Ulf Wakenius – A Taste of Honey
(ACT 9897-2. CD Review by Adam Sieff)
Anyone who’s seen Swedish jazz guitarist Ulf Wakenius onstage recently, either on his own, with his son Eric or in a dynamic partnership with Martin Taylor, will know just how great a player he is. He has the chops and the tone, plays with deep feeling and sensitivity and has the experience through collaborations with bassist Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, ten years with the Oscar Peterson Quartet and projects both as an accompanist and leader.
Just over a year ago he brought together his dream team of bassist/cellist Lars Danielsson and former e.s.t. drummer Magnus Öström to Nilento Studio in Gothenburg for two days, to record songs for a homage to Paul McCartney album. What they came up with is an easy on the ear and enjoyable album of songs that span McCartney’s career from Beatles and Wings eras to ‘My Valentine’ released in 2012.
Wakenius’ electric and acoustic guitar tones are warm and resonant, all the instruments are well recorded by Michael Dahlvid. The mix by Lars Nilsson is clean and open and there’s nothing remotely edgy here, either musically or acoustically.
The album starts with the title track ‘A Taste of Honey’ which is not a McCartney tune (it’s by Bobby Scott) but one which The Beatles recorded on ‘Please Please Me’ that had been part of their Hamburg Star Club repertoire. Wakenius unleashes some gorgeous sounding arpeggios and a lead line with drone notes, a technique he uses well and reminiscent of Gabor Szabo, over Öström’s shuffling brushwork and Danielsson’s supporting bass and cello. He even throws a nod to John Lennon with a few bars of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ right at the end. It’s probably the strongest song on the album and sets the tone very well for what’s to come.
Wakenius’ interpretations of McCartney’s songs can take some interesting turns: there’s an uptempo ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with an ‘Every Breath You Take/Message In A Bottle’ like opening riff and a guitar solo where on a couple of occasions he finally takes the handbrake off and lets fly. A sprightly ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ where Danielsson takes the verses leaving Wakenius the choruses works nicely over a light rockier drum groove. There’s a very laid back acoustic take on ‘And I Love Her’ that gives the song a melancholy air and a very pretty ‘Blackbird’ with cello and acoustic guitar.
There are two originals, Wakenius’ ‘Our Lives’ and Danielsson’s ‘Yes To You’ which both slip alongside the better known material well, as does the old chestnut ‘Bésame Mucho’ by Consuelo Velázquez, which album producer and ACT Founder/Producer Siggi Loch remembers seeing The Beatles play at the Cavern Club to finish their set. It’s performed here without drums at a very slow tempo and sounds fresher than I’ve heard it performed for many years.
Breathing new life into well-loved repertoire is never easy, but tunes this well-known make that harder still. This really is a welcome touch of Hygge – something cozy and warm for the coming months.