Filling empty frames with followers’ fantasies, esteemed soundscapist leads his flock to artistic freedom.
Never a stranger to pomp and circumstance, Rick Wakeman went a different way when it came to the fiftieth anniversary of his solo debut, to focus one’s mind eye on highly personal pictures at an exhibition – personal to those eager to tune into their own insights, while listening to the veteran play, and complement his melodies with their own mental canvas. Such was the approach Rick’s music teacher suggested he apply to a performance, but Wakeman also looked to classical examples in the process of creating “A Gallery Of The Imagination” – not for nothing the album’s artwork contains the silhouettes of Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso and Rembrandt – although there’s no stylistic borders drawn across this dozen of the ivories wizard’s pieces delivered with and without his ensemble and with or without voice. Less spatial in scope, the successor to "The Red Planet" turned out to be just as cosmic, if earthly connected to the grand scheme of things.
That’s why the entrance to this hallowed hall of sonic paintings is “Hidden Depths” which slowly sacrifices acoustically sparse, Satie-esque solemnity in favor of electric passages, possessed with groovy elegance, as Dave Colquhoun’s slider rolls fuel up Rick’s scherzo on his customary Minimoog and faux choirs, before “The Man In The Moon” fills Wakeman’s euphoric shimmer with the spiritual pull of Hayley Sanderson’s singing – tightened by Lee Pomeroy’s bass rumble and Ash Soan’s unhurried beat but flying free. Aficionados are apt to find echoes of the keyboardist’s past here – the translucently harmonic, albeit emotionally assertive, “A Mirage In The Clouds” could have emerged from "Softsword" where Rick prominently deployed female vocals for the first time, the ethereal, albeit tangibly twangy, “The Visitation” from “Phantom Power”, and the pure piano wonder of “The Creek” from “Country Airs” – yet there’s hardly a number in his canon similar to the salsa-tinged jive of “Cuban Carnival” which, unlike the gripping balladry of “My Moonlight Dream” that’s close to sublime, will offer infectious, fiery frivolity.
And once the flow may seem to become too pensive again, “The Dinner Party” sees the band strike a vaudevillian chord with the “Gallery” visitors by mixing boogie, funk and orchestral uplift to a dazzling effect, Wakeman opting for a couple of wigouts in the cut’s center, and anchoring the elegy of “A Day Spent On The Pier” to a reverie via the stroll of his nimble fingers, until “The Eyes Of A Child” resolves this fanciful stroll in a drift through innocence – the opposite to pomp and circumstance. That’s something Rick couldn’t conjure for a long while, and the resurgence of his sensual abilities is a great way to celebrate the portrait-based jubilee of Wakeman’s start on a star trek of a solo career.