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In my experience, non-pop interpretations of the Beatles? songbook have been dismal at best, suicidal at worst. Part of the problem, I suspect, is one of context. It seems that the Beatles canon does not lend itself readily to differing genre applications. Take for example Telarc?s recent attempt to apply a blues treatment to The White Album : The Blues White Album, while courageous, fell far short of making any serious artistic statement. No, it seems that a finely tuned cultural and musical sense is called for when approaching the music of the Beatles.
That daunting prospect noted, it was sheer pleasure to realize the success that Minnesota-reared vocalist and arranger Connie Evingson had when preparing Let It Be Jazz. After approaching my listening date with this music like a tetanus shot, I was dumbfounded by the style and grace exuded from this recording. Aided by pianist and arranger Mary Louise Knutson, Ms. Evingson applies bossa nova to "From Me to You," tango to "When I?m 64," and swing to "Blackbird." What is offered is a real mixed bag in the best way. Almost every jazz subgenre is represented.
But that does not really begin to describe the ingenuity employed for this recording. "Blackbird" uses Dean McGraw?s electric sitar, giving the song a period relevance while updating it in a defendable way. The introduction has a very eastern quality that gives away to Ms. Evingson scatting the bass (3/4-time) part into a transmogrification of the melody. Evingson sings with confidence and intelligence. Jay Epstein recalls Elvin Jones in the drumming and Anthony Cox pulls off a perfectly balanced bass solo, followed by McGraw on the sitar. The band swings its collective ass off.
The piano/voice duet on "The Night Before" from Help! is very effective, showing that Ms. Evingson is not afraid to take chances. A Hard Day?s Night ?s "Can?t Buy Me Love" sports some seriously cool bass playing and a sultry Evingson to boot. Think Peggy Lee?s "Fever." Knutson?s piano borders on the barrelhouse. "When I?m 64" is given two readings, the first with an accordion over a Caribbean vibe taken at a leisurely pace. The second is considerably faster, primarily employing a clarinet and piano. It is easy to see why both are included. Each is great and necessary to the recording.
?s "Oh! Darling" receives a Charlie Rich treatment with a full country and western/blues piano. Evingson sings the song like alto Patsy Cline would have. Dave Karr?s tenor saxophone peeks in on this tune and steals the song with his solo. But the coolest part is the ending quote of Neal Hefti?s "Little Darlin?"... sheer genius. "Got to Get You Into My Life" is a strolling adult contemporary gem, thoroughly modern, with Chicago horns and voicings circa 1980 and Dave Jensen?s flugelhorn keeping it all soft. The only bite in this song is the chorus, where Ms. Evingson really leans into the piece.
The final word on the recording: it is so much better than I expected that I am ashamed to have stereotyped it as just another anemic attempt to cover Beatles tunes. Let It Be Jazz is a sure top ten pick for 2003.
Track Listing: Blackbird; Wait; The Night Before; Can?t Buy Me Love; From Me To You; Fixing A Hole; When I?m 64;
I?m Looking Through You; For No One; I Will; Oh! Darling; Got To Get You Into My Life; Good Day
Sunshine; When I?m 64, Version 2.
Personnel: Connie Evingson?Vocals; Mary Louis Knutson, Fulton Tashombe?Piano; Terry Burns, Anthony
Cox, Doug White?Bass; Jay Epstein, Phil Hey, Marc Rio?Drums; Dave Singley, Dean Magraw
(Sitar)?Guitar; Dave Karr, Kathy Jensen?Tenor Saxophone; Mike Nelson?Trombone; Daryl
Boudreaux?Percussion; Dan Chouinard?Accordion.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.