A retrieval by an important local jazz man, a reinterpretation of a Beatles classic and a new album by a ‘70s hero who’s had another name change are among the albums released today.
Jerry Heldman, ‘Revelation(s)’ (Origin)
This double CD fills in a long lost missing link in Northwest jazz history. Recorded live in 1973 and 1974 at various small venues in Portland and Seattle, the music is played by a quartet led by the late, legendary — but seldom-recorded — Seattle pianist (and bassist) Jerry Heldman, who from 1965-68 presided over the Llanghaelhyn, a coffee house on Eastlake located in the turreted, fairy-tale building by the University bridge.
Heldman, who died last year, was a self-taught, highly intuitive musician who bootstrapped himself into the complex styles of Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner. But Heldman’s larger importance was that his club, which had an open-door policy for novices, served as a bridge between the old guard mainstream and the expressive abstractions of the avant-garde. This album marks the first time that music has come to light
Bassist David Friesen, who retrieved these tapes, first met Heldman in 1964 and was immediately attracted to him because they both had been inspired by the breathing, guitar-like work of Evans bassist Scot LaFaro. The music here reflects not only that openness and interplay, but the blissful serenity — and, sometimes, obsession — of the times. Though there’s some drum-and-flute “hippie music,” and Heldman doesn’t always hit the ambitious heights he’s shooting for, more often than not, he does, creating moments when the sound swells to bountiful climaxes, particularly on “Sickle,” “44 Bar Tune” and “Three Directions,” a waltz translation of “All Blues.”
Despite crowd noise and inevitable live-recording imbalances, this is rich, rumbling, wonderful stuff. Guitarist Sam LiPuma — who apparently still works in Chicago — is a lovely revelation, and drummer Allan Pimentel drives the proceedings with authority.
Thank you, David Friesen.
Paul de Barros, Seattle Times jazz critic
The Flaming Lips, ‘With a Little Help From My Fwends’ (Warner Bros)
It’s hard to imagine a better way to antagonize Beatles fans than having Miley Cyrus sing “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” But that’s just one of many choices The Flaming Lips make on “With a Little Help from My Fwends,” a cover album of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that will draw ire from rock classicists.
The album is an unabashed novelty project, full of incongruous guest appearances (Cyrus, Moby, My Morning Jacket) and warped interpretations of Beatles classics through the lens of the Lips’ psychedelic rock. Compared to the exacting precision of the original, it feels loose and relaxed, the sound of a band hanging out in a studio with a bunch of famous buddies.
Above all, the band takes a playful approach to covering one of popular music’s most revered albums, and it’s a strategy that makes sense. “Fwends” is hardly necessary, but a collection of straight-up covers would be even less so. The Flaming Lips aren’t challenging “Sgt. Pepper’s” greatness nor besmirching its legacy; they’re just interpreting it in their own weird way.
Andrew Gospe, Special to The Seattle Times
Yusuf (Cat Stevens), ‘Tell ‘Em I’m Gone’ (Legacy)
In his first studio album in five years, Yusuf — the singer-songwriter formerly known as Cat Stevens, who changed his name when he converted to Islam — returns to the blues and R&B that inspired him when he was trawling through record bins in London in the 1960s, searching for albums by the likes of Leadbelly and Howlin’ Wolf.
“Tell ‘Em I’m Gone” is evenly split between covers and original material. There’s a slinky take on Jimmy Reed’s hit “Big Boss Man” (spiced up by Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica); a version of Edgar Winter’s “Dying to Live” that displays the rich expressiveness of Yusuf’s voice; and a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” that brings out the underlying melancholy of the usually buoyant number.
The original songs are especially powerful. The autobiographical “Editing Floor Blues” is a bittersweet look at the fading of youthful optimism. “I Was Raised in Babylon” looks at humanity’s struggles over the ages (“They used to call us civilized/but those days are gone”) with a world-weary eye (and Richard Thompson on additional guitar). Forty years after his breakthrough hit “Peace Train,” Yusuf remains a thoughtful and engaging performer.
Gillian G. Gaar, Special to The Seattle Times