NEW YORK — NOW that Paul Simon's latest album, ``Rhythm of the Saints'' - a percussion-based work featuring Brazilian, African, and American musicians - has proved itself to be a worthy successor to his ground-breaking 1986 album ``Graceland,'' Simon has launched a world tour. The tour, entitled ``Born at the Right Time,'' includes his new band - a 17-piece aggregation of musicians, including South African guitarist Ray Phiri (who also played on ``Graceland''), American saxophonist Michael Brecker, and Brazilian musicians Nana Vasconcelos and Milton Nascimento.
At a press conference here before leaving, Mr. Simon presented his idea for the new tour: to present a retrospective of his career in the context of his new band.
Simon told reporters, ``It's really the first time that I'm working with a band that's this large in number,'' he said, ``And that's as varied in musicianship and cultural backgrounds.''
When asked if he was surprised about the immediate success of ``Rhythm of the Saints,'' Simon responded,
``Yeah! I thought that the album would be more difficult for people to grasp than ``Graceland.'' I'm delighted, but I'm surprised ... because it contains polyrhythms and more complex rhythms, played by anywhere from eight to fourteen drummers as opposed to a drum kit or a programmed drum machine.''
People are often intrigued by Simon's interest in the music of other cultures, and believe that his motives must be social or political. But when asked about this, he said, ``I just approach it straight-on musically.'' Pointing out that the band members hail from Brazil, Cameroon, South Africa, Botswana, and the US, he said, ``We have different cultures to draw upon, and different musical solutions, and enough experience to be able to approach musical problems from several different angles, and find the most interesting solution to them.''
Pressing the point, another journalist asked Simon if he felt he is more socially engaged than he was some years ago.
``Yes,'' said Simon, ``On a certain level I'm definitely more socially engaged, but it's because ... I'm able to use my influence as a celebrity to be socially active. But I tend to do that outside of the realm of music.''
As for the tour itself, Simon has been busy choosing songs that he thinks will work best with the new band.
``I made a list of about 28 songs that I thought I'd be interested in playing. Here's how I think roughly - five or six songs from `Rhythm of the Saints,' four or five songs from `Graceland,' five or six songs from the '70s.''
Simon launched the North American leg of his tour Jan. 5 in Tacoma, Wash., and will stop in 43 cities in Canada and the US by April. After that, they'll go to Europe and South America.
Instead of a short tour in support of ``Rhythm of the Saints,'' why did Simon opt in favor of the longer tour? ``I'm going to go out and try to get an overview of my career and see which of the songs I still really like and which ones are relevant and which ones perhaps not.''
When he was asked about being on the road at this stage of his career, Simon said, ``What does age have to do with it? I really look forward to going out on the road. I haven't really had the opportunity to indulge myself through all the years that my son was a youngster and in school. As far as age is concerned, you go and play as long as you enjoy playing and people want to hear you.''