Sunday will mark what would have been the 71st birthday of John Lennon. While the re-release of the Beatle's solo catalogue was spotlighted last year at this time, the 2011 festivities center on something far less marketable: how the music of Lennon and the Beatles permeates, in very different ways, new recordings by two of today's most industrious jazz guitarists: Bill Frisell and John Scofield.
Frisell's All We Are Saying ... brings full circle an examination of Lennon's music that began in 2005 as a commissioned trio project for the Cité de la Musique in Paris and continued in 2010 with a series of quintet arrangements that now make up the beautifully impressionistic album All We Are Saying ... .
As usual, Frisell delights in bending, elongating and reconstructing pop melodies within the material he interprets. In some instances, the playful rock pedigree of the material is modestly embraced, as on an efficiently propulsive version of the early Beatles hit Please Please Me. Mostly though, Frisell favors looser, more ambient arrangements of Lennon tunes that already have a vivid atmospheric charm.
On Number 9 Dream, the wistful melody is delivered by Frisell and violinist Jenny Scheinman in a series of slow waves. Similarly, Frisell lets the gorgeously echoing accents of pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz dominate a luscious reading of Beautiful Boy.
Only on the dark, chiming Mother — possibly Lennon's most corrosive post-Beatles hit outside of Cold Turkey — does the music turn foreboding. But even here, the inherent warmth of Frisell's playing shines through, making All We Are Saying ... a complete and highly original interpretation of Lennon's work.
Calling Scofield's A Moment's Peace a Beatles tribute of any kind is simply false. He also covers Gershwin, Carla Bley, Billy Eckstine and five of his own fine compositions on an album that strives for — and arrives at — a state of soul-saturated cool.
But the Fab Four's imprint is immediate on a cover of The White Album's I Will, which is recast in a slow, percolating setting. Curiously, the mood is more reminiscent of Booker T and the MGs than The Beatles, thanks to the sleek interplay between Scofield's gloriously unhurried guitar lead and the churchy organ orchestration of Larry Goldings.
Scofield has taken to reinventing himself with nearly every album during the past few decades. A Moment's Peace, though, is something really new. Even 1997's Quiet, the closest he has ever come to such consistent cool before now, was more a showcase for his acoustic playing. From the summery sway of the very Frisell-esque Simply Put to the lovely, churchy finale of I Loves You Porgy, Scofield lets A Moment's Peace deliver exactly that.