Taste of Honey
Ulf Wakenius is a Swedish jazz guitarist that worked with both Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson later in their careers as part of trios and quartets. He’s released well over a dozen albums as a leader (going back to 1984) and has collaborated and cameoed with many artists besides.
Here he pays tribute to Paul McCartney (and not just his Beatles work) with a dream-team trio that includes former e.s.t. drummer Magnus Öström and bassist/cellist Lars Danielsson (a composer, producer and player across many sessions and combos).
The album opens with the title track, not a McCartney composition, but a highlight of the Hamburg years and a part of very early Beatle recorded history too; McCartney the singer when The Fab Four tackled it. From there it’s to My Valentine from more recent Macca fare before diving into the classic years.
There are so many Beatles tribute albums and the last jazz guitarist I heard splatter-painting his way through The Beatles with ALL THE NOTES really bugged me. I’ve collected up a few Beatles covers albums and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed many; certainly haven’t ever enjoyed any as much as this. It works. Maybe it’s because of the exploration of things outside of the band – Maybe I’m Amazed from that first McCartney solo album, for instance, is where the trio really dazzles the listen with interplay.
There’s mostly a gentle approach here – never too cautious but a lot of pieces that almost fall away, so soft, so delicate (She’s Leaving Home, And I Love Her) and there’s been far too many versions of Blackbird for my liking, but I loved the way Danielsson set this up with the bow and Öström tinkers, in a percussion-like way, with brushes. They find a new way in – the bass then taking the lead. Danielsson also leads on Jet, which is a more rowdy affair, naturally, Wakenius going full open strum – essentially performing a purely rhythmic function and leaving Danielsson to interpret the keyboard parts with his bass.
A couple of originals are added and they are in the same style – a hushed trio playing with beautiful dynamics. And then the closer is the best version of Eleanor Rigby I’ve heard since Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin took turns flicking it on its ear. Wakenius’ sprightly playing here is reminiscent of the lovely Rite of Strings-era Al Di Meola; perhaps ironically, given his recent slaying of so many Beatles songs. But there’s something in the way that the rhythm section here supports the song in much the same way that Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke lean in and wrap there arms around the featured player – and the song – in total love and warmth and support.
There’s gold in these hills. Ulf Wakenius and his quiet trio have found new ways in to songs we know and love so well.
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