Jazz, like many other genres, has a long history with the Beatles’ songbook. Since the Sixties, artists from Count Basie to Medeski Martin & Wood have covered a wide array of Fab Four tunes. A new release, A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper, brings this concept into the present: It’s a full album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, featuring 12 contemporary jazz artists tackling the immortal LP’s 13 tracks. (Drummer Antonio Sanchez, who realized Birdman’s stunning solo-percussion score a few years back, performs both the title track and its Side Two reprise.)
The album is smartly curated: Each of the artists here, from saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings to guitarist Mary Halvorson, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, harpist Brandee Younger and pianist Cameron Graves (a key Kamasi Washington collaborator) is a young luminary who’s helping to define the genre’s present and point the way to its future.
That description definitely applies to drummer Makaya McCraven, who turns up here with a lovely instrumental version of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” which channels the dreamy psych-pop drift of the original into an immersive funk/R&B mood piece. Vibraphonist Joel Ross plays John Lennon’s verse vocal melody, while McCraven and bassist Junius Paul lay down a loping groove. Midway through, the rhythm opens up, with McCraven switching from a cool backbeat to driving postbop swing. Greg Spero’s piano comes to the fore, followed by Matt Gold’s guitar, and the piece builds into a spacey fusion-like jam.
McCraven’s contribution to A Day in the Life arrives shortly after his own acclaimed recent full-length Universal Beings, which perform he’ll live — with a large ensemble including Ross and Paul from the “Lucy” cover, plus fellow A Day in the Life contributors Younger and Hutchings, and Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker — on Sunday in New York at an event presented by Red Bull Music.