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Imagine: The Music of John Lennon starts with the spare framework of the former Beatle's (mostly three- and four-chord) songs, then remodels them into a much more elaborate structure.

The result, on stage Saturday at Robinson Center in Little Rock, was a near-flawless interpretation of 18 well-known Lennon songs, embellished with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra along with the Jeans 'n Classics Band and vocalist Jean Meilleur. It's not a rock concert by any stretch of the imagination and, as Meilleur explained to the audience, "we're not a tribute band."

He's right. They're way beyond that.

Meilleur has a fine voice, that of a sort of civilized Joe Cocker who exerts a bluesy yet articulate influence on Lennon's lyrics. His affable approach to the material, complete with commentary on Lennon's inspirations and explanations of some of the songs, made for a lively and entertaining evening. And the Jeans 'n Classics Band, consisting of veteran Canadian rock musicians, adds a pair of throaty backup singers, along with guitar, bass, piano and solid drumming to set the pace for the entire orchestra.

Under the baton of associate director Geoffrey Robson, the ASO owned the material, especially on Lennon's songs that rely heavily on orchestration such as "A Day in the Life." Robson, when asked by Meilleur what was different about working with a rock band, mentioned the presence of a drum kit. Meilleur asked if Robson would kick out the drums if he could. Robson waffled for a moment, then said no, "this guy can stay."

The high point of the evening came with the ensemble's performance of Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows" from 1966, with words said to be adapted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead -- less trippy than the original, but with echoes of the mysticism that makes the song memorable. And taut major-minor key shifts, along with a ringing acoustic guitar, did justice to "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away."

Rock music, because of its reliance on spontaneity and combustion, doesn't really fit the mold of precise institutions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum or symphony orchestras. But if there's a way to appreciate and recognize the appeal of such combinations, this concert just might be the ticket.

Imagine: The Music of John Lennon will take the stage again at 3 p.m. today at Robinson Center. Information is available at (501) 666-1761 or ArkansasSymphony.org.

Metro on 03/05/2017

Print Headline: Show impeccably imagines Lennon

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