The Myths and Legends of King Arthur was popular in Cuba, he elaborated on the album, playing Merlin the Magician, which brought us to the epic: Sir Galahad, Guinevere, Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight, the forests, the enchanted city of Camelot and the English story.

Precisely while he performed Merlin, he marked other special moment, when he got rid of the glittering cape and wore a two color jacket, took a player piano and walked by this, his new home, into the audience.

After feeling the Cuban flood of warmth, playing non-stop, he grabbed a girl by the hand, and brought her to stage. Then he instructed her to extend her arms and used her as a living stand for his keyboard, surprising her with the emblematic speed of his hands while playing.

In these exciting minutes, this Merlin of music also wore a pointed hat of magician, while the sound from his instrument did the spell.

The parade of solos and the presentation of the wizard and NERE closed with the bow to the audience, but the encore was forced out by the constant applause.

That was the treat for Yes lovers, who roared of surprise to the intro of Starship Trooper (The Yes Album, 1971) which did not miss the usual line up which originally recorded it (Anderson, Howe, Squire, White and Wakeman).

The sublime dialogues with Colquhoun’s guitar and Pomeroy’s bass imitated the musical duels Wakeman used to have when he was part of Yes.

The event deserves to be applauded due to various reasons: the emotion in the faces and the raging pace of the hearts; the gap-closing character of it to achieve a general integral culture; the presence –at last!- of a British symphony rock act in Cuba and the solidarity embrace witnessed in Havana, when the musicians held a fluttering Cuban flag high.

(Published for Prensa Latina English News Service, www.plenglish.com)

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