J4 Quartet: The Beatles With A Jazz Twist

Cardiff-based quartet enlivens the Beatles songbook with Latin, swing and funk rhythms, improvised breakdowns and guitar and piano solos

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Guitarist James Chadwick’s foursome would probably say that modern jazz wasn’t so much swamped by the Beatles and their followers as determined to paddle along its always separate channel, albeit with dilution of support from those who liked mophead music as much as jazz itself.

Moreover, this album is not so much a homage to the Beatles as a recognition that more of their music might be amenable to jazz treatment than normally appears in post-60s discographies. But that’s said with misgiving; not a few musicians seek in vain for jazz elements in the GBS (Great Beatles Songbook).

The Chadwick quartet’s approach is quietly searching, with the leader’s guitar often satisfied with the virtues of seductive, undecorated melodies and modest transformations, and the bass of Don Sweeney and Ian Williams’s drums generally restrained. In the lento of Here There And Everywhere, Chadwick is almost meditative, a contrast to Julian Martin’s piano, which wants to raise the stakes.

Martin sets up a rocking motion for Norwegian Wood and his chordal approach again works well against the guitar’s single lines. Sweeney interpolates two walking-bass episodes in Something and while Chadwick is taking For No One for a stroll, Martin is introducing it to harmonic possibilities. His lovely intro could have been leading anywhere interesting.

Martin swings A Hard Day’s Night, a good example of a chart seemingly imprisoned by its origins, and for A Day In The Life the four investigate free-impro possibilities before everyone is corralled and returns to base. November Man’s melody is clothed in a jazz format; there’s also a brief riffing coda by guitar and piano; and for In My Life, Williams suggests a supportive rhythmic pattern – more of that would have been welcome. Eleanor Rigby is a complex, almost untouchable, chart that defies improvement on the vocal-strings original. Not to be cowed, the quartet offers a funky version of Let It Be.

The GBS is not hallowed ground but jazz musicians need to tread it warily. Devoting a whole album to it – with more to come – is brave and deserving of praise.

Discography
A Day In The Life; Nowhere Man; A Hard Day’s Night; Eleanor Rigby; Here There And Everywhere; Norwegian Wood; In My Life; Something; For No One; Let It Be (54.66)
James Chadwick (g); Julian Martin (p); Don Sweeney (b); Ian Williams (d). Cardiff, 29 May 2022.
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