Herbie Hancock: Norwegian Wood

On this absolutely, stunning and beautiful rendition of the Beatles classic "Norwegian Wood," Herbie Hancock enlisted the help of some of jazz music's best musicians. With Scofield, Holland, DeJohnette and the late Michael Brecker on board, there was no question that this album was going to be near perfect. Arranged by Bob Belden, this song opens up with Dave Holland playing the main verse melody before Brecker and Scofield come in with a doubled melody. The melody builds as it's accompanied by a miniature string and wind orchestra that helps take this song to places that the Beatles only wish they could have gone. Holland also plays the first solo, while Hancock plays some "Maiden Voyage" inspired chords underneath that accentuate the depth and validity of Holland's solo further.

There's a such a deep understanding of music going on in this re-arrangement. The back ground orchestrations behind the solos are absolutely genius and help the song become the masterpiece that it is. Scofield finishes off the solo section with an angular passage that sounds like only Scofield can sound. That tone is recognizable from any stereo on the face of planet earth! A perfect song deserves a perfect rating and this one gets it folks.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Antfarm Quartet: And I Love Her

When a prolific vocalist plants the seed of a down-to-earth pop song in the fertile soil of a copious quartet, it’s guaranteed to thrive. This essential adaptation, set in lush Brazilian-influenced terrain, not only does justice to the original, but transcends it. Shomo cultivates a luxuriant groove that compliments Lekan’s sensitive presence. Jost opens with a diaphanous, unison riff, as Ridl’s rich chords on Rhodes provide the ideal environment for Jost’s misty voice. Ridl’s lithe piano solo leads to vocal improvs, a natural modulation, and multi-petaled piano lines to fade. Those who might believe that classic pop songs have no place in the jazz garden may change their tune when they hear this hybrid cover. This quartet is of a rare genus and I’d bet the farm on them.

April 28, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Come Together

In 1969, Dr. Lonnie Smith covered The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." Forty years later, he is tackling a Beatles tune that was introduced the same year he covered "Rigby," the Abbey Road hit "Come Together." There's no boogaloo beat this time, but rather a stomping rock strut. And there're even some vocals … sort of. The first couple of verses are rendered by Smith in an indecipherable snarl so lowdown & dirty, it could be mistaken for the Cookie Monster with a head cold.

The backing band is James Brown funky and airtight, but once the guttural growling is done, Smith opens up on the organ with swells and trills that wring all the possible emotions out of a B-3. Donald Harrison enters late with an inspired Cannonball-styled testimonial that ends way too soon.

The song is so substantially redone from the original that just about the only thing carried over is the cocky, hip disposition. That's all Dr. Smith needed to take from "Come Together," because he knows what to do with it from there.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Josh Roseman: I Should Have Known Better

A dub reggae trance free funk jazz version of an early Beatles hit song? Heck, why not? Don't expect the familiar melody to jump right out at you, though; snippets and short quotes of it emerge from the haze only to submerge beneath the thick electronic motif again. Some chords don't really belong in the song as Lennon & McCartney envisioned it. The only constant is that island beat.

Amongst this murky mixture of a live performed groove and an assortment of samples and artificially generated noise is Josh Roseman's tribute to the pioneering ska sounds of Don Drummond's trombone, in both open and muted form. With "I Should Have Known Better," Roseman subverts pop music by suffocating it with a mélange of Jamaican influences. He may have been too successful contorting the song, though, as it's warped almost entirely beyond recognition.

December 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: All You Need Is Love

If the purpose of music is to bring joy and pleasure to both the players and the listeners, then Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra surely seems to have accomplished that. As a working band, they performed night after night for five years at the once-progressive downtown New York club Tonic. This recording memorializes the spirit of participative music practiced not only by these eclectic artists, but at times by their audiences. Under an umbrella of camaraderie, the MTO creates an atmosphere of inclusion with its cacophonous collection of instruments played with a passion and sense of pleasure that belies the group's professionalism. In particular, the MTO covers this Beatles song with a gusto and joy befitting a classic of '60s love, peace and hope. Good fun.

