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BeatleJazz: With a Little Help From Our Friends

Drummer Brian Melvin and pianist Dave Kikoski probably know every Beatles nuance in the book. So it’s surprising With a Little Help From Our Friends, their third set of Fab Four interpretations largely ignores the originals’ charms.

The first two Beatlejazz discs kept the group to a piano trio. This time, in addition to bassists Larry Grenadier and Boris Koslov replacing Charles Fambrough, the jazz fabs invited along Michael and Randy Brecker as well as guitarists John Scofield and Mike Stern. With saxophonist Michael Brecker, the group casts John Lennon’s angry “Working Class Hero” in an early-’60s John Coltrane mold. The simple melody works well here, first with the trio playing rubato underneath it and later as a vamp that holds its own for 11 minutes. Lennon’s “Imagine” becomes a warm ballad with Randy Brecker’s muted trumpet.

But the actual Beatles songs sound as if the band opened a fake book and read the notes off the page, instead of learning them from the records. With all the extra color that the original “Strawberry Fields Forever” gained from strings, brass and lead guitar, the group plays a by-the-numbers version, save for a few odd chord substitutions. “I Will” and “Across the Universe” sound like staid, cocktail hour jazz. Only “Yes It Is” takes risks. Here, Melvin plays tablas and the group states the melody slowly after starting in a Latin-type groove.

Originally Published