The name Klaus Voormann may not immediately register with music fans, but chances are they have at one point heard his bass lines or seen his artwork. He befriended the Beatles back in their Hamburg days; designed the album covers for Revolver and all the Anthology CDs; played on John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr albums; performed at Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh and Lennon’s 1969 Live Peace in Toronto show; became Manfred Mann’s bassist; and produced Trio’s 1982 hit “Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha.” To celebrate his many years in music, he is joined by some of his best friends and past collaborators in A Sideman’s Journey, a collection of classic songs by some of his favorite artists.
In the CD packaging, the following sentence appears: “To honor a sideman is a tribute to all sidemen.” Voormann epitomizes the sideman in that he never overshadows his collaborators; instead, he simply plays solid bass, letting the lead artist hold the spotlight. True to form, Voormann’s playing showcases the lead singer and other musicians; while he may not be a strong presence on A Sideman’s Journey, his rhythmic is a constant reminder of his important role as a backing musician. Listeners will feel as though they are privy to a jam session among friends, performing songs they hold dear. Old buddies McCartney and Starr lend a hand for a rollicking version of “I’m in Love Again,” with McCartney channeling Fats Domino in his delivery, both vocally and through his piano work. Bonnie Bramlett (best known as one half of the duo Delaney and Bonnie) brings her deeply soulful vocals to a rousing gospel version of “My Sweet Lord.”
A pleasant surprise is Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. No matter what fans think of his politics, it is a joy to hear that distinctive voice again. Staying firmly tied to his spiritual leanings, Islam covers two Harrison tracks: “All Things Must Pass” and “The Day the World Gets ‘Round” (from Harrison’s 1973 album Living in the Material World). Former members of Manfred Mann, now calling themselves The Manfreds, lend an ebullient take on their 1968 hit “Mighty Quinn,” their energy evident today.
Another standout artist is veteran guitarist Don Preston, who sings an especially wry version of Randy Newman’s “Short People.” His guitar solos on that track as well as “Blue Suede Shoes” impress for their intricacy and speed. The legendary Dr. John sits in on his classic composition “Such A Night,” his distinctive vocals having lost none of their luster. His trademark New Orleans piano style adds to the overall positive and energetic spirit pervading the album.
Throughout A Sideman’s Journey, Voormann backs his friends with confidence and subtlety. In the liner notes, Christina Voormann writes “Without all the talented session musicians who have a distinct feel for rhythm and sound many songs would not have become the great hits that we now know and love.” Exemplifying this belief, Voormann seems content to let his compatriots shine. The cover art illustrates his credo: photos of his famous friends beam at the listener, but a drawing of Voormann sits mainly in shadow, his face turned away from the onlooker. He simply sits, bass in hand, waiting for the next recording session. A Sideman’s Journey is a fitting tribute to Voormann and all session musicians, and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen.