Various Artists – Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen
(Blue Note 4565996. 2 LPs. Album review by Richard Lee)
Well, here it is…although, in a way, it isn’t. If seeing a tribute to Leonard Cohen released on Blue Note suggested one of those Hal Willner compilations that shed a fresh light on Monk, Mingus as well as Kurt Weill and the songs of Walt Disney, this isn’t quite it. What we get is a lovingly crafted collection of Cohen songs from all points in his catalogue performed by a fine band and a roster of mature singers from the politer reaches of jazz & rock, generally in thrall of the composer and his performances over the years. They stop pretty short of impressions of him, though I did double-take at Peter Gabriel’s rendition of the title track, James Taylor scraping his lowest register to come back to you, while Iggy Pop’s growling question about wanting it darker had me chuckling even more than when Lenny originally asked.
The project is the brainchild of Cohen’s friend Larry Klein, no stranger to the jazz interface with contemporary song (notably his River tribute to his ex-, Joni Michell with Herbie Hancock) and his wife Luciana Souza provides a sweet Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. Similarly,Sarah Maclachlan is very true to Hallelujah but brings nothing more to it than comparisons with all Cohen-muses like Jennifer Warnes who sang on the original but whose wariness of recording it herself should be a warning to all who insist on tackling this most ubiquitous of Cohen’s canon in the same way. Hopes were high for Mavis Staples injecting some soul into If It Be Your Will; they were up but didn’t soar. As far as the other men, I wasn’t really clear what Gregory Porter was bringing to Suzanne, was similarly indifferent to David Gray’s take on Seems So Long Ago Nancy, though much more taken with Nathaniel Rateliff’s Famous Blue Raincoat.
There is something of a jazz sensibility provided by the Here It Is band assembled by Klein with Bill Frisell at its head. He is, as is his way of late, quietly brilliant, taking the honours in closing the album with Bird On The Wire, in the manner of his recent American classics. But it is unassuming, as is the assured interplay of the band foregrounded here and in the other instrumental Avalanche. featuring the impressive alto of Immanuel Wilkins who in many ways is the key solo voice on all tracks.
Trouble is, while drummer Nate Smith’s perfectly delivered but pretty relentless Cohen-lope seems to run through the entire album, it becomes an uninterrupted dutiful shuffle over 12 tracks: Berlin isn’t taken; the Jazz Police don’t come to get ya. And I kinda wish that if they had covered the latter, it might’ve been with Peter Brotzmann….
- Steer Your Way – Norah Jones
- Here It Is – Peter Gabriel
- Suzanne – Gregory Porter
- Hallelujah – Sarah McLachlan
- Avalanche – Immanuel Wilkins
- Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye – Luciana Souza
- Coming Back to You – James Taylor
- You Want It Darker – Iggy Pop
- If It Be Your Will – Mavis Staples
- Seems So Long Ago, Nancy – David Gray
- Famous Blue Raincoat – Nathaniel Rateliff
- Bird on The Wire – Bill Frisell
Guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Nate Smith with additional contributions from Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar and Larry Goldings on organ.
LINK: Buy Here It Is
Categories: Album review
Check out “The Songs of Leonard Cohen – Live” by Canada’s Art of Time Ensemble. Recently released.