David Lanz – Liverpool (CD review)

David Lanz – Liverpool: Re-imagining the Beatles (Moon Boy Music)

It’s always been somewhat unfair labeling the music of David Lanz as new age. His Cristofori’s Dream from 1988 was the first big success of the fledgling Narada label, and did help jump-start the New Age movement.  Yet, unlike his contemporaries, who seemed content on creating relaxing, dreamy mood music; Lanz was, and still is, a songwriter, and it’s his sense of melody that has set his work above the genre.

He is also gifted as an arranger of other people’s works; it’s his re-tooling of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” that first got him noticed.  Liverpool – Re-imagining the Beatles finds the pianist tackling some hallowed territory, along with friends Gary Stroutsos on flute and Walter Gray on cello.  Now, instrumental Beatles music is dangerous territory: if you stick too close to note-for-note readings, it could border on Musak.  Conversely, if you take too much liberty here, it could be blasphemy.  Not to worry – Lanz’s capable hands pull it off.  The key here is that these songs aren’t meant as direct copies; some even take several minutes for you to recognize which song it is.  It also helps that he’s chosen to skip over the really familiar hits, focusing on mostly album cuts.

Especially good are the medleys where Lanz effortlessly segues from one song to another, and back again, as in “Because / I’m Only Sleeping.” Sometimes, he focuses on just a fragment of a song, as the bridge of “Eight Days a Week” in the medley “Rain / Eight Days a Week.”  He can take a relatively simple composition and really bring out new elements, as in “Things We Said Today,” which stresses the minor chords, adding a darker overtone.  Another highlight is the little-known “Yes It Is,” originally relegated to the b-side of “Ticket to Ride”; Lanz uncovers a sadness and longing not known in the Beatles’ version.

The disc opens with the lone original, “Liverpool,” and it’s a fun listen; Lanz has hidden ten snippets of Beatles’ songs within the piece – it might take some detective work to hunt them all out.    Above all, what sets this record apart from all the other Beatles’ covers albums is that it’s first and foremost a David Lanz record; it’s his unique and melodic style that dominates – it just happens that he’s doing Lennon and McCartney tunes.  –Tony Peters