If ever we needed a new summer of love, it’s definitely 2017, so the latest release from Django Bates – perhaps one of Britain’s most under-rated arrangers and performers – brings welcome jazz sunshine.
It’s hard to avoid the word seminal when talking about the original Beatles album that turns 50 this year. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band brings to mind much to celebrate in the music of the 1960s. What Bates does, hand in hand with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and Eggs Laid By Tigers, is take the heart of Sgt Pepper and make it swing. He’s taken the original arrangements and added a touch of the big band, the orchestra and the soloists and given us all something to smile about. At a time when we need it.
There is something musically anarchic about Bates that I first discovered in the 1980s in a brief tour with Loose Tubes. Stretching the boundaries doesn’t come close. Bates ignores the boundaries and sets the music free so all these songs are totally recognisable and brand new at the same time.
I love the arrangement of Within You Without You, the only George Harrison track that sits alongside the rest of the Lennon and McCartney compositions, opening what was side two on the original, when vinyl was the only option.
There are so many instantly recognisable songs on this album and they’re still recognisable, with the same structure and key, but often rhythmic and time differences that surprise the listener. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds is definitely on a trip. Beautifully. Similarly, the melancholy of She’s Leaving Home is retained and enhanced by the orchestration and especially the vocals. Martin Ullits Dahl’s lead is backed by the other Eggs Laid by Tigers members, Jonas Westergaard and Peter Bruun, as well as a touch of Bates himself.
The international nature of this album only emphasises that summer of love we need in 2017. If only to annoy the xenophobics. Bates’ attention to detail is clear. He said: “Before interweaving my colours, rhythms, and illustrations, I transcribed every bar through my own ears. I had heard that there is a book of transcriptions available but it felt essential to build on a personal reading of the album. When you listen repeatedly, in detail, you hear layer upon layer of work, all the way down to half hidden subterranean shadows of experiments which became over-written by the final needs of each song. The sum of writing, playing, recording, mixing, and mastering.”
The album of the summer.