The audience reception was warm at Seattle’s elegant Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley as the Liverpool Trio, led by David Lanz, performed the second of a three-night stand. The Grammy-nominated pianist has been promoting his latest release, Liverpool: Re-imagining the Beatles, accompanied by flutist Gary Stroutsos and cellist Walter Gray. The nearly two-hour show featured plenty of uniquely arranged Beatles’ classics, a selection of Christmas favorites, and a few Lanz originals.
All three musicians were captivating. Though Jazz Alley doubles as performance venue and full service restaurant, the audience (and staff) remained remarkably quiet as Lanz and company played. The music, quite deservedly, held everyone’s full attention. Lanz opened the show alone, setting a festive tone with a medley of “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “Joy To the World.” After a bit of lighthearted joking about the many diverse ways to say “happy holidays” in a politically correct environment, Lanz explained the impetus behind the Liverpool project.
Deeply inspired by the songwriting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Lanz wanted to pay tribute to their music by reinterpreting their songs. In concert the results were at least as impressive as on the excellent album. After introducing Stroutsos and Gray, the trio played the title track from Liverpool, the album’s sole Lanz original. Hidden within its melody are a number of Beatles’ riffs recognizable to keen listeners. This led directly into a swaying “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” Seattle Symphony Orchestra member Walter Gray (formerly of the Kronos Quartet) anchored the piece with his deeply resonant cello. Stroutsos’ bamboo xiao flute added a dark, rich texture.
The inspired pairing of the Beatles’ “Rain” and “Eight Days a Week” followed. The brilliance behind these arrangements is in the way they tease the listener’s ear, rewarding concentrated listening. Lanz never announces the tunes in boldface. He instead draws out these familiar melodies in surprising ways. As is the case on the recording, “Eight Days a Week” is perhaps the most effectively “hidden” tune – easy to miss if not paying close attention.
As a very special treat to those familiar with the Liverpool album, Lanz unveiled a few newly re-imagined Beatles tunes. Appropriately following “Rain,” Lanz broke the Lennon/McCartney format of the album for George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” The song clearly delighted the audience, many of whom were visibly moved by the joy inherent in the piece. The Liverpool Trio go far beyond the “tribute band” concept of covering the Beatles’ music. Lanz and company have thoroughly reharmonized these compositions, exploring their richness in a way that only virtuosic musicianship can. To their credit, they’ve done so without sacrificing the emotional depth at the core of the songs.
At this point in the show, Stroutsos and Gray left Lanz alone for a stirring solo piano reading of “What Child Is This.” Lanz followed directly with an original piece, “Her Solitude,” from his 2008 album Painting the Sun. After reintroducing Gary Stroutsos, Lanz left the stage. Stroutsos, backed by prerecorded percussion, played a flute solo. The piece was a traditional Zuni Pueblo morning prayer song. “Zuni Sunrise” provided even more diversity to an already eclectic show.
With the trio back on stage, the absolute highlight of the show was the one-two punch of a pair of new Beatles arrangements also not found on the Liverpool album. Another George Harrison song was first up: the often underappreciated “Within You Without You.” Gray’s cello assumed the role of the droning tambura. Stroutsos and Lanz traded off each other; flute led during the song’s first half, with piano coming to the fore in the second half. Having cast a meditative spell over the audience, the trio moved right into “I Am the Walrus.” The original Beatles version is, of course, a menagerie of unusual sound effects and see-sawing orchestration. The Liverpool Trio left no musical stone unturned as they played with the dynamics of the song, evoking the original yet adding their own distinctive touch.
Had the show ended there, I doubt anyone would’ve left unsatisfied. But with Lanz alone on stage once again, he treated the audience to two more original tunes. Introduced as a favorite practice piece of piano students, Lanz dazzled the audience with “Dark Horse” from his 1990 release Skyline Firedance. He followed with his self-acknowledged signature tune, the title track from his massively popular 1988 album Cristofori’s Dream. The trio rejoined him for another Christmas favorite, “Silent Night,” as well as a dramatic take on the Moody Blues classic “Knights In White Satin.”
Before closing the show Lanz announced, “It’s just not Christmas without a little bit of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.” After an immediate burst of applause, he plinked out an approximately ten second snippet of music, stopping suddenly. Snoring into the microphone, he reminded the audience that he only promised “a little bit.” But there was no need for disappointment, as the trio donned Santa hats and launched into a jazzed up, grooving version of music from the perennial Christmas ballet.
For more information about upcoming David Lanz performances, as well as Liverpool: Re-imagining the Beatles, please visit his website.