All About Jazz Review by Jay Deshpande
In the liner notes to Cover Up!, George Kahn discusses his goal of drawing upon the heritage of west coast jazz. For most people, this brings to mind Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, or the Lighthouse All Stars.
For Kahn, though, it means a particular way of portraying the popular songs of his youth—tunes that fall outside the normal purview of jazz. On this disc, he provides graceful renditions of Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, John Mayer, and Bill Withers. Hence, as jazz updates of rock covers, Cover Up! is a coherent project.
In spite of the title's other potential meaning, everything on Kahn's album is perfectly overt. This is perhaps its greatest link to west coast jazz, which moved away from the intellectualism of New York bebop—Dizzy Gillespie is largely responsible for the field of jazz education, and Charlie Parker absorbed Stravinsky in addition to the blues.
Whether it's Bill Withers' "Use Me," which he plays according to the original recording, or the jazz standard "Yesterdays," which he spins unexpectedly out of the melody of the John Lennon's "Yesterday," Kahn presents music not as a set of cerebral enigmas, but as something fun for both the listener and the player. In this sense, he touches on the visceral pleasure that is usually connected to rock more than jazz.
The playing, very much in the jazz idiom, is strong throughout. Kahn surrounds himself with other highly competent Los Angeles musicians. The most stand-out name on the set is Alex Acuna, formerly the percussionist for Weather Report. The finest playing, though, comes from bassist Brian Bromberg, who acquits himself as nicely on the bass-heavy 70s sound of "Use Me" as he does in an eloquent high-register solo on "Sunshine of Your Love."
In improvisation, Kahn's tendency is towards modal playing, which doesn't wholly fit with the traditions of west coast jazz. On "Sunshine of Your Love," "Wes' Coast," and a John Coltrane-style "My Favorite Things," he draws heavily from the language of Miles Davis circa Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959). "Wes' Coast," which Kahn explains as Wes Montgomery meets Miles Davis, draws equal parts from Davis' compositions "Milestones" and "So What." Although an excess of modal jazz can turn to an easy conceit, playing at length over such scales suits Kahn's voice: it is here that he sounds most urbane.
The strength of Cover Up! lies in its careful balance of originals, standards, and pop covers. With little alteration to the original recording, John Mayer's "Waiting On The World to Change" becomes a tasteful gospel appeal in the pianist's hands. But just as inspiring is the latin-beat "Mitchell's Blues," a wonderful, lively composition by Kahn, with great horn-work from Justo Almario and John Fumo. Throughout the album, Kahn uses breadth and accessibility to keep the listener thoroughly entertained.