Logically, the appearance of an album focused on George Gershwin tunes should surprise no one. But in our current jazz culture, which prioritizes original composition, tributes like Our Love Is Here to Stay are not the norm. Nowadays, even players who can’t write feel obligated to play their own stuff.
Peter Beets is an established pianist in his native country, the Netherlands. His work appears on Dutch labels, but like many Europeans, he often records in the United States with American musicians. This album was recorded near Washington, D.C. with two capable players from that area, bassist Tom Baldwin and drummer Eric Kennedy.
The subtitle Gershwin Reimagined is an overstatement. Beets does offer some personal perspectives on these songs, harmonically and metrically, but he leaves them intact. He does not so much transform them as celebrate them. He has impeccable chops, which allow him to sound relaxed and unhurried even at very fast tempos, as on “’S Wonderful” and “Lady Be Good!”
While his Gershwin interpretations can contain Latin and classical shadings and even Monk-style displacements (“Embraceable You”), his overriding direction is straight down the middle. The ideas with which he decorates these pieces are all intelligent and all familiar. What Beets does best is swing his ass off and communicate joy. Ballads are not his sweet spot. “I Loves You, Porgy,” that wrenching plea, that strange love song, is subjected to many of his favorite devices of embellishment. It becomes merely lilting and pretty.
But if this Gershwin project is not an important album, it is high-class entertainment. And it’s especially welcome in a jazz environment where sophisticated contemporary encounters with great classic repertoire are not widely available. Beets stays on the surface of these songs, but his surfaces are elegant and charming. It is hard to listen to this record without smiling.
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