Not since the recently departed Ramsey Lewis has a pianist and keyboardist so impactfully, artfully and imaginatively captured the jazzy possibilities of the Beatles catalog as veteran East Coast performer and educator Loren Daniels. That’s because in his view, and explaining why he chose one particular Lennon-McCartney tune as the title of his album, “In jazz, every song can be a ‘Ticket to Ride.’”
Even as he and his trio (bassist Beldon Bullock and drummer Jonathon Peretz) toy cleverly, groovingly and sometimes hypnotically with a mix of the most familiar (“Eight Das a Week”) and relatively obscure (“I’m Only Sleeping”) Fab Four gems, Daniels has one distinct advantage over Lewis. In addition to his ivory, organ, electric piano and melodica wizardry, he’s a supremely soulful singer with a sweet falsetto, and that allows him to emotionally inhabit the material beyond what he could accomplish just with his creative fingers.
Daniels originally conceived the project as a vocal jazz piano trio, until he used the downtime from other creative endeavors during the pandemic downtime to dig and experiment more deeply, expand the arrangements and add his electrifying electric keyboards to the mix. The greatest joys of jazzin’ up the Beatles is creating that careful balance of presenting the familiar joys of these timeless melodies, then using them as springboards for tickets to ride that have never been punched before. Beyond the artistic value Daniels and the trio bring, it’s a really fun, spirited listen, from the punchy, gospel/blues driven “Drive My Car” through an expansive modal twist on the title track whose harmony vocals and high hat make it a fresh and colorful new journey.
Sorry, we love you Ringo and Joe Cocker, but it’s great to hear “With a Little Help From My Friends” so charmingly re-imagined as a brisk jazz/soul number with a jamming piano solo. Other excursions on the journey are the swinging blues romp through “You Can’t Do That,” the tender, impressionistic “Blackbird” and, perhaps most engaging of all, an electric piano driven stroll through “Come Together” that refashions the classic bass of the original. Daniels likewise brings sultry bossa sensibilities and vocal harmony sparkle to “I’ll Follow the Sun” and a tinge of meditative melancholy to “For No One.” It’s only one album (so far!) but I can see Daniels setting the standards for what “Beatle Jazz” should sound like in the coming years.