Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am

Clarence Chang is the first to admit that one thing the world isn't short of is Beatles tribute CDs. By his count there are more than 100 currently in print, and that is probably a conservative estimate. Furthermore, quite a few of those CDs are by jazz artists.

Jazz musicians started covering the Lennon and McCartney songbook back in the glory days of Beatlemania - Ella Fitzgerald covered Can't Buy Me Love in 1964, the same year it was a hit for John, Paul, George and Ringo.

There are reasons for this beyond the huge popularity of the songs at the time. With the help of George Martin the Beatles added harmonic sophistication and melodic variety to simple three chord rock, and their music gave jazz players something more interesting to improvise with.

Although other pop and rock musicians have written songs that have been added to the list of jazz standards, nobody has composed as many as Lennon and McCartney. Something is really the only one of George Harrison's to have achieved a comparable number of cover versions, but it has certainly turned out to be among the most enduring of the Beatles' tunes.

Chang initially had no special ambition to produce an album of Beatles covers, but after hearing a demo recording of a spontaneous duet recorded by pianist Bob Mocarsky and singer Gigi Marentette he decided he wanted to produce an album of voice and piano duets and started mulling over ideas for a theme to give the project some coherence. The result is Liverpool Stories on Music Net.

Chang is a fan of Tony Bennett's duets with Bill Evans and of Janis Siegel's with Fred Hersch, among others, and considers such performances 'the purest form of musical dialogue'.

'It is no secret that I like to include a piano/vocal duet tune in the albums I've produced throughout the years, more often than not as a closing track, so recording an entire album of such was always on the cards. I guess I was just waiting for the right time to do it,' he says.

Mocarsky was equally keen on the idea, so Chang had his pianist, but rather than sticking with one vocalist he wanted to feature four of his favourites - Marentette, Angelita Li, Ela Alegre and Mimi Lo.

Li and the Detroit-born Marentette are familiar voices to local jazz audiences; Alegre, a session singer who has recorded many commericials, and Lo, a TV personality and pop singer, are perhaps less so, but Chang was confident that each had something worthwhile to bring to the project.

'With the personnel settled we had one last hurdle to jump, what about the repertoire? We wanted a common theme in the music, and tunes that everyone could relate to, but yet sounding different,' Chang says.

The obvious answer, he felt, was the Beatles, and Mocarsky set about arranging some of the world's best known pop tunes, as well as a few less obvious choices.

Something is here, beautifully sung by Marentette, and Lennon's Strawberry Fields Forever, If I Fell and A Hard Day's Night; apart from those the song selection comprises mostly tunes credited to Lennon-McCartney but in fact written solely or mostly by McCartney, with only I Saw Her Standing There and She's Leaving Home being real collaborations between the band's two principal songwriters.

The standard of the performances is high in general, but with a number of definite highlights. Perhaps the most strikingly original rearrangement is the least obvious choice, You Never Give Me Your Money, which Li and Mocarsky imbue with just the right combination of melancholy and forceful forward motion.

 

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