Beverley Beirne is well known on the UK jazz circuit. She has recorded albums and performs live regularly, filling venues like Pizza Express and 606 Club. Beverly wows audiences with her no-nonsense delivery and wonderful husky alto voice and previous albums have been met with positivity. She is a sassy, northern lass who walks her own path. Here, with Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun (JJWTHF), she does so in glorious fashion.
There are many artists who release cover versions of songs but few who can release a whole album of jazzed up, fun versions of 70s and 80s hits and find themselves on the shelves of most record stores and doing gigs where legends like Noddy Holder of Slade turn up to hear their version of his song, let alone do a gig at Ronnie Scott’s. Yet, this is what has happened to Beverley Beirne,
JJWTHF was released on Universal 15th June and has been a resounding success. It is a trip with a jazz twist back to some great classic songs from the 1970s and 80s. Beverley is basking in the positive reviews of this album – and here is another one. I must admit to being one of those who initially thought, ‘how can you jazz up songs of the 70s and 80s to create listenable and worthy versions of the songs without losing the original impact? but I am eating a good dose of humble pie because this is not intended to be a serious discourse through jazz. It is a fun, very listenable and jazz-infused delivery of songs which were popular with probably the biggest generation of music buyers of the moment and as such, Beverley hits many chords. She cites her influences as Abba (listening as a child), Mel Torm, Ella, Carmichael, Sinatra and other swing and jazz artists so it is no wonder her songs include elements of swing and jazz.
Come On Feel the Noize is the opener on the album and it could not contrast more with the Slade version. This is slow, smooth and delivered with a swing in danger of sailing skyward. And that it is the point, it is not grave, not serious but fun, fun and more fun. Noddy Holder himself says of the version ‘Love this version of Feel The Noize - Fab singer’. Next up is Handsome originally a hit for Adam and The Ants and an ode to ‘peacocking’, this version is feisty, swing-infused and the delivery is sassy with a touch of mystery and devilish piano from Sam Watts (who incidentally is Beverley’s co-arranger). Different yet so engaging. Then we have Bette Davis Eyes, the words crystal clear and the song sung pitch perfect and a third down to accommodate Beverley’s impressive alto chest range. Lovely and the sax solo from Rob Hughes is gorgeous.
This is followed by Ghost Town delivered in a sleazy, sexy manner with a good dose of scatting for good measure. This free rolling version of the song is snazzy though Lord knows what Terry and co would make of this but it is good and the scooping up to notes and contrasting light and dark of the vocal intonation, coupled with some expressive sax playing, make this a great number. Deeply Dippy, originally made famous by Right Said Fred is next and this is a fine number, arranged like a true jazz ensemble with soloes, vocals which rise and fall into different octaves and sung with a true jazz arrangement.
When Smokey Sings is a well-known and oft sung number originally made famous by ABC and a tribute to R&B and soul singer Smokey Robinson. Here it is delivered with emotion and is a variation rather than a completely different arrangement of the original. The trickly, twinkling piano line carries much of the musical section and is lovely with the interaction of the sax and percussion, adding a classy instrumental interlude to this number. Cruel Summer the Bananarama song is wonderful and the original is played with and re-directed to create a sultry number. And then it is Pop Muzik which was one number I was wondering if it was possible to delivery in a jazz manner but in my opinion this is possibly the album’s highlight. Different, a twist and such a great version. Beverley adds her own emotion to the lyrics – ‘shawapadoowap’ is a given for a scat for example and ‘we are talking about jazz’ well, there you have it - an entry and Beverley takes it with scatting and high to low enhancements in the vocals. Couple this with some stellar sax over the top and you have the perfect recipe to turn a poppy, chirpy number which was an incredible hit for M – himself now a musician with a 4 decade long career- into a jazz number. Wonderful.
Next up is Too Shy, a hit for Limahl who says of this version, “It’s raw, energetic and her vocal is both sassy and commanding”. And he is so right. A fast blues bass line rushing underneath, the vocal delivered rapid fire and against the rhythm, direct and firm in this song. Beverley and the band saw ‘something’ which maybe was not in the original. A fabulous version.
Hot In the City is delivered big band style, but ensemble format with rhythms straight out of NOLA which would probably have made Mr Michael Broad (alias Billy Idol- still going strong) jump out of his skin at the time but now maybe not so. It is lovely, sultry and cleverly arranged. Waiting For A Man Like You is beautiful and a great version of this number, originally a hit for Foreigner. Slowed down, you can hear the great lyrics, changed from ‘girl like you ’ to ‘man like you’ and Beverley adds just the right touch of emotion to make the song a stand out.
Girls Just Want To Have Fun is delivered with a standard piano rock and roll riff underneath and is a terrific version of this Cyndi Lauper number, enhanced by great tenor sax work, which was almost a defining sound of the time in other songs, missing from the original but inserted here in perfect style and the guitar of guest player, American jazz and fusion musician Dean Brown.
What this album does is several-fold. First, it taps into what is possibly the biggest commercial audience, now moved on music-wise ( maybe) but still musically switched on and with memories of some of the best sounds ever made. Here are those tunes, re-vamped, re-packaged but still with their essences. Secondly, the songs are arranged to show just how a single theme can be turned, tuned, (some, not me, might say demonised), but done in a way so different from the original version(s) and these arrangements elevate the content of the songs to make them more than what some thought of them at the time – trivial, throwaway pop songs. Suddenly, those same songs are sung like standards, given their rightful place as well-crafted musical numbers and the notes, words and arrangements pulled out, enhanced and delivered by a singer and band who can actually hear what is good in the original.
A note has to be made about the band Beverley works with. Tight, careful to allow the vocals free range but also readily pulling back the lines when they go slightly askew (just occasionally) the band are really wonderful on this CD. They are pianist Sam Watts, double bassist Flo Moore and drummer/percussionist Ben Brown, saxophonist/flautist Rob Hughes and also guest guitarists Romero Lubambo (on Cruel Summer) and Dean Brown ( on Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) and Jason Miles on Hammond Organ ( on Waiting For A Man Like You and Deeply Dippy).
This is a great, fun album. It does not pretend to be anything other than a fun escapade but what it has done on a more serious note is show just how good some of these songs actually were. Beverley and her band have really listened to these songs, made good choices of which to tinker with in jazz style (originally there were 90 or so contenders) and then delivered something which, although the title describes as fun and it is that, it is also somewhat of a homage to those artists, many of who have withstood the test of time and still write music when some of the ‘greats’ have faded into the horizon. It raises the question of what is good music – does it have to be extemporary or simply music which lifts the heart, speaks of emotions and engages the minds of thousands? With these songs, Beverley Beirne has done both – engaged with those whose memories are full of songs like these and also proved that good music, whatever ilk, style, genre or other label, is good music, jazz infused or in its original form – and these are the good jazz infused versions.
Grammy winning producer Jason Miles who has worked with Luther Vandross and Miles Davis amongst others says of the album “Beverley has a very special album here”. He is right
More information: www.beverleybeirne.com