Richie Zellon – Beatles: Afro-Peruvian Jazz Tribute

Covering Beatles music, while not a rarity, has either been a matter of artistic fawning, which is to say that the covering artist came off as rather a copyist than an original musician re-imagining Beatles music, or a lush symphonic one, which seems a logical progression, as the Beatles producer, George Martin seems to have left room for that kind of re-imagination.

Few other transcriptions and performances have been original. One of the noteworthy attempts has been Jaco Pastorious’ legendary version of “Blackbird” as well as Bobby McFerrin’s mystic version. And now comes this breathtaking album by Richie Zellon, Beatles Afro-Peruvian Jazz Tribute on his own label, Song-o-Sau’rus. This is a soulful, genuine homage to one of the greatest music ensembles of all time. But it is also one of the most revolutionary records by an artist who is, himself, credited by none other than Jimmy Heath, as creating (as far back as 1982), an idiom that has now come to be known as Afro-Peruvian Jazz. Labels apart, the record is a monumental achievement for its exquisite musicianship by Zellon on guitar and for his exquisite transcriptions in to a whole new realm as well as for his arrangements that retain the integrity of some of the most beautiful songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Richie Zellon is a phenomenal guitarist, who is possessed of a magical tone that ranges mostly in the tenor range. His ideas are based on a mystical musical map that doffs its proverbial hat to Jimi Hendrix as much as it does to Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. Thus his unique voice resembles a collision of guitar, horn and piano, while remaining a wholly magical guitar at all times. Zellon has great imagination and crafts his lines like an architect who is creating an edifice built of dramatic, leaping elevations; although at times he may, favouring the elements of a French curve, play lines that moves ever forward in gentle arcs and loops that are so enmeshed in to the holistic design of his music that they become part of the overall décor of the piece. And his musical architecture rises and falls in breathtaking waves adoring the Beatles music that he has re-created in a whole new idiom of his own. Magically, his album begins with a chart that is one of the most beautiful and possibly also Paul McCartney’s most challenging rhythmically and that is the one that Pastorious also glorified: “Blackbird”.

Here, however, “Blackbird” has been re-imagined in the Zellon idiom—the Afro-Peruvian Jazz one. Based on the Festejo, one of the brightest and most energetic dances, Zellon has re-energised the Beatles chart into one that melds the fluttering wings of a bird and the swaggering bodies of creole dancers. The thunderclaps of the cajón and the rattling of the quijada also add to the delightfully mad flutter and shuffle of the song. Contrasting with that rhythm is the stately Landó that flavours the next chart, “And I Love Her”. It might seem to have been an easy choice to match Beatles rhythm with the Landó here, but the matter of keeping the somewhat forlorn aspect of the song and breathing new life into it with the Landó does not come easy. The footwork and fingering of that rhythmic form is rather a greater challenge than the meter of the Beatles original. The same thing goes for the other Beatles gem, “Fool On A Hill” and here Zellon is ingenious with his use of the bassoon, which adds to the mood of this aching ballad as it does on “Serenata En Landó”.

It would be remiss to write an appreciation of this record without mentioning Federico Britos, that Uruguayan giant of a violinist. Britos is one of the finest violinists to emerge from South America and is a much admired artist among musical cognoscenti. Sadly he is not as well-known outside of this small circle. The violinist’s performances on “And I Love Her” is sublime and just as dazzling on “Michelle.” There is also that small matter of the ingenuity which Zellon employs in the song, “La Catedral” which is rendered in another great Afro-Peruvian song forms, the “zamacueca” and features the classical guitar of Enrique Gardano, which becomes one of the most magnificent segues into George Harrison’s anthem for the guitar: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. It is here that Richie Zellon is at his finest. His extended solo features vivid double stops and majestic glissandos that glorify this piece unforgettably.

It is hoped that Richie Zellon will become better known with this record, a welcome fallacy as the guitarist and musician boasts a phenomenal repertoire going back many decades and many more superb recordings.

Tracks: Blackbird; And I Love Her; Can’t Buy Me Love; Tomorrow Never Knows; La Catedral – While My Guitar Gently Weeps; Michelle; Come Together; Fool On A Hill; Lady Madonna; Serenata En Landó.

Personnel: Richie Zellon: guitar, bass, Indian drone guitar (3); Enrique Gardano: classical guitar; Ed Calle: soprano saxophone (1, 3); Federico Britos: violin (2, 6); Jorge Morera: bassoon (8, 10); Alfredo Valiente: cajón (1, 3, 4, 5, 7), checo (1, 5), spoons (5), cowbell (2, 8), quijada; Cesar Ballumbrosio: cajón (2, 6, 10), congas (1, 2, 8, 9), Zapateo (9), cajita (9); Sammy Fonseca: drums.

Richie Zellon – Official Website: www.richiezellon.com

Label: Song-o-Sau’rus Records

Release date: August 2012

Reviewed by: Raul da Gama

Raul Da Gama
Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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