November 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Geoff Keezer: Across the Universe

Solo piano adventures are too often unfairly measured against the introspection of Keith Jarrett, the complexity of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, or the technical prowess of Art Tatum. Inevitable comparisons to the indisputable brilliance of the masters can taint our perceptions of their disciples' efforts. Geoff Keezer proves that beauty is sometimes best realized through simplicity. Listeners won't be wowed by mind-boggling runs or harmonic eccentricities in his thoughtful solo version of John Lennon's "Across the Universe." Staying close to the melody, Keezer's soothing and concise performance doesn't push any boundaries or break any rules. But when isolated and appreciated for what it is and not chastised for what it isn't, the results are altogether gratifying.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Michelle

"Michelle" is one of Paul McCartney's many love songs, but the chromatic movement in the melody and descending guitar line, sublime harmonies, subtly swinging beat, and even a jazz-inspired solo by George Harrison made it one of the more intricate ballads in the Beatles' songbook. Not surprisingly, "Michelle" is the tune that translates most easily into Count Basie's vernacular on Basie's Beatle Bag, a qualitatively mixed bag recorded five months to the day after Rubber Soul was released in the U.S. Chico O'Farrill's arrangement opens solidly with a typical swinging intro by the Count and a "Li'l Darlin'"-inspired fully voiced ensemble rendition of the verse containing nice movement from the inner horns. Basie's spare reading of the next 8 bars of the melody (supported only by bass and gentle cymbal) emphasizes the sexier side of McCartney's romanticism. After a muted trumpet improvisation over the second verse, the arrangement begins to lose its direction and is ultimately saved only by its brevity.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Marcus: Tomorrow Never Knows

The Beatles' 1966 album Revolver fired a psychedelic salvo that reverberated through not only the rock community but certain jazz circles as well. Saxophonist Steve Marcus always had his ears open to rock happenings, and his cover of Revolver's boldest track, "Tomorrow Never Knows," was one of the first jazz-directed explorations of the psychedelic realm. His soprano sax echoes John Lennon's detached and ethereal vocals, while Bob Moses lays out his own adaptation of one of rock's most famous drum beats. Mike Nock's solo is the highlight, stacking fourth chords beneath motive-based improvised lines. While Marcus spirals deep into the Coltrane-esque reaches of outer space, Coryell and Nock broaden the sonic potential of their instruments; Coryell strums heavy open chords, experiments with violent, stabbing feedback and wah and echo pedals, and Nock plucks and pats his piano's strings. Although Hills's gravitational bass pedaling prevents his bandmates from permanently escaping into the cosmos, 11 minutes of his incessant thumping leaves something to be desired.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Grant Green: A Day in the Life

Other prominent soul-jazz guitarists hitched onto the Beatles train (e.g., Wes Montgomery's 1967 A Day in the Life and George Benson's 1969 The Other Side of Abbey Road), but this Grant Green recording tops those efforts by his pop-minded compatriots. Whereas Benson and Montgomery were suffocated by Don Sebesky's infamously fluffy arrangements, Green's multi-sectioned version of "A Day in the Life" is poppy yet still raw and funky. Unlike Paul McCartney, Green doesn't drag a comb across his head while rushing to catch the bus, but instead starts his day with a relaxing soul-food breakfast and a tall glass of groove juice as he and Creque share melodic duties in the roles of John Lennon and Sir Paul, respectively. A weighty, minor horn interlude introduces the blowing section, which features King Funk Idris Muhammad's heavy pocket groove and cooking solos by Green, Bartee, and Creque. "A Day in the Life" was one of the Beatles' most epic tunes, and Green & Co. do it justice.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mark Turner: She Said, She Said

At the time of this recording, Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel were in two working groups together, developing a seamless blend only achieved by sharing the stage night after night. Brad Mehldau is invited into the mix here, making a rare appearance on electric piano; his Rhodes' warm, buttery sound blankets Turner's unassuming, even-toned tenor and Rosenwinkel's gracefully ambiguous, singing style. Turner glides through his solo, even his trickiest passages flowing effortlessly from his horn (check out 2:17-2:47). The original "She Said, She Said" featured some of Ringo Starr's greatest playing (his fills as integral to the composition as vocals and guitar), so who better than Brian Blade to man the traps in this version? Blade's ability to groove while filling is incomparable. His busyness never derails his momentum, and his shifting grooves enrich each soloist's canvas in clever and unique ways. Note the complexity of his hi-hat, snare and bass-drum work as Rosenwinkel's solo begins at 3:26.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Potter: Yesterday

