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David Lanz Releases 'Here Comes The Sun,' Pianist's Second Collection Of Unique Interpretations Of Iconic Beatles Music
When pianist David Lanz released his critically acclaimed album Liverpool: Re-Imagining the Beatles in 2010, he was of course hoping that it would be well received by his legion of loyal fans. And it was, so much so that Lanz took the advice of many of them and went back into the studio armed with a brand new batch of classic tunes by the Fab Four. Here Comes the Sun will be released March 13th in two versions, one featuring accompaniment by flutist Gary Stroutsos, cellist Walter Gray and bassist Keith Lowe and the other spotlighting only Lanz and his piano. For Lanz, the opportunity to revisit the music of one of his greatest influences was welcomed. "I had too many leftover musical desires to do a tribute in one collection of songs," he says.
Here Comes the Sun takes its title, of course, from George Harrison's iconic composition that first appeared on 1969's Abbey Road album. In addition, for this second go-round Lanz revisits the timeless Lennon-McCartney songs "Help!," "Mother Nature's Son," "For No One," "There's A Place," "Please Please Me," "Penny Lane" and "I Am The Walrus." Each track is given a unique interpretation by Lanz, alternately dancing around and honing in on the main melodic themes of the original songs in his own inimitable way.
In addition to the Beatles covers, Lanz bookends Here Comes the Sun with two original compositions that perfectly complement the classic material, "Prelude Sunrise Follows Moon" and "Sir George (Liverpool Farewell)." The former, says Lanz, "was originally part of the introduction to 'Here Comes the Sun,' but because it had a natural break I wrote myself into it." And "Sir George (Liverpool Farewell)" partially pays tribute not only to the late Beatles guitarist but to the group's legendary producer, Sir George Martin.
The concept behind the recording of Here Comes the Sun came about, says Lanz, while he, Stroutsos and Gray were touring in support of the Liverpool album. "I started to think more in terms of arranging the music for a trio and then I realized we needed some low end to round it out so Keith Lowe, who played bass on the Liverpool record, came in." With co-production by Gary Lanz, David's multi-talented brother, and engineer Chip Westerfield, Here Comes the Sun began to take shape once David narrowed down the considerable list of potential tracks. The first track recorded was "For No One," one of Paul McCartney's most beautiful and moving ballads.
"I just went with my gut," says Lanz about the repertoire. "I'd never heard a cover of 'Help!' for example. Some of the songs were hits but not ones that had been overdone by other people. I added something to every song except 'Penny Lane, which is very recognizable, although on the record it's only piano and bass. 'Help!' has a classical sound-the piano and cello trade off the melody. And on 'Here Comes the Sun,' which is the most downloaded Beatles song ever, I didn't do a whole lot to try to change it-it's such a beautiful, simple melody."
For "I Am the Walrus," one of the densest of the Beatles' studio recordings production-wise, Lanz took special care to maintain the innate intensity of the song while bringing it back to its core melody. "It took me seven months," he says. "It's a complex and busy song and I kept asking myself, 'What do I do with that?' My idea was to write a show-stopper for the concert experience because most of the material ends up being mellow and floaty; some people have said it's meditations on the Beatles' music. Which is fine but I wanted to write something real dramatic. So I gave it a huge finish. People go crazy when we play it live."
Lanz's "Please Please Me" won't be immediately recognizable to most, for good reason. Although the Beatles recorded the early song as an uptempo rocker, it was actually written as a slow, Roy Orbison-style ballad. Says David: "George Martin told Lennon, 'It's a great song. If you speed it up you'll have your first number one.' And they did. So I went, 'OK, I'm gonna slow it down.' I wrote my own motif for the beginning, almost like a waltz. It has this kind of French impressionistic sound to it. I changed all the chords around but left the melody intact, for the most part. That was one of the songs that hit me hard as a kid, so I was especially involved in that one emotionally."
"There's a Place," originally the B-side to the Beatles' cover of the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout," was another that Lanz gravitated to when he first heard it. "That's the longest song on the album, almost eight minutes," he says. "I wrote a whole suite around it. For some reason that song really had an impact on me as a kid. It was the most introspective song that they wrote: 'In my mind there's no sorrow, don't you know that it's so.' It's all about being inside your head. It's kind of a love song and it's not a happy song."
Although it came much later in their career, McCartney's "Mother Nature's Son" is another melody that easily lends itself to Lanz's soulful style. "It's twice as long as the version on the Beatles' White Album," he says. "I put my own stamp on it. It's just flute, piano and bass and we made it real ethereal. Gary Stroutsos is playing the Chinese instrument the xiao."
Describing the album's sound, Lanz says, "Someone called it 'chamber rock,' which I kind of like. It's almost classical crossover because of the use of piano, cello and flute. The bass adds a nice counterpoint but he has a nice low end to it." Once the recording was finished, Lanz decided to go back to the basic piano tracks that he cut before the other instruments were laid on top, and to make the solo piano version available in addition to the full-band version. The two versions can be purchased separately or together on CDs at www.davidlanz.com, digitally at iTunes, and through other outlets. Lanz's website also offers a combo package that includes both discs and the Here Comes the Sun songbook. Another new songbook, The David Lanz Collection 2000-2011, has also been published, by Hal Leonard Music.
With the release of Here Comes the Sun, Lanz feels that he's scratched his Beatles itch, and now he looks forward to returning to his original compositions again. He recently participated in another new CD release, Time Travelers, with Stroutsos and a second flutist, Michael G. Allen (aka Coyote Oldman), and next up will be a brand new, 25th anniversary re-imagining of Lanz's landmark work Cristofori's Dream, the first album to top the Adult Alternative New Age chart in Billboard magazine.
"I've re-recorded the whole album as a solo piano record," announces Lanz, "and it has all of the same songs as the original, including my version of Procol Harum's 'A Whiter Shade of Pale.' The main difference is that I took more liberties with the music this time so there's more improvisation on it. I've got a lot of stuff."
A lot of stuff yet to come-that can only be a good thing.