When it comes to jazz covers of the Beatles, there have been some truly inventive treatments of the material and there have been some that relied on the melodic popularity of the music for safe interpretations. And while there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about the 11 covers on guitarist John Basile’s August release Penny Lane, for those who like their jazz smooth, there is much to admire. After all, it would be strange if a talented guitarist – and Basile is a talent to be reckoned with – working with the Beatles’ music didn’t come up with a winning album.
Backing up his guitar with midi programming, Basile runs through the range of the Beatles songbook, from early work like “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” to later pieces like “Fool on the Hill,” both here building on a Latin beat. Somehow, in spite of the fact that you might not expect it with this teeny bopper classic, he manages to take a lengthy look at “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and works it for all it’s worth. He makes some dynamic harmonic choices for his cover of the title song “Penny Lane,” and his “Norwegian Wood” is one of the album’s more creative efforts.
His covers of “Eleanor Rigby” and “A Day in the Life” are fine, but these are two tunes that have been co-opted by Wes Montgomery, at least as far as I’m concerned. His avoids any of the obvious gentle weeping that might tempt a lesser guitarist covering George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” although mistakenly the album cover attributes the composition to Lennon and McCartney.
“And I Love Her” features some of his most effective solo work. “Can’t Buy Me Love” plays with funky blues, while “Here There and Everywhere” gets a mite syrupy. A clean and simple version of “In My Life” concludes the album.
Basile is a fine guitarist. His work on the Beatles canon is both intelligent and emotionally satisfying, if not as adventurous as some.
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