Stellar performances abound in this brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed tribute to Leonard Cohen, one of the greatest songwriters of the past half-century.
Performers: Norah Jones, Peter Gabriel, Gregory Porter, Sarah McLachlan, Luciana Souza, James Taylor, Iggy Pop, Mavis Staples, David Gray, Nathaniel Rateliff, vocals; Bill Frisell, guitar; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone; Kevin Hays, piano, Estey; Scott Colley, bass; Nate Smith, drums; Gregory Leisz, pedal steel guitar; Larry Goldings, Hammond organ
Blue Note B003552102 (CD, available as download, LP). 2022. Larry Klein, producer; Adam Greenspan, engineer; other engineers for seven vocal tracks. Performance: 5 stars Sonics 4.5 stars
Producer Larry Klein succeeds admirably in this jazz-inflected treatment of many memorable works from Leonard Cohen’s albums spanning several decades. Klein is a Grammy Award winner with extensive jazz credits, studio experience and musical performance himself as a noted jazz bassist who backed up Joni Mitchell on her late ’70s albums. For this outing he gathered 10 outstanding vocalists from 10 different genres, and collaborated with them on song choice and approach. One direction he made clear to each of the singers: nothing was to be over the top. All histrionics were to be discarded in favour of an understated, thoughtful approach. The result is an achingly beautiful, deeply moving album.
The backing music is restrained but highly evocative. Young saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins is particularly effective on several tracks, but especially so on the instrumental track “Avalanche”, which he transforms into a brooding, explosive masterpiece.
The legendary jazz guitarist Bill Frisell is equally compelling from beginning to end, with a restrained lyrical approach that matches Cohen’s penchant for choosing his words carefully: on this outing Frisell chooses every shimmering note with meditative authority. The final track, ” Bird on the Wire”, has been covered countless times, most notably by Tim Hardin, but this instrumental version by Bill Frisell, is an unexpected approach and a memorable one.
Standout tracks appear one after another, culminating in an overall impression that approaches spiritual unity. The recording quality is superb, capturing splendid performances from the artists in a sonically revealing soundscape that truly penetrates the soul. It’s not overstating the case to position this release as the leading candidate for the finest jazz recording of 2022.
More than 30 years ago another Cohen tribute was released in a compilation disc entitled I’m Your Fan, a folk-rock approach of considerably different material featuring artists such as Nick Dave, John Cale, R.E.M., The Pixies and several others. It was modestly successful but failed to capture, in this reviewer’s eyes, the essence of Cohen: the eternal conflict between the carnal and spiritual sides of the human spirit. This new release does so, unreservedly.
Further, the album constitutes a remarkable achievement in the career of Larry Klein: Here It Is is destined to become a classic.
‘Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen’ Album Review