Art of Time Ensemble’s Abbey Road reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, October 21, 2010, Koerner Hall, Toronto.

Iconophiles we are: we love icons: Love!Love!Love! Everybody loves the Beatles, always have and always will. Why not? Everything about them is beautiful, smart, and funny.

Abbey Road, 41 years old this month, and its eponymous location/studio where George Martin produced the Fab Four’s magical records is also an icon that continues to sell itself as well as very high-end amplifiers and speakers.

The Art of Time Ensemble, Andrew Burashko’s elite crossover hit squad, got a standing ovation when they killed Abbey Road again last night, as they did one year ago, not by covering it, but by recreating it.

Maybe knowing how the songs were ‘supposed to’ sound impeded my appreciation of the two opening numbers— Martin Tielli’s awkward treatmentĀ  of “Come Together”(Lennon/McCartney) arranged by Roberto Occhipinti, and Sarah Slean’s smooth but somehow unsatisfactory take on George Harrison’s “Something” arranged by Gavin Bryars. I felt these tunes were over-arranged, their tempos cloyed and self-conscious. But the sepulchral John Southworth, doing Cameron Wilson’s arrangement of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”(Lennon/McCartney) rang my bell. Here the original and the originality of the new came together.

The first number to sound a lot like the original was the golden-voiced Steven Page’s “O Darling”(Lennon/McCartney), arranged pretty straight by Shelley Berger for AOT’s enhanced chamber/jazz ensemble. Page ornamented his rendition with a hurting bluesy B.B King-cum-Johnny Ray colour-scheme that sent the audience applause meter right to the top.

Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden” arranged by James McGrath, gaveĀ  Kevin Hearn a chance to sing something simple at the normal tempo, which was nice for a change, and featured musical director Burashko laying down some happy ragtime piano riffs. Alejandra Ribera, acting uber-crazy-in-heat, out-Janiced Joplin with her gut-bucket screaming of “I Want You”(Lennon/McCartney). Robert Carli’s arrangement, one of the best of the ‘creative-with-a-difference’ takes, gave Rob Piltch some nice guitar passages, and also caused me to wonder that the song-list as a whole, so incredibly varied to this point, could have been written by just one team.

The second half of the show featured the singers we’d already heard, plus Andy Maize, harmonizing medleys of the last half of the tunes on Abbey Road. “Because the World is Round” (Lennon)arranged by Jonathan Goldsmith as a kind of canon at the usual tempo got some beautiful harmonies going with the trio of Maize, Slean, and Southworth. Goldsmith’s arrangement of “Here comes the Sun” introduced some cool sax, percussion and piano riffs. Kevin Hearn and Steve Page nailed the harmonies of “You Never Give Me Your Money”(Lennon/McCartney), keeping to the original tempos and vocal stylings. Kevin Fox’s arrangement of “Sun King”(Lennon/McCartney) was slowish and barely recognizable. (Interesting side-note: the Egyptian icon for the Sun-King is a beetle).

The thing about The Beatles music is not so much that it was/IS interesting, but that it made/MAKES you feel happy. And that’s what happened when Steven Page’s voice in trio rang out Robert Carli’s arrangement of the line “Once there was a way to get back homeward, Once there was a way….”; and all seven singers joined in to sing “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight, carry that weight, A LONG TIME.” A wave of happiness free from all doubts surged through Koerner Hall. Everybody felt it. Then we paid homage to Her Majesty, ‘O Yeah’.

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