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5.12.07

Jethro Tull @ Strathmore

Ian Anderson, flutist of Jethro TullSome of you may have been wondering about an event that was listed -- and recommended -- in the Ionarts calendar this week. Let it never be said that we do not listen to music other than the classical variety here at Ionarts. Monday night found me in the Music Center at Strathmore, with a very different crowd from my usual coterie, for the local stop on the 2007 tour of Jethro Tull. The English band, whose music blends the sounds of jazz, blues, world music, folk, progressive rock, and even classical music, is almost 40 years old. Its two oldest surviving members, flutist and singer Ian Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre, are still at it, touring with the group's present members and even planning to make a new album to come out next year.

The full program, over two hours of music, was a survey of the band's early hits, with a few more recent songs, presented more like a formal concert than a typical rock show. This was just as well, since the Jethro Tull fan base is on average about the same age as that of the National Symphony Orchestra. Anderson was one of the first rock musicians to play the flute and incorporate the instrument into a rock band, and he is a long-time favorite of Mrs. Ionarts, my favorite flutist. Anderson's signature style was on wild display, the Kokopelli antics and Pied Piper leg kicks, as well as the idiosyncratic flute technique. The breathy overblowing, flutter-tonguing, simultaneous sighing, singing, and humming are techniques now overused in just about every new experimental piece for flute. It must be said that without Anderson, Jethro Tull would be diminished beyond appreciation.


J. S. Bach's Bourrée (fifth movement from Suite for Lute
in E minor, BWV 996), arranged by Jethro Tull

Anderson's openness to cross-fertilization with jazz and classical music has always fascinated me. The program included two famous examples of Jethro Tull's mining of early music, both on the first half. King Henry's Madrigal is an adaptation of a melody known as Pastime with Good Company, attributed to King Henry VIII, rendered with the clunky sound of digitally reproduced harpsichord. The Ionarts all-time favorite, Bourrée, a "porno jazz" arrangement (Anderson's phrase) of a dance from a Bach lute suite, was the high point of the evening (shown above in a much earlier recording -- check out the fabulous hippie-wear).

Other Reviews:

Dave McKenna, Jethro Tull at Strathmore, Living Unabashedly in the Past (Washington Post, December 5)
The band's take on Keith Emerson's arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's America was the occasion for a medley of tributes to American music, including bits of Bernstein's Maria, America the Beautiful, the theme from Dallas (unfailingly, the melody most associated with our country among Europeans, many of whom continue to watch that show obsessively), and Somewhere over the Rainbow. Die-hard fans were more pleased with Tull standards like Living in the Past, Someday the Sun, Thick as a Brick, Fat Man, Budapest, and -- of course -- Aqualung, all updated with new trimmings. The assistance of a young all-female string quartet, billed as the Calliandra Quartet (amplified, just like Anderson's flute), furthered the impression of hardcore rockers gentrified for a sit-down concert. With over 120 years of age between Anderson and Barre, as well as the abundance of grey hair in the house, this was only proper.

9 comments:

Mark said...

Ok, were you stoned? Flash-back memories of Emerson Lake and Palmer too.

jfl said...

for the first time in quite a while i felt YOUNG reading something on ionarts. :-)

Charles T. Downey said...

It's true that I am older than Jens, but not that much older. I was in elementary school in the 1970s, and I did listen to Jethro Tull. Being stoned may have added that final missing 70s element to the experience. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Okay, that was fun.... but oh how I long for one pure, supported tone on that flute.

Charles T. Downey said...

Anon, absolutely. The way flutist Mrs. Ionarts describes Anderson is that he is bad, really bad, so bad that it's good. Mostly, it's the idiosyncratic approach and sound that sells it.

Dan Kowalski said...

Ahhh, Maria...the diabolical tritone...

Clarke Bustard said...

I once interviewed Ian Anderson for the American Forces Network, Europe. It wasn't easy. He craved an antique transcription recorder sitting in the corner of the studio, and tried to make the interview conditional on the network's giving him the machine. I told him it was U.S. government property, not mine to give; he kept dickering. (Thank God he didn't see the vintage Telefunken Magnetaphon tape decks we used for editing.) I finally said he would have to ask Richard Nixon, the president at the time. We did the interview, and Anderson left empty-handed.

Mark said...

Now, if I remember when the first album came out, This Was, that may make me older than Jens too...oh cross eyed Mary.

B9000 said...

To anon:
for "pure supported tone on that flute" listen to any of the more recent Tull records- "Roots to Branches" especially. (I read that Anderson admitted, for one, he re-learned his fingering at advice from his daughter in the early 90's to improve his tonality. ) And Mr. Downey..."The playing is so good... it's good."

But I do see how Tull is an acquired taste- I happen to like them, despite their faults. I still find them much more interesting to listen to than the universally loved (it seems) Led Zeppelin, for example. But then again I like the Kinks more than the Beatles. Hmm. I think I made this argument back on the school bus in the sixth grade. "When I was young and they packed me off to school..."