John Basile, solo guitar – Penny Lane [TrackList follows] – String Time Jazz, 004, 47:48 [8/7/15] ***:

(John Basile – guitar, MIDI programming, producer, recording, editing, arranger)

The Beatles’ song catalog has become almost standard for jazz artists, from George Benson to Jaco Pastorius (whose rendition of “Blackbird” is stellar), and various other jazz performers who have taken the Fab Four’s tunes into the jazz realm. Add guitarist John Basile to the long list of jazz musicians who have embraced the Beatles. His 48-minute, 11-track album, Penny Lane, is a breezy and pleasant homage to George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. This isn’t the first time Basile has adapted music by those who have inspired him. Previous projects include records focusing on Frank Sinatra and Paul Desmond; and Basile has interpreted other pop songs which were popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Basile traverses the Beatles’ wide-ranging spectrum, from early hits like “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” to later gems such as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Although this is a solo guitar document, Basile employs a MIDI interface to impart a fuller resonance. Thus, there are sounds which mimic drums, keyboards or bass, but this is Basile’s show, from beginning to finish. Basile allows each tune to breath and progress, with room to spare for improvisational sections, but rarely abandons a friendly vibe or a straightforward approach. Basile opens with a sociable version of “Eleanor Rigby,” which showcases Basile’s melodic guitar talents, even though his MIDI effects sometimes get too much in the way on this number. Hearing this, one wonders why a trio or quartet was not engaged, rather than the limiting MIDI system.

At times Basile shifts things a bit, like an interesting Latin jazz tinge which sprinkles through “A Day in the Life.” The MIDI programming doesn’t provide much of a backbeat on this and other cuts, however the melody comes through bright and clear. Elsewhere, the strong jazz-pop and/or smooth jazz flavoring may prove less enticing for those who prefer more swing, a tougher tone or broader translations. This softer slant is obvious during “Fool on the Hill,” where Basile gets close to Earl Klugh territory, which is not a bad place to be, if you’re a Klugh enthusiast (FYI: Klugh has also covered the Beatles, so you can understand the appeal). On the other hand, Basile’s attractive finger-style technique will probably tempt Chet Atkins, Mark Knopfler and Les Paul fans. That side of Basile’s style is evident during an affable run through Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The feeling is warm, although as the piece proceeds, Basile lets loose and flies across his fretboard with some compelling soloing.

Basile brings a newer viewpoint to some selections. For example, there’s a light Brazilian seasoning on his nearly six-minute delivery of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” where Basile stretches out and veers away from the melody to do some alluring harmonic spins. Some Beatles’ followers might not even recognize this track. Basile serves up some wah-wah/fusion elements to put a fresh twist to “Can’t Buy Me Love,” where Basile draws on early ‘70s pop-jazz for this arrangement, kind of Jim Hall meets Deodato. Basile does a similar modernization with his take of “Norwegian Wood,” which has dissonant moments which echo early Bill Frisell (yet another guitarist who has also transformed Beatles’ songs into jazz material). Basile concludes the same way he starts his CD: with beauty and tenderness. Whereas “Eleanor Rigby” applies too much MIDI paraphernalia, Basile concentrates on overdubbed guitar for his short, sweet rendering of “In My Life.” It’s a nice way to end.

TrackList: Eleanor Rigby; A Fool on the Hill; Penny Lane; And I Love Her; A Day in the Life; While My Guitar Gently Weeps; Here There and Everywhere; I Want to Hold Your Hand; Can’t Buy Me Love; Norwegian Wood; In My Life.

—Doug Simpson