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Ian Anderson Unplugged

Ross Boissoneau - July 13th, 2006
A rock band joining forces with an orchestra isn’t so far-fetched. Groups like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Moody Blues and Yes have paired their brand of symphonic rock with orchestras over the years.
But Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson has gone them one better. He’s ditched Tull for the moment in favor of a “more flexible” rock band that works within a symphony orchestra, performing a set of Tull and Anderson solo favorites, along with a smattering of classical tunes. Anderson hasn’t quit Tull by any means, but relishes the chance to do something different.
“It’s part of the luxury I can afford,” said Anderson of this tour, which finds
him and his hand-picked group perform-ing alongside the Traverse Symphony Orchestra at Interlochen on Wednesday July 19. “I can dabble at this, dabble
at that.”

SOMETHING NEW
Whether you call it dabbling or not, there’s no doubt that it’s not exactly what fans who grew up on “Aqualung,” “Locomotive Breath” or “Thick As A Brick” would expect. Anderson’s flute playing was always a focal point of the Tull concerts, but here it takes center stage. Yes, he’ll still sing a song or two, and strum his acoustic guitar, but the show is billed as rock’s foremost flute player performing with a symphony orchestra.
Anderson said for him the performance feels quite natural.
“My background is as an acoustic musician,” Anderson says. “I was never deeply infatuated with loud electric guitar. Acoustic blues, jazz, classical – that’s what I really preferred. Flute and rock are very unseemly bedmates.
“The orchestra is a bunch of unplugged guys like me. We try to find a common musical denominator with the band. It (the band) is not the Tull guys but other musicians, guys from jazz or classical background who maybe have a different approach.”
That “different approach” allows Anderson the freedom to re-arrange tunes like “Bouree’,” “Thick As A Brick,” “Songs From The Wood,” and yes, even “Aqualung.” The set list changes slightly from performance to performance, as Anderson and his band rehearse with a different orchestra for most every show. “It’s like doing two or three shows,” says Anderson of the four to six hour rehearsals prior to the concerts. “We hope to squeeze everything into the rehearsal,” he says.
 Anderson says such rehearsals are necessary for orchestral players who generally aren’t used to playing rock music, as well as for him and his band to adapt to the styles and abilities of the various symphonies. “I’m asking them to make such a big crossover step. It’s hard.”
On the other hand, Anderson owns up to the fact that while he appreciates it, he doesn’t – can’t – play classical music the way it’s written. “For me, it’s impossible. I couldn’t do a Mozart flute concerto. I don’t read music. I wish I could be anywhere half as good as them.
“It’s a mutual respect. There’s mutual support and mutual cynicism,” he said with a laugh.

BEVY OF STYLES
In the nearly 40 years since Jethro Tull came on the musical scene, the band has incorporated a bevy of styles into its performance. Originally an offshoot of the John Evan Big Band, it mixed jazz with blues and folk on its 1968 debut, “This Was.” By the time of the band’s breakout “Aqualung” in 1968, Anderson had seized control. With the help of guitarist Martin Barre and keyboardist Evan, Tull became one of the biggest bands of the ‘70s, with sold-out tours, hit songs like “Living in the Past” and “Bungle in the Jungle” and concept albums like “Thick as a Brick” and “A Passion Play” wowing critics and crowds alike.
As art rock fell from favor in the ‘80s, Tull sharpened its licks, even earning a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance for “Crest of a Knave” in 1987. Meanwhile Anderson was also working on his solo career, first with “A” in 1980, which became a Tull album, then for real with “Walk Into Light” in 1983. He also dabbled (there’s that word again) at fish-farming in Scotland, but decided music was his true calling.
Tickets for the show are available by calling the Interlochen Box Office at
276-7800.
 
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