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Steve Hackett

and Evelyn Glennie With Roger King and Phillip Smith, London, 2002

Review by Steve Alspach

London's Queen Elizabeth Hall was the site for the world premiere performance of Steve Hackett's composition "The City in the Sea." This conceptual piece, based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, combined Hackett's guitar work with the brilliant percussive work of Glennie. The piece may be the most adventurous that Hackett has come up with, and it mixed elements of progressive rock with classical and avant-garde.

Hackett and Glennie were a study in contrasts on this evening. Hackett, dressed in black, looked quite a bit like Robert Fripp, perched on a stool with all sorts of gadgetry around him. Glennie, on the other hand, was dressed in white and played with moments of explosive intensity with hair flying and sticks breaking, but also showed moments of delicacy, as her work on the xylophone showed. Roger King played an understated yet pivotal role with his keyboards, adding rich chords or providing rhythmic patterns to anchor a specific movement. Phillip Smith, Glennie's usual accompanist, is an amazing pianist who is unafraid to explore the boundaries of the piano, whether playing the strings directly or pulling very fast runs on the keyboard. He also played gong and various small percussion instruments.

"The City in the Sea" explored a wide range of moods, but all within the mood of the poem on which the music was based. From the slow yet powerful opening in which Glennie's pulsating drum work created a sense of tension until the rather surprising ending (a small music box playing Brahms' Lullaby as the musicians left the stage), the work went from periods of exploration to more conventional melodic themes. There were several duets, such as with Smith and Glennie gave the sense of being underwater, or a Hackett-King duet that displayed Hackett's sense of melody more than anything else in the piece. There was a Hackett-Glennie duet as well, Steve soloing over Evelyn's percussion work, but this was by no means the "highlight" of the evening - every movement played a vital role in the music's unfolding.

Hackett allowed for a lot of improvisation during this show. Glennie played with gamelan gongs, spinning tops with music microchips in them, and even an air raid siren. At one point, though, the siren was joined by Hackett's guitar, and the piece then took shape and moved into its next movement. In other places the four musicians played a free-form piece reminiscent of Genesis' "The Waiting Room" with Smith's high-speed arpeggios running rampant.

We can only hope that "The City in the Sea" makes an appearance on DVD as the performance is as much a visual delight as it is an aural delight. The lighting played an integral part of the show (the artists were lit with dark reds and blues), and Glennie is simply mesmerizing to watch.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 3 at
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