I was not holding out much hope for these recordings. I had just listened to and reviewed Bobby Timmons— Quartets and Orchestra (Milestone 47091), which included some jazz treatments of late 1960s pop songs that did not completely work. In that case, I felt that the effort to assimilate more contemporary pop songs into the jazz standard canon had failed (thought the disc is worthwhile for the remaining pieces). Experiments with POP, the new release by the Gordon Beck Quartet contains all such music...superbly performed, I might add.
To date, the last disc of this type I even remotely was interested in was Herbie Hancock's The New Standard (Verve 529584, 1996). I felt that Hancock's The New Standard was only partially successful in attempting to integrate today's pop music into the jazz vernacular. Experiments with POP, on the other hand, is very successful, taking such disparate songs such as Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'", the Beatles "Michelle", and the who's "I Can' See For Miles". Pianist Gordon Beck proves to be a master at seamlessly importing this popular music into the software of jazz and transforming it into a product that is at once both challenging and enjoyable. Johnny Mclaughlin's guitar adds to Beck's formidable piano to form a driving front for the capable rhythm section of bassist Clyne and drummer Oxley. The Beach Boy's "Good Vibrations" is transformed into a concerto for guitar and piano, while "Sunny", perhaps the best treatment on the disc, is a breezy piano solo. A very pleasant surprise.
The second in the inaugural release of Art of Life was pianist Gary Husband's The Things I See— Interpretations of the Music of Allan (Soft Machine, Gong) Holdsworth. Husband, a multi-instrumentalist, multi-genre-busting musician from Leeds, England, takes a plaintive piano stance on some interesting music composed by an able purveyor of electric fusion. The result is music as ethereal as Keith Jarrett's and grounded as Geoff Keezer's. Listening to this disc is a pleasant way of spending a languid afternoon.
Experiments With POP: These Boot Are Made For Walking; Norwegian Wood; Sunny; Up, Up And Away; Michelle; I Can See For Miles; Good Vibrations; Monday, Monday. (Total Time: 39:32)
The Things I See: The Sixteen Men Of Tain; Shadows Of; Temporary Fault; Mr. Berwell; The Things You See; Wish; Devil Take The Hindmost; Kinder; Looking Glass. (Total Time: 39:32)
The Gordon Beck Quartet: Gordon Beck: Piano; Johnny Mclaughlin: Guitars; Jeff Clyne: Bass; Tony Oxley: Drums.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.