Jethro Tull: Live at Montreux 2003

John Kelman By

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Jethro TullIt may have been a subject of debate during the band's early years, especially on its debut, This Was (Chrysalis, 1968), but by the time of its second album, Stand Up (Chrysalis, 1969), it was pretty clear that Jethro Tull was Ian Anderson. Although guitarist Martin Barre, who joined the group for Stand Up, has remained Anderson's constant companion in the ever-shifting line-up of Jethro Tull over the past forty years, it's Anderson's voice, Anderson's flute, Anderson's writing and Anderson's undeniable stage presence that have defined the group all along.

The Tull/Anderson identification is made crystal clear with the release of Live at Montreux 2003, which captures the recent incarnation of this longest-lasting of progressive/classic rock acts, available both as a DVD and a double-disc CD set. Anderson and Barre may be considerably longer in the tooth and thinner on top (though with doo-rag and beret place, you'd never know it), but they're still capable of putting on an energetic show culled from Tull's extensive discography, beginning with This Was and going right through to Ian Anderson's solo album Rupi's Dance (Fuel 2000, 2003), with a major stop along the way at its most enduring (even if it's not its best) album, Aqualung (Chrysalis, 1971).

Jethro TullJethro Tull
Live at Montreux 2003
Eagle Eye Media

While it's called The Montreux Jazz Festival, Claude Nobs—the man responsible for the festival since its inception—made it clear from the very beginning that it's always been more than just jazz and that, even within the jazz purview, it's always been using the broadest and continually expanding definition possible. Alongside classic performances by more traditional artists, Nobs embraced fusion in the 1970s with John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis' dense jungle rhythms, circa On the Corner (Columbia, 1972). Tull's ties to jazz are extremely tenuous, the only direct ones, perhaps, being the mildly swinging "Bouree," an instrumental favorite from Stand Up that sounds as fresh today as it did in 1969, and a take of the Christmas favorite and Modern Jazz Quartet staple "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" that, despite a nice Wes Montgomery-informed solo from Barre, remains a little curious for a show presented in the middle of the summer.

But Tull has always been about much more than jazz, quasi or not—from traditional British folk leanings to near-metal and much in between. On the DVD it's clear that Anderson is still a charismatic performer who captures the eye even when the ear is hearing a voice that's a tad nasal and that has lost some of the range and power it once had. It's most noticeable on the more aggressive rock material, most notably Aqualung's "Locomotive Breath," "My God" and the title track. Still, Anderson recognizes his limitations and works well with them. Some singers would continue to try reaching for those high notes, but instead Anderson reshapes the melodies to accommodate the erosive effect the years have clearly had.

L:R: Andrew Giddings, Doane Perry, Jonathan Noyce, Ian Anderson, Martin Barre

The 21st-century incarnation of Tull which, along with Barre, includes keyboardist Andrew Giddings, bassist Jonathan Noyce and drummer Doane Perry, is as flexible as any that's come before. Whether it's the elegant folksiness of "Life is a Long Song," the strange amalgam of "Fat Man," with Anderson on bouzouki, the pumping blues of "Some Day the Sun Won't Shine For You," on which Anderson proves he's still got his harmonica chops from This Was, or the more progressive leanings of "Hunting Girl," from Songs from the Wood (Chrysalis, 1977), Anderson's choice of younger band mates has clearly been influenced by a need for perhaps the most stylistically diverse version of Tull to date.

While there are some noticeable absences in the set list—no abbreviated Thick As a Brick (Chrysalis, 1972), nothing from Minstrel in the Gallery (Chrysalis, 1976), no "Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of The New Day" or "Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll : Too Young To Die"—there are some welcome surprises. Anderson pulls out "With You There to Help Me," from the largely overlooked Benefit (Chrysalis, 1970), and it's both reverential and contemporary, with Anderson's flute soaring. His voice may have suffered from the ravages of time, but his flute playing clearly hasn't. And while more recent Tull albums haven't received the cred they're due, the propulsive title track from J-Tull Dot Com (Varese, 1999) proves that Anderson still has some good songs up his sleeve.

Jethro Tull

While the press sheets advertise the first half of the show as acoustic, the second electric, it's not quite that clearly delineated. There's nothing acoustic about "Hunting Girl," which sits firmly between two instrumentals—Barre's Django Reinhardt-esque "Empty Café" and the buoyant and slightly Spanish "Eurology" from Rupi's Dance, which features Giddings' accordion alongside Anderson's lithe flute.


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