Monday, August 20, 2007

Montreux Tulls for Thee

Live at Montreux 2003
By Jethro Tull
Eagle Eye Media

There is some irony when Jethro Tull plays the odd jazz festival, which they have, despite being an avowed rock & roll band, albeit with blues roots. Front-man Ian Anderson has long acknowledged a debt to the one-of-a-kind jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk as a formative influence on his flute playing. That debt, which includes various over-blowing and vocalizing techniques, can be seen and heard in Jethro Tull’s Live at Montreux 2003 newly released on DVD and CD.

John Kruth interviewed Anderson for his Kirk bio Bright Moments, writing:

“He was a delightful chap, well spoken and quick witted. I wasn’t sure if he was paying homage or a karmic debt that many feel he owes Rahsaan. Either way his enthusiasm for Kirk’s music was clear.” (p. 191)

While Tull’s cover of “Serenade to a Cuckoo” did not make the Montreux set list, they did include some of their bluesier numbers. It’s not hard to hear the blues echoes in “Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You,” especially with Anderson introducing it on harmonica. If you can name any member of Tull besides Anderson, it is probably guitarist Martin Barre, who gets a guitar trio feature (sans Anderson) that comes respectably close to jazz on his brief but tasteful “Empty CafĂ©.”

There are some lingering resentments for Anderson’s commercial success capitalizing on Kirk’s innovations. Perhaps self-conscious when playing a somewhat jazz-oriented venue like Montreux as a result, Anderson joked:

“We’re going to play something that mingles a little jazz with a little bit of classical music. It’s actually pretty sleazy cocktail lounge jazz. The worst you ever heard in your life at the very worst Holiday Inn you ever stayed in.”

Anderson must have stayed on some trippy Holiday Inns, as it was Bach’s “Bouree,” long a staple of Tull’s book, that Anderson was introducing, one of several Tull hits mixed with less recognizable older songs and some new material. As they did at each Tull I have attended (yep, I’ve been to two) they closed with “Aqualung” and used “Locomotive Breath” as their expected encore.

The surprise of the set was the relative strength of some of the newer material. “Eurology” (terrible pun) actually has an intriguing sound thanks to the addition of the “instrument from Hell: the German piano accordion” played by Andrew Giddings. Of the Tull classics, the percussive “Fat Man” may have been the highlight, with Barre sharing flute duties with Anderson.

Regardless how Kirk partisans feel about Anderson, as of 2003, he could still over-blow his hits. Tull is a fun live band, in good measure due to Anderson’s on stage sense of humor. Seeing them here is a blast of nostalgia, which is something festival programmers are definitely going for.