Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Duos at Vancouver International Jazz Festival

Steven Bernstein and Sex Mob, joined by DJ Logic and Bill Frisell, at the Wall-to-Wall Miles Davis 12-hour concert, 2001

This tribute to “the quiet Beatle,” who would ultimately become known as “the metaphysical Beatle” for his deep and abiding passion for Eastern culture and philosophy, was far more than just another bunch of jazzbos “having their way” with the Beatles songbook. The participants in this event–one of many in the weeklong New York Guitar Festival–all came of age with the Beatles’ music. It affected them as profoundly at the early stages of their development as the music of Miles, Monk, Mingus and Trane would later on. So rather than addressing Harrison’s oeuvre condescendingly, as a previous generation of jazz musicians had already done on a number of half-hearted cover recordings from the ’60s and ’70s, these 40-something artists embraced Harrison’s legacy with the kind of reverence that comes from having a personal connection to the music.

Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, a Berklee College of Music alumni who also played in Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, opened the evening (which was taped for later broadcast as part of hot John Schaefer’s New Sounds show on radio station WNYC) with an intimate solo guitar recital. The Vienna native exhibited stunning virtuosity on an oddball bodiless guitar, fingerpicking with uncanny precision on Harrison’s two most famous tunes, “Something” and “My Sweet Lord,” as if they were Bach lute exercises. Throughout his set, Muthspiel used outrageous stretches on the fretboard and took great harmonic liberties with the material, also relying on minimal looping for rhythm guitar parts. Given the depth of musicality and dazzling chops that Muthspiel brought to bear on Harrison’s music, it was somehow touching that he played Harrison’s original signature solo on “My Sweet Lord” note-for-note, leaving the sweetness and simplicity of that perfect melodic nugget intact.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published