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Various Artists: A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper (Impulse!)

Notable, new and new-ish jazz artists cover the iconic Beatles album

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A Day in the Life
The cover of A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper

Another Sgt. Pepper’s tribute? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yada, yada, yada. That might be a listener’s first response to yet another take on the iconic Beatles album. Why? Because in addition to a few gem-like covers of the music, there have been plenty of stink bombs over the years: If you’ve ever listened to William Shatner’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” you’re unlikely to ever un-hear it.

A Day in the Life, thankfully, has notable new and new-ish jazz artists from the U.S., U.K., and South Africa deploying those old melodies as starting points for versions that are more akin to extreme makeovers than anything resembling the originals. In the hands of Antonio Sánchez, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is a mini-symphony of throbbing drums, keyboards, and guitars, dark metallic textures abutted with sudden quiet moments. Mary Halvorson’s guitar, backed only by drums, goes wobbly, with lines twisting into each other, on “With a Little Help from My Friends.” That’s one of several tracks benefiting from intimate instrumentation, including solo-piano pieces by Kamasi Washington sideman Cameron Graves on a stomping “Fixing a Hole” and Wildflower’s raucous, trippy “Getting Better.”

Keyon Harrold’s trumpet is alternately mellow and majestic on “She’s Leaving Home” while Brandee Younger’s harp lends an ethereal vibe to a floaty rendition of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” also featuring flutist Anne Drummond. Drummer Makaya McCraven’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is simultaneously earthy and airy, and Onyx Collective’s “Within You Without You,” with bassist Felix Pastorius and tenor saxophonist Isaiah Barr, oozes droning, slow-morphing textures. The JuJu Exchange caps the set with a warm, chill-lounge “A Day in the Life.” It’s all brash and oddly beautiful, a robust reimagining of overly familiar material.

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Originally Published