Well, here’s an electrifying year-end surprise: Verve has organized and issued A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper, a full-length cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. So how do you handle the Beatles classic whose interconnected song cycle and imaginative musical excursions still inspire after half a century? By handing each tune to another of modern jazz’s most inventive new voices, collectively having a banner year by re-contextualizing and reintroducing the possibilities of the genre to new audiences.
Those senses of wonder and intrigue are the beating heart of Impressions of Pepper, which breathlessly connects bubbling jazz scenes on both sides of the Atlantic, much like Makaya McCraven’s own album, Universal Beings. Speaking of McCraven, he charts the way through a vibraphone fantasy of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Mary Halvorson, on the other hand, reinterprets “With a Little Help from My Friends” through her singular sense of timing and tone, backed by the surprisingly funky strut of drummer Tomas Fujiwara. Pianist Sullivan Fortner emphasizes the mirth and bemusement at play during “When I’m Sixty Four,” while a band led by trumpeter Keyon Harrold digs into the anxiety of “She’s Leaving Home” with drums that race like a nervous pulse and guitars that conjure shaky fingers. There are moments of sublime beauty, others of commanding power.
It’s a riveting listen, one where you guess what might happen next and push ‘Play’ again as soon as it ends to hear what you might have missed. A testament to the creative fervor at work in modern jazz, Impressions of Pepper summarizes how far some of these young voices are willing to push against expectation and boundary. Highly recommended, no matter from which angle you approach it.