Hundreds of covers have dulled the luster of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday," but like a fresh coat of wax on a vintage Rolls-Royce, Chris Potter's unique version restores the sparkle and magnificence, making an old tune sound new again. Beginning in chorale-like fashion, Potter tenderly guides the guitars and electric piano through McCartney's heartbreakingly gorgeous melody. The understated counterpoint and voice leading create some unanticipated and interesting harmonic moments, enough to catch your ear but not distract from the leader's touching rendering of the melody. The bridge is a more typical jazz ballad, with the introduction of Smith's brushes and hi-hat and Potter's improvised embellishment of the melody padded by rich, sustained chords from Krantz, Rogers and Taborn. The second verse is accentuated by more elaborate movement from one of the guitars (especially from 2:13 to 2:20). One of the best jazz Beatles covers out there, Chris Potter's interpretation of this classic is simply marvelous.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Don Byron: I'll Follow the Sun

Multifaceted clarinetist Don Byron scores huge with this cover of Paul McCartney's divine "I'll Follow the Sun." His clear-toned clarinet a perfect representation of McCartney's charming tenor voice, Byron delivers the melody with ease above Frisell's ringing arpeggios and inimitable comping style. The sublime harmonic tension embedded in the chord progression elicits many lovely moments of resolution during Byron's engaging solo. Frisell references the melody, often cleverly implied or displaced unexpectedly, throughout his choruses. Gress provides firm support, and DeJohnette's delicate cymbal and snare work, selective hi-hat and rim-clicks are simply splendid (especially behind Frisell's solo). This fabulous track will bring a sunny smile to any listener's face.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gabor Szabo: In My Life

Though Gabor Szabo's late 1960s and early '70s catalog is uneven, some of his jazz-pop crossover tracks are well-deserving of rediscovery. The lullaby-like "In My Life" is one of his gems. John Lennon's exquisite ballad is stripped down to its barest melodic essentials. Szabo's plaintive lead is elegant and poignant, accompanied by second guitarist Vaz's modest arpeggios and voice-leading. Kabok outlines only the basic harmonic bottom, and Keltner's cymbal texturing adds a light touch of finesse. Written as an ode to John Lennon's Liverpool childhood, the reflective and nostalgic beauty of his lyrics is delivered expressively in this touching performance.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Don Ellis: Hey Jude

This track is totally bonkers. Is that R2-D2 being tortured during the opening cadenza? No, that's Don Ellis's trumpet, amplified and mutated by a Ring Modulator and echo devices. Imagine being at the Fillmore in 1970 and seeing someone do that with Louis Armstrong's instrument! The first pass at the tune is backed by a "Pomp and Circumstance"-like brass choir, with Ellis and guitarist Jay Graydon creating as much indiscriminate noise as they do melody. Contrabass trombone and flute momentarily bring things into perspective as they double the melody on the bridge, and then the circus comes to town with some outrageously dissonant oompah-ing. Ellis's unaccompanied solo—at once humorously Mozartian and bizarrely extraterrestrial—calls the band to attention, and they roar through the legendary coda. There isn't much middle ground here: some listeners will appreciate and dig Ellis's humor, and others will seek the closest blunt object to bludgeon their ears. Regardless, for better or worse, no other band has ever come close to sounding like Don Ellis's orchestra.

November 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: Dear Prudence

Brad Mehldau sounds completely comfortable bridging the gap between rock and jazz, and "Dear Prudence" is another of his unforced, genre-spanning efforts. He never overworks his covers by trying to do too much with them; instead, he respects the compositional boundaries and celebrates what made the tune great in the first place. The pianist's take on the melody here is pretty straightforward, and though the mood is mellow, the groove is buoyant thanks to Oles's swinging bass. The star, though, is Jim Keltner, the renowned rock session drummer who actually recorded with three of the Fab Four (Lennon, Harrison and Starr). His work is loose but precise, unpredictable and subtly extraordinary. His understated playing behind Mehldau's solo is fantastic, especially his slyly capricious hi-hat accents and floor-tom fills. Close listening will be richly rewarded.

November 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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