Review: Timeless take on Abbey Road closes 2019 Chamberfest

The Art of Time Ensemble closed the 2019 Chamberfest with their unique take on The Beatles Abbey Road album. Photo: Peter Robb

In the fall 1969, my teenaged self caught a ride to the Treble Clef on Sparks Street to purchase a long-anticipated album.

The record was Abbey Road. For me and many of my generation, the release of a Beatles record was a big deal. I took my prize home and wore it out.

When Abbey Road was released the Fab Four were already firmly ensconced in the pantheon of 20th century popular music. But this record was a step up and, as with all timeless music, it has aged well.

Abbey Road is an album that impressed a teenaged Russian kid named Andrew Burashko when he first heard it after emigrating to Canada in 1972. He would go on to forge a career as a composer and founder of the innovative Art of Time Ensemble. In between his classical music work, Burashko and Art of Time have paid tribute to the music of The Beatles in performances that have featured two albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road. 

A performance of the latter was delivered Thursday night inside the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre as the closing concert of the 2019 Chamberfest.

This concert was not a Henry Mancini version of Abbey Road. The concert respected the original melodies of each song on the record while showing what can be done by arranging the musical accompaniment to stimulate a new interpretation the lyrics of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison.

When he put this performance together, Burashko asked 11 different arrangers to each take a song and set them. He has also employed a strong quartet of pop singers — including Jason Plumb, Skydiggers Andy Maize, Craig Northey and Ottawa’s own Jeremy Fisher — to carry the weight of the melodies.

Fisher opened the evening with side one, song one — a slinky version of Come Together, followed quickly by a lush version of George Harrison’s great song Something, sung by Maize. 

The music pushed the agenda on a jazzy, yet dark, almost Sweeney Todd like rendition of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer sung with humour by Northey.

To me, one of the great strengths of The Beatles’ lyrics are their ability to stimulate the imagination. When accompanied by a happy melody, the lyrics paint a certain sunny kind of picture, but when the music darkens the lyrics can take the listener in a different direction completely. That’s what happened in this version of Maxwell. 

Plumb’s powerful vocal presence was front and centre in his torchy version of Oh Darling. In contrast, Fisher’s Octopus’s Garden was almost a vaudeville tune complete with a ragtime piano accompaniment by Burashko. 

Side one ended with Plumb delivering a strong, stripped-down version of I Want You moving into She’s So Heavy. 

Side two opened with an exotic eastern sounding take on another Harrison classic Here Comes The Sun, sung by Maize and featuring a fine turn on the vibraphone by percussionist Daniel Morphy.

The second side of Abbey Road features a medley of shorter songs and the ensemble moved easily and seemlessly through songs such as Because, You Never Give Me Your Money, Here Comes The Sun King, before offering a comic turn on Mean Mr. Mustard and a smooth jazz take on Polythene Pam. 

Highlights of this half were She Came In Through The Bathroom Window delivered with aplomb by Maize and Plumb’s version of Golden Slumbers. 

What to do for an encore? How about two songs from Sgt. Pepper — Lovely Rita and All You Need Is Love.

Today, that’s even more true.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.