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04/15/14

Various Artists
The Beatles: A Jazz Tribute
HighNote Records

Amidst all of the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America, it’s worth tossing aside the group’s cultural impact for a minute and considering the music on its own terms. Could anyone, back in early 1964, have imagined that the Liverpudlians’ canon would lend itself to countless interpretations within every genre known to mankind, or that the songwriting credit Lennon-McCartney, and to a lesser extent George Harrison, would quickly become as ubiquitous a source as Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the like?

But this too is worth considering: Does the world really need another Beatles tribute featuring a seemingly random collection of jazz artists? Probably not, but The Beatles: A Jazz Tribute is a respectable enough entry into the crowded field, cobbling together 10 tracks previously released on the related HighNote and Savant labels. Vocalist Sheila Jordan pairs McCartney’s “Blackbird” with her own title track from 2003’s Little Song; pianist Eric Reed’s “Yesterday” was on 2002’s From My Heart; Larry Coryell’s solo-guitar workup of Harrison’s “Something” was on 2003’s The Power Trio: Live in Chicago. And all three of guitarist Joel Harrison’s contributions can be found on his self-explanatory 2005 release Harrison on Harrison.

Of those, it’s “The Art of Dying,” originally on George Harrison’s 1970 classic All Things Must Pass, that stands out most, if only because it’s a clean break from the overdone likes of “Here Comes the Sun” and “Eleanor Rigby” (although Norman Simmons’ spirited Caribbean groove on the latter gives the song a bit of new life). And props too to guitarist Randy Johnston for his swinging bossa-nova reading of “Things We Said Today,” an early Beatles song that mercifully has not been beaten to death.
The Beatles: A Jazz Tribute is what it is, not the most original or compelling of its kind but likably listenable.

Originally published in April 2014
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