Beverly Beirne Just Wants to Have Fun!

 

Front Cover 2

JJWTHF / LEA-HOLDER: Come On Feel the Noize.3 ANT-PIRRONI: Prince Charming. DeSHANNON-WEISS: Bette Davis Eyes. DAMMERS: Ghost Town. FAIRBRASS-MANZOLI: Deeply Dippy. FRY-WHITE: When Smokey Sings.3 JOLLIE-SWAIN-DALLIN-WOODWARD-FAHEY: Cruel Summer.1 SCOTT: Pop Muzik. BEGGS-HAMILL-STRODE-ASKEW-MEALE: Too Shy. IDOL: Hot in the City.3 JONES-GRAMM: Waiting for a Man Like You.3,4 HAZARD: Girls Just Want to Have Fun2 / Beverly Beirne, voc; Rob Hughes, sax/fl; Flo Moore, bs; Ben Brown, dm/perc; 1Romero Lubambo, 2Dean Brown, gtr; 3Sam Watts, pno; 4Jason Miles, Hammond B3 org / BB Records, available at Amazon, iTunes & Google Play

Sometimes, we here “across the pond” from England miss out on certain British jazz artists. Oh, sure, we hear the famous ones—Ronnie Scott, Johnny Dankworth, Annie Ross, Cleo Laine, George Shearing, etc.—but some of the others fall through the cracks. Beverly Beirne, a Yorkshire-born jazz singer who studied classical voice, is one of them. She has a rich, full mezzo that she likes to open up and really swing with, and her working quartet of saxist-flautist Rob Hughes, bassist Flo Moore and drummer Ben Brown is solid and swinging.

On this album, due out on June 11, Beirne pays tribute to pop and rock tunes of the 1980s. I had completely cut myself off from pop culture by that time with the exceptions of Blondie and Billy Joel, so since neither of them are represented here the only song I recognized was Cindi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun, a cute tune that one really could not escape during that period. I also heard of Bette Davis Eyes but didn’t recall it much. In addition to using hits by American pop and rock artists, Beirne also includes a few tunes made famous by Brits, not all of whom also had an impact across the pond. For those who are taking notes, here’s a list of the tunes and the original artists:

Song Original Artist
Come On Feel The Noize Slade/Quiet Riot
Prince Charming Adam Ant
Bette Davis Eyes Kim Carnes
Ghost Town The Specials (British)
Deeply Dippy Right Said Fred (British)
When Smokey Sings ABC
Cruel Summer Banamarama
Pop Muzik M
Too Shy kajagoogoo
Hot In The City Billy Idol
Waiting For A Girl (Man) Like You Foreigner
Girls Just Want To Have Fun Cyndi Lauper

Happily, jazz artists work on transformation, meaning that Beirne and her talented band have turned these songs into jazz vehicles. The initials of the album’s title stands for Jazz Just Wants to Have Fun, and fun is the keynote of this album. After a slow, sultry opening, Beirne and the band up the tempo and really swing on the opener, Come On Feel the Noize. The album’s co-arranger, Sam Watts, adds his sparse, swinging piano to the group, with good effect. I was absolutely thrilled by the way Beirne handles her voice, singing “out” most of the time, swinging in a relaxed and masterly fashion, and even in soft passages the voice is perfectly placed. If she wanted to, I think she could easily sing in a club without a microphone. Her diction is also flawless (oh, how I wish half her classical sisters would pay heed to this!), with only a very few hints on some vowel sounds that she is British and not American.

Even in Adam Ant’s Prince Charming, where she lays back on the beat and sings softly, Beirne knows how to swing. In Bette Davis Eyes, turned into a relaxed 6/8 tempo, Beirne also displaces the beat with finesse, using her voice like an instrument. Upping the tempo a bit, Hughes takes a great tenor solo before Beirne re-enters, then plays behind her after a few bars with wonderful effect.

Indeed, throughout this set Beirne and her band play with both a tight and relaxed sound. The musicians back her rich contralto with lightness and finesse; this is a group that really does want to have fun, and because of this the listener does, too. Ghost Town is the epitome of hip: though taken at a medium tempo, both the singer and her band swing with heat. And between you and me, I was positively thrilled that the program was not too overloaded with ballads. Moore plays a tasteful bass solo on Deeply Dippy, and on When Smokey Sings, one of the few ballads in the set, Beirne and the band still manage to swing. Watts also returns on piano in this one. Ironically, considering the origin of these songs, the performances are far less rock-oriented than many a “jazz” album I am often asked to review…thank goodness! Cruel Summer, in fact, has a sort of salsa/jazz samba feel to it, which made for an effective contrast to the surrounding material. Hughes plays a nifty flute solo on this one, and Beirne again stretches and contracts the beats within bars masterfully.

Every track on this album is, quite simply, a pleasure to hear. June was a perfect time to schedule for release of this disc, because it’s great summertime jazz. Her scat solo on Pop Muzik shows her admitted debt to Ella Fitzgerald (she also admires Nneena Freelon), and Too Shy is a wonderful example of Beirne and the band swinging at an almost manic uptempo, her voice riding relaxed above the rhythmic frenzy. Hot in the City has a sort of My Boyfriend’s Back feel to it with a New Orleans vibe (thanks in large part to Watts’ Professor Longhair-styled piano). In track after track, Beirne and her talented group transform these pop tunes into jazz classics. (I can just imagine other jazz singers, hearing this disc, chomping at the bit to “borrow” some of these arrangements for themselves.) Even in the R&B-influenced Waiting for a Man Like You, Beirne give you a pure jazz treatment.

The finale, Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun, is transformed into a Louis Prima-Keely Smith shuffle-rhythm R&B number, with Dean Brown’s guitar added to the mix and saxist Hughes pumping away like Sam Butera.

This is an utterly delightful album. You certainly don’t have to be an ‘80s pop fan to enjoy it; I loved it!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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