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Binkelman's Corner by Bill Binkelman
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Liverpool... Re-Imagining the Beatles
By David Lanz
Label: Moon Boy Music
Liverpool... Re-Imagining the Beatles tracks
1. Liverpool
2. Things We Said Today
3. Rain Eight Days a Week
4. Teatime for Rita - interlude
5. Lovely Rita
6. Because * I'm Only Sleeping
7. Norwegian Wood
8. Yes It Is
9. London Skies - A John Lennon Suite
Liverpool... Re-Imagining the Beatles
I admit that I approach tribute albums with a sense of trepidation, half-expecting something akin to Muzak brand elevator music. As a result, I was blown away by this Beatles re-imagining release from pianist David Lanz (featuring flutist Gary Stroutos and cellist Water Gray, as well as a few other talented accompanists). What Lanz and company have accomplished on Liverpool is a revelation of how to take source material and reinvigorate it with a whole new musical perspective while retaining enough of the "signature" sound so that fans of the original Lennon-McCartney tunes will hear those similarities pop up almost unconsciously at times (as it were). Infusing the music with a liberal amount of jazz flourishes from the '60s and '70s (I hear echoes of artists such as Herbie Mann, Les McCann, and Corea's Return to Forever in their pre-synth days), the assembled musicians, led by Lanz who, frankly, startled me with his jazzy chops and licks throughout, perform true magic throughout the CD's eight tracks (a ninth track is a sparse 14 second long interlude).

Most songs wear their source material on their titular sleeve (“Rain Eight Days A Week,” “Lovely Rita,” and “Yes It Is” and “Norwegian Wood” to name a few) whereas two others are less pointed, such as the opening Liverpool (a Lanz original) or the closing eleven minute London Skies (subtitled "A John Lennon Suite"). I applaud Lanz's and Stroutsos' (who accompanied Lanz to Liverpool to do research on The Beatles) decision to not go solely with the "classics" and instead opt for songs which they felt they could work with and produce something truly memorable, which they have in every instance.

"Liverpool" opens the album, amidst the sounds of seagulls and waves, in a somber and bluesy vein, with Lanz and Gray playing as a duet. Halfway through the song the mood lightens with a dramatic flourish of cello from Gray, becoming wistful and romantic. Things We Said Today begins with Alonzo Davideo's motif guitar before flowing into breezy "60s era jazziness, mostly due to Stroutsos' flute and Lanz's piano. Eric Eagle's drums and David Revelli's percussion also contribute a lot to the jazzy funky atmosphere. Lovely Rita, on which Lanz goes it alone, gets a fairly straightforward interpretation, but the results are nonetheless quite pleasant with Lanz adding a hint of sadness at times. Because I’m Only Sleeping (which also incorporates some environmental sounds, i.e. crickets and a hooting owl) is lent serious gravitas by Gray's cello at the outset but over the track's nine minutes the song transitions through various stages, some quiet and pensive (with Stroutsos's flute adding a nice touch) and others jazzy and uptempo, propelled by Eagle's drums. The closing London Skies may be the one piece here that Lanz's many new age music fans embrace the most, as it is a flowing romantic flute/piano duet (with some cello sprinkled throughout) that winds its way through the song's eleven minutes at a sedate pace with few jazz undertones or influences. At the eight minute mark, the track unexpectedly veers into ambient territory with sparse echoed piano, twinkling bell trees, and textural synthesizers – an unusual conclusion but a fitting one to my ears.

What cannot be overstated is that Liverpool is not a collection of smooth jazz versions of Beatles' songs. There is nary a hint of smooth jazz here. This is JAZZ period, folks, albeit as mentioned earlier, more akin to jazz from the late '60s and early '70s. I suppose some may consider the jazz to be "lite" when compared to the more urban style of the genre from that time period, but I don't think one would be surprised to walk into any one of the many jazz clubs back then and hear music like this late at night amidst the sound of clinking glasses and murmured conversations. My hat is off to David Lanz, Gary Stroutsos and everyone else who contributed to this album which honors one of the most talented songwriting duos in the history of recorded music.
Rating: Very Good +   Very Good +
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 12/17/2010
 
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