Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Beach Boys Friends Who Make Music-Jez Graham by Peter Reum

Jez Graham is a man who loves both The Beach Boys' and Brian Wilson's music and jazz, like myself. The music Jez makes is spiritually sonorous, bringing a deeply emotionally comforting sound that only someone who loves Brian's music can create. His hands resonate with the shifts in feeling that Brian's compositions present. Brian Wilson has often stated that he pours love into his songs, and this elusive quality, which so many musicians have failed to capture, is present in the manner that Jez plays Brian's songs.

This is one album that grows with repeated listening. The initial impression one could take away is that Jez created a lounge music version of Brian's compositions. With repeated listens, the subtle jazz shadings emerge, especially in unexpected places, such as the "if Mars had life on it" section of Solar System. In Jez's interpretation, the couplet is rendered gentle and loving, as two  happily married people might lightly tease each other. The whole tune is shone in its best light, and the beauty of the melody is exposed powerfully.

Jez's version of Dennis Wilson's Be Still from the Friends album is notable, in that, as an opener to the album, it asks the listener to suspend judgement and to listen to the tunes we have all heard so often with a fresh ear. The advice is sagacious, as there is so much one can miss here without listening actively. There are so many shades of color on this album, that it is best heard several times before judging. If you rush through this album, it will be like driving 3000 miles to visit Yellowstone National Park, but only giving yourself a single day to take it all in.

Jez's interpretation of I Just Wasn't Made For These Times is deeply and gently comforting, yielding a feeling of uncertainty in youthful contemplation being acceptable to experience. The tune on Pet Sounds is quite sad, with the feeling there being one of resignation to being alone and misunderstood. Jez brings a flavor to his interpretation of being okay with that feeling. On the other side of the Dark Night of the Soul must be a place where like St. Teresa of Avila and  St. John of the Cross landed, a feeling of being unified, yet alone but okay.

Albert Hay Malotte's The Lord's Prayer is a surprising choice for this album, yet, fits beautifully. Before it is in the listener's conscious mind it is gone. The the hymn is rendered profound by its simplicity. Malotte may have heard The Beach Boys' breathtaking version in 1963, as he was living in Los Angeles at the time.
Jez makes it fresh once again.

Feel Flows comes into focus next. Jez plays an empathetic version, offering the music as a blues flavored meditation, far from the more complex production from the Surfs Up album. In Jez's version, the tune is more contemplative, more targeted toward the jazz feelings the Surfs Up version only hinted at. The potential for jazz workups of Carl's music is high, as he had a feel for jazz in the music he composed, especially in the Seventies.

The medley of Ding Dang-This Whole World-It's Over Now is not only surprising but a tour de force. Ding Dang is transformed into a 12 Bar Blues Workout. You won't hear Ding Dang the same way after hearing this. The tune morphs into This Whole World, yet retains the blues feeling that counter-intuitively changes that song into a bluesy segue from Ding Dang. Who would have thought these two tunes belong together? Gradually This Whole World gives away to a deep and mournful It's Over Now. The chords here literally weep as they emerge from the piano. The blue notes in It's Over Now recall George Gershwin, and, no wonder....Brian is one of Gershwin's most intuitive interpreters.

Goin' South by Carl Wilson is brought forward as the next medley introduction, and is sympathetically offered, with none of the Carl Wilson feeling of resignation from the original. Here, the tune is a quiet statement of intention, a commitment of mnigration to warmer chords and feelings. The segue into Cailfornia Feelin' fulfills the intention of Goin' South, with a warm set of chords, a killer melody, and a feeling of rejuvenation from the It's Over Now medley. Van Dyke Parks and his amazing sense of place and chords in Orange Crate Art concludes this medley with almost a nostalgic feeling, remembering life before complications of adulthood set in.

Wonderful, a Brian and Van Dyke composition, is reflective and yet hopeful in its tone. Innocence begun and lost is contemplated from a piano seat. Once again, there is a smattering of blue notes added  to this song. I hear a single mother sharing her experiences with her teenage daughter in these notes. It is as if she begins with sad memories of her daughter's birth, then as she reflects on her daughter's life up to this moment, her tone grows proud and hopeful, yet also cautionary, as if to say "it turned out okay for us, but don't tempt fate again."

Girls On the Beach follows, a meditation on youthful carefree living, perhaps the last summer before leaving home. Variations on Brian's wistful melody reveal moods that are not present in The Beach Boys' version, only implied. It is apparent here that Jez has spent a long time listening to the nuances of Brian's melodies and producing. The melody segues into Brian and Andy Paley's Marketplace, and the improbable linking of these two tunes is a joy to hear. The relationship explored here has changed from youthful wistfulness to practical partnership, a marriage. And Your Dream Comes True is next, a brief  but crucial reflection on the movement from summer teenage dreams to a mature and reciprocal partnership between two adults.

Transcendental Meditation, an obvious Brian Wilson experiment with jazz (the reader is referred to the Transcendental Meditation track on Disc 6 of Made In California) from the Friends album, which is Brian's most jazz flavored album, is sympathetically transformed by Jez into the jazz workout it was always intended to be. You owe it to yourself to revisit this tune on this cd to appreciate it for the swinging jazz workout that it is.

What this album offers is a subtle reworking of many of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson's music into a new creation, a creation that swings,  and that tips its hat to Brian's jazz roots in The Jazz Age and The Four Freshmen. When people say there is nothing new under The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson Sun, they are wrong, and the evidence is right here on this marvelous cd, which I highly recommend to anyone who loves jazz piano or the musical melodies of Brian Wilson, and his two exceptionally talented brothers who left this third rock from the sun much too early.

Copyright 2014 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved

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