The Assad Brothers Are Featured on the Latest Paul Simon Album!

The latest album from the great American singer-songwriter Paul Simon, In the Blue Light, aims, according to his website, “to lend fresh perspectives on ten of the artist’s favorite (though perhaps less-familiar) songs, drawn from his unparalleled body of work.” In other words, these are re-imagined and newly arranged recordings of tunes spanning Simon’s solo albums from 1973’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon through 2011’s So Beautiful or So What. Simon has long been among the most interesting arrangers in pop music—you may well be familiar with some of his fascinating alchemical creations that blend aspects of folk, various African, South American, zydeco, gospel, and myriad other styles into his highly distinctive poetic oeuvre—so it is hardly a surprise that this famously restless creative spirit would be interested in revisiting and recasting some of his works. (For those who do not know, Simon originally became famous as the driving force of the extremely popular folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel in the late 1960s; author of such classics as “The Sound of Silence,” “Homeward Bound,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer,””Bridge Over Troubled Water,” et al. His solo work has been even more compelling, and includes such uniformly excellent albums  as Paul Simon, Still Crazy After All These YearsGraceland, and Rhythm of the Saints. Simon fans will definitely want to pick up Robert Hilburn’s superb new biography Paul Simon: The Life, which I just finished reading.)

But the reason I’m writing about Paul Simon here is that one of the songs on In the Blue Light—“The Teacher,” from 2000’s highly underrated You’re the One albumprominently features Sérgio and Odair Assad playing a serpentine and quite hypnotic guitar part throughout the track which, as advertised, is quite dissimilar from the original arrangement of the song on You’re the One. I love it!

The second I heard about it (thanks to David Tanenbaum for the tip!), I knew I had to ask Sérgio how the duo’s involvement with the track came about. His email reply:

“I didn’t know Paul Simon personally until a couple of years ago. I was introduced to him by Jamey Haddad, who has been his percussionist for many years now. I’ve known Jamey for decades and we worked together a few times. Simon heard Odair and me playing through Jamey and became interested in checking out what we could do for his ‘new’ album. He flew me to New York City just to talk a little and explain what his project was: recording old pieces that he liked but weren’t his top hits. His idea was to leave me free to arrange any song I chose. I picked two of the songs on the list and prepared the guitar parts. One was ‘Question for the Angels’ [from So Beautiful or So What] and the other one was ‘The Teacher.’

“A month later he flew Odair from Europe and we all met in his studio in upstate New York. We stayed there for a couple of days. On the first day, Odair and I just worked on our parts together, but they did record the whole thing. On the following day, Paul showed up and listened to what we did. He particularly liked ‘The Teacher’ and ended up using that one. I think the reason was is that I did something completely different from his earlier version.  The earlier version had a lot of brass and heavy percussion and the text didn’t come out as it should. With a lighter duo guitar version, an odd meter and some oriental modes behind, his voice and text could be heard much better, I think.

“We had a contract saying that there would perhaps be edits on what we did and that they could use just parts of what we recorded. However, they ended up using the whole thing! They just added a sax improv [by Walter Blanding] but that was already expected. During the sessions, Paul was always very kind and never tried to  impose anything on us. I was told he can be a little ‘complicated’ in studio sessions but it wasn’t the case with us.”


The Teacher

There once was a teacher of great renown
Whose words were like tablets of stone
“Because it’s easier to learn than unlearn
Because we’ve passed the point of no return
Gather your goods and follow me
Or you will surely die”

I was only a child of the city
My parents were children of immigrant stock
So we followed as followers go
Over a mountain with a napkin of snow
And ate the berries and roots
That grow along the timberline

Deeper and deeper the dreamer of love
Sleeps on a quilt of stars

It’s cold
Sometimes you can’t catch your breath
It’s cold

Time and abundance thickened his step
So the teacher divided in two
One half ate the forests and fields
The other half sucked all the moisture from the clouds
And we, we were amazed at the power of his appetite

Deeper and deeper the dreamer of love
Sleeps on a quilt of stars

Sometimes we don’t know who we are
Sometimes force overpowers us and we cry
My teacher, carry me home
Carry me home, my teacher
Carry me home
Carry me home my teacher
Carry me home
Carry me home my teacher
Carry me home

© 2000 Words and Music by Paul Simon