Wayne Alpern’s Frankenstein
Wayne Alpern struck gold with his 2020 album, Jukebox. He is a composer, arranger, historian known for taking Jazz and employing classical discipline and technique. Now, in his latest album Frankenstein, Alpern selects some of the best-loved Pop tunes and gives them his Jazz vision.
To achieve his vision and mission, Alpern brings along David Mann as musical director and reeds man. On trumpet is Tatum Greenblatt and Brad Mason on trumpets, Mike Boscarino and Mike Davis on trombones, the brilliant John Patitucci on bass, Andy Ezrin on keyboards, Kevin Ramessar on guitar, and Clint DeGanon on drums.
The song selection is excellent with spoken word intros and interludes from Barack and Michelle Obama and more besides. Opening with the President celebrating Carole King and Alpern and company playing You’ve Got a Friend. Alpern adds the Jazz with a great slice of Funk to make the timeless classic sing in different tones. Then they move on to Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud before working over Marvin Gaye’s Ain’t That Peculiar. As a huge Marvin Gaye fan, this one almost made me come out of my seat. Alpern’s horn arrangements are hot and you’ve got to love the rhythm section of Patitucci and DeGanon.
Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music but, of course, made famous by singer Judy Collins. The slight swing and the brilliant soprano sax of David Mann turns this originally maudlin number into a cool Jazz number.
A big highlight is Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island. Nothing not to love about the original or the Alpern reworking of it. Ezrin’s keyboards are spot on and the brass is smoking. Patitucci gives us some of his best moments on the album here. I love this arrangement.
Then things get really swinging with Duke Ellington’s Black Beauty. The horns are sweet and sultry then comes that great piano line from Ezrin and Patitucci’s bass again deserves careful attention. The whole song is a beautiful work of composition and arrangement. And performance.
Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together is brilliantly arranged and adapted for the David Mann saxophone. Ezrin’s organ with Patitucci’s bass and De Ganon’s drums is enough to make you shout. Soulful, yes. Funky, a little bit. But that Gospel tinge is sweet.
Marvin Gaye’s Dancing in the Street—made famous by Martha and the Vandellas—takes the groove to a whole ‘nother place. Patitucci is again at his funky bass best. Can’t get enough.
All I Ask of You is from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The arrangement is more upbeat and livelier with warm intonations from the brass. Frankly, I like this better than the original.
The album closes with two of the hottest numbers ever. More Than Yesterday is such a great melody and has such a cool groove. It was, as you know, performed by Spiral Staircase and written by their lead singer Pat Upton. The horns are on fire and the rhythm section just nails it down.
Then bass and sax give the riveting intro to Gimme Some Lovin’ by Steve Winwood and Spencer Davis for the Spencer Davis Group. Few songs groove like this one and the rhythