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24 June 1972
JETHRO'S PROGRESS FROM THE PAST
To describe Jethro Tull's latest album Living In The Past (Chrysalis CJT1) as a pocket history is only half true — a history to date being a far more accurate description of an outfit that are doubtless going to be around for a long, long time. It does of course chart all of the band's single releases from the outset in 1968 and also includes unreleased studio material as well as a side of live cuts and the price of this two album set, with a fine colour section, has been kept down to £3.49, too.
Above all Living In The Past shows two very important aspects of Tull's music that are so often missed by the casual listener. Firstly, there's a depth and complexity about the music — particularly apparent in their fairly recent works like Aqualung and Thick As A Brick — which is reflected in Ian Anderson. Although he might be seen by some as just a colourful jumpin' jack wearing tight pants on stage waving a flute around, he is in fact a very astute, thinking musician, who controls a band that through its very tightness, professionalism and seemingly impeccably drilled performances has made many onlookers shy away.
It's this very tightness that is more on the lines of a jazz outfit and less in the mould of the currently fashionable 'boogie' bands that makes Jethro Tull appear, and as often as not come across to a lot of people, as a band without a heart, a band lacking real warmth.
It's strange to hear the old Jethro — Anderson, Clive Bunker (drums), Glenn Cornick (bass) and Mick Abrahams (guitar) — coming across with a blues feel on 'Song For Jeffrey', mainly attributed to the nice harp playing, on a track that was recorded as long ago as '68, but the most pleasing aspect is the freshness that Ian's Roland Kirk-inspired flute playing brought to the music of that time.
Less than a year on there's the title track, still one of the best things the band have ever recorded, with Martin Barre introduced on guitar in place of Abrahams and the flute playing improves through to the lovely, soft 'Bouree' showing the other side to Jethro and Anderson. 'Sweet Dreams' and 'Witches Promise' still hold that strange sort of breathless malevolence that lurks under Anderson's vocals and the careful orchestration, but it's 'Dream' that has snatches of Jethro as a strong, driving unit, still controlled by Anderson and a light hand of acoustic guitar and flute interweaving.
Their jazz-like precision is most evident on 'Singing All Day' but the lighter, simpler side of the music and the band is equally evident with 'Christmas Song' and 'Just Trying To Be', the latter only featuring the voice and acoustic guitar of Anderson and celeste played by John Evan.
Side three consists of the live material recorded at Carnegie Hall in '70, John Evan's 'By Kind Permission Of' and 'Dharma For One'. The first, an instrumental almost classical in its approach at the start with Evan on piano dominating the proceedings and fighting off the darting flute of Anderson. The whole band break at the end but on this and 'Dharma' the perfect, sure-footedness of Jethro is still there as a live band.
The closing side is almost all cut with the current Jethro line-up of Anderson, Barre, Evan, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (bass) and Barriemore Barlow (drums). 'Wond'ring Again' has the feel of Ian the ragged minstrel wandering among electric accompaniment but it's 'Locomotive Breath' from Aqualung that stands out as a really great track. 'Breath' makes you realise, if you haven't before, what an outstanding electric guitar player Martin Barre really is; he doesn't take charge of any of the numbers as you'd expect but his presence and power is there at all times and this track is constructed around his controlled playing.
Altogether this album is a tribute to Jethro's progression, and while Ian's lyrics aren't earth shattering they're presented in such a way (and the musical accompaniment fashioned to add the depth and impact) that they still come out as statements of some validity.
The use of the flute and acoustic and electric guitars are always worked out well and their use is nowhere better illustrated than on 'Dr. Bogenbroom'. But, despite the skills of Jethro as a band and individually, there is this apparent lack of warmth that some find essential and others only secondary to what Tull have to offer otherwise. The choice is yours.