You hear Beatles songs remade by jazz musicians with notable frequency, some more successful (Jaco Pastorius‘ glorious reading of the oft-covered “Blackbird” from “Word of Mouth”; a just-right “All My Loving” on “Basie’s Beatles Bag”; Ramsey Lewis‘ underrated “Hard Day’s Night” from “Finest Hour”) than others (almost all of the rest of that un-Fab 1966 Count Basie recording; and let’s not get into Sarah Vaughn‘s disco-fied disasters).
Less often, however, does anyone tackle the group’s more complex middle-period forays into psychedelic whimsy, as drummer Tobias Gebb does with “Tomorrow Never Knows” from his new long-player, “Free At Last.”
Gebb, familiar as a sideman with Donald Fagen and Lenny Kravitz, has some powerful pop music associations. He also won a 1996 Grammy competition with the group Skizm — featuring Michael Leonhart of Steely Dan and Mauro Refosco from David Byrne‘s band.
But Gebb made his bones doing jazz gigs around his native New York City, notably sitting in with former Jazz Messenger Bobby Watson (who appears on three cuts from “Free At Last”) and Buster Williams. Gebb has also has guested with the working bands of Diana Krall, David “Fathead” Newman and Jon Hendricks, among others.
“I believe that jazz music has to keep using newer music to expand the standard lexicon,” Gebb says in the liner notes. “With jazz, anything goes. Any style of music on the planet can be incorporated in a jazz sensibility.”
“Tomorrow Never Knows” opens with a flourish of sitar by guest musician Neel Murgai, sounding something like George Harrison‘s “Love You To” found elsewhere on the Beatles’ “Revolver” album. (The 2006 blended portions of “Tomorrow” with George’s “Within You Without You” to similar effect, but focused more on the “Sgt. Pepper” track.) Gebb then barges in with Ringo Starr‘s familiar drum signature.
John Lennon‘s ethereal vocal passages (embedded below, from the rare Beatles cartoon series) are played in powerful tandem by tenor Joel Frahm and alto Mark Gross, but only to set the head for a muscular jazz reworking that strongly recalls Watson’s work with Art Blakey.
Together, as pianist Eldad Zvulun and accoustic bassist Ugonna Okegwo add dashes of color, they find this swinging parallel that builds off the Beatles — highlighting the tune’s hard-bop underpinnings, while adding thrilling elements of Ayler and Coltrane.
Good enough. But what makes Gebb’s version of “Tomorrow Never Knows” stand out from, say, the 1968 take by Steve Marcus on Vortex, is Murgai’s sitar. Like a mysterious, witholding lover, it’s never far away — adding just the right touch of mysticism, in keeping with the wow-man intent (“Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream …”) of this Lennon effort.
Frahm and Gross return at the end, with a cymbal-driven backbeat from Gebb, to bring home the insistent conclusion/question found inside the original lyric — “from the beginning, from the beginning.” As onthis tune is, of course, the album’s finale.