It’s 50 years since the Beatles unleashed the pattern-twisting, genre-breaking, sound-splicing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the world. Django Bates, Eggs Laid by Tigers and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band have seized upon the landmark year to reinterpret an album in a quite mystical method, pushing and pulling the tracks around into the ‘massive psychedelic symphony’ that Bates sees it as.
As a record that many of us have absorbed into our deep-musical-memory, the quirks and carefully crafted kinks in the fabric of the music jars and tickles expectation in a thoroughly pleasing way. While the eponymous opening chart’s use of unpredictable time signatures could have led into a slightly inaccessible evening of challenging interpretations more akin to SFJazz tribute, the introduction of Martin Ullits Dahl as a vocal linchpin in ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ gives Bates’ explorative arrangements a satisfying centre of gravity. This still leaves room for humour and deftness of musicality winked at as the ‘answers quite slowly’ lyric is matched with a slinking rallentando in the band (for example).
Bates’ view of the record as a psychedelic playground is risen to and expanded upon by the musicians assembles to bring the vision to life in a glorious tie-dye palette. There are star turns in the band, not least Stefan Karl Schmid’s tenor saxophone solos which come into play throughout the set. Axel Schlosser’s high trumpet line on ‘Penny Lane’ is another scintillating moment that draws audible approval from the room. The care that has gone into bringing the various textures of the album to life also look like they give the musicians a great deal of satisfaction which is infectious. Django lays completely wonderful keys lines and then seasons them with effects that include applause, laughter, popped corks and farm yard animals. It’s a menagerie of sound that has been assembled, fed and presented with the utmost care and flare. The many dancing hands, feet and hands around the audience are testament to the result.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a record that keeps on giving. To mark its anniversary in such a creative and smile-provoking manner is a real thrill. Paul Pace introduced the evening with a confident guarantee that the music has only been improving over the course of the show’s week-long residency. On tonight’s evidence, you’d have to agree that it’s getting better all the time.
Saluting Sgt. Pepper is out now on Edition.