George Kahn: Cover Up! (2009)
West Coast jazz pianist George Kahn presents fresh new arrangements to pop and rock tunes associated with such groups as Cream, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bill Withers and John Mayer, in a sense redefining or adding to the controversy, or, as the title of his album would suggest, the Cover Up! of what truly defines the West Coast Jazz. To Kahn, the genre is mainly "an attitude, a feeling, a 'vibe' ... an answer ... when the big bands died out and jazz started chasing the Bird down the bebop trail." While Gerry Mulligan and Shorty Rogers would probably take issue with Kahn's interpretation, there's no denying that the genre represents a calmer, less improvised and heavier arranged form of jazz music.
On this project Kahn, with a few exceptions, steers away from traditional jazz charts, preferring to provide a jazzy feeling to non-jazz covers from the pop and rock genres on songs familiar to all, and this he does well. Performing with his core trio of percussionist Alex Acuna and upright bassist Brian Bromberg, the album also features tenor saxophonist Justo Almario, trumpeter John Fumo, guitarist Pat Kelly and vocalist Courtney Lemmon, who guests on Withers' "Use Me."
Bromberg introduces "Sunshine of Your Love" with a heavy bass line, turning it over to Kahn's delicate treatment on the keys but failing to shed the piece's dark color, which is probably why it's not heard often in jazz circles. "Wes' Coast," a Kahn original, does provide that "feeling" he refers to with a stylish Miles Davis-like performance from Fumo's piercing muted horn. Lemmon belts out a funky rendition of Withers' classic pop song "Use Me," as Kahn plays with the keys in accompaniment and Almario weighs in with a touch of the sax.
Diced with a tasteful Latin beat, Lennon/McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" never sounded so lively or upbeat for a score that's generally down-tempo in nature, and Kahn delivers a very graceful performance here. The entire band comes together for one of the stronger charts on the album, providing an energetic and a decidedly West Coast flavor to Kahn's "Mitchell's Blues," reminiscent of the Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook sound with the Horace Silver group. Another of the pieces that keeps the album tied to its jazz roots is strangely enough, the title track.
Kahn offers an interesting blending of Lennon/McCartney's "Yesterday" with Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" that actually works quite well. The music rounds out with a mellow reading of John Mayer's "Waiting On The World to Change," and a percussion-enhanced version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic "My Favorite Things," where Almario dishes out his best tenor phrasings and the pianist lends his final touches to a truly memorable performance. George Kahn may not have cleared up the meaning of West Coast Jazz, but with Cover Up! he reveals a truth that anyone who samples this disc will find: this is great jazz music no matter how you define it.
Track Listing: Sunshine of Your Love; Wes' Coast; Mr. K.V.; Use Me; Eleanor Rigby; Mitchell's Blues; Cover Up!; Yesterday/Yesterdays; Comfortably Numb; Waiting On The World To Change; My Favorite Things.
Personnel: George Kahn: piano; Alex Acuna: drums, percussion; Brian Bromberg: upright bass; Justo Almario: tenor saxophone (4, 6, 7, 11); John Fumo: trumpet (2, 4, 6, 11); Pat Kelly: guitar (2, 7); Courtney Lemmon: vocals (4).