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Django Bates / Frankfurt Radio Big Band: Saluting Sgt. Pepper

Karl Ackermann By

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Django Bates stellar career has been far less celebrated than it deserves to be, at least on this, somewhat myopic, side of the Atlantic. Born in Kent, on the outskirts of London, he has achieved prominence as a multi-instrumentalist, band leader and composer. In the early part of his career he created Human Chain and the large-scale orchestra Delightful Precipice but drew the most attention for his pivotal composing for Loose Tubes. That large cooperative included Julian Argüelles, Steve Arguelles, Martin France and Iain Ballamy, who all went on to impressive careers, both inside and outside of Bates orbit.

Bates solo career began with Summer Fruits (and Unrest) (JMT, 1993) and most recently he issued two direct and indirect tributes to Charlie Parker -Beloved Bird (2010) and Confirmation (2012), both on the Lost Marble label. Those albums found Bates in the unusually small format (for him) of a piano trio with Petter Eldh on bass and drummer Peter Bruun. Perhaps because of the Bird connection, Bates received a higher level of coverage in the States and some overdue recognition for an artist who has won numerous awards in Europe including the prestigious (but now defunct) Jazzpar Award for composition.

Rather than asking if the Beatles catalog really needs another jazz interpretation, it's time to acknowledge that the compositions of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison have become modern standards, open to deeper mining. Saluting Sgt. Pepper is unique in that it covers material from only one album in a Beatles catalog that could be considered one milestone after another. Bates critical roles on the album are broad, discounting only his tenor horn, but including arrangements, keyboard and a bit of background vocalizing. Brunn is back on drums as part of Bates core group called Eggs Laid by Tigers. Martin Ullits Dahl handles the lead vocals with backing from bassist Jonas Westergaard. Surrounding the smaller group is the fourteen-piece Frankfurt Radio Big Band.

The vocalists—thankfully—make no attempt to sound like the Beatles, while each of the pieces are relatively true to the music of the original compositions. Tunes like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "When I'm Sixty Four" have a touch of the playful style Bates employed with his musical performances of Circus Umbilicus. Tenor saxophonist Tony Lakatos adds some jazz fire to "With A Little Help From My Friends," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "Getting Better" while Bates and guitarist Martin Scales' solos add flair to the normally laid-back "Fixing A Hole." Harrison's "Within You Without You" is appropriately stripped down to highlight the exotic flavor of the original. The closing piece, "A Day In The Life," is the perfect combination of balladry and psychedelia, bringing Saluting Sgt. Pepper to a theatric conclusion.

Bates has worked in Tim Berne's Chaos Totale, Bill Bruford's Earthworks, created commissioned compositions for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and much in-between on the musical spectrum. With each additional release he seems to infuse the aggregate of what he has absorbed over the years, if only in subtle shadings. Bates did not attempt to transcribe the original Sgt. Pepper score, opting to work from his own interpretation of the songs, making this recording all the more remarkable.

Track Listing: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; With A Little Help From My Friends; Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds; Getting Better; Fixing A Hole; She's Leaving Home; Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!; Within You Without You; When I'm Sixty Four; Lovely Rita; Good Morning Good Morning; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise); A Day In The Life.

Personnel: Django Bates: keyboard, backing vocals, arranger, conductor; Stuart Hall: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lap steel, electric sitar, violin; (Eggs Laid By Tigers): Martin Ullits Dahl: lead vocal; Jonas Westergaard: electric bass, backing vocals; Peter Bruun: drums, percussion, backing vocals; (Frankfurt Radio Big Band): Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn: soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Oliver Leicht: alto sax, flute, clarinet, alto clarinet; Tony Lakatos: tenor sax, flute; Steffen Weber: tenor sax, alto flute, bass clarinet; Rainer Heute: baritone sax, bass sax, bass clarinet, contra alto clarinet; Frank Wellert: trumpet; Thomas Vogel: trumpet; Martin Auer: trumpet, flugelhorn; Axel Schlosser: trumpet, flugelhorn; Günter Bollmann: trombone; Peter Feil: trombone; Christian Jaksjø: trombone; Jan Schreiner: bass trombone; Martin Scales: electric guitar.

Title: Saluting Sgt. Pepper | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Edition Records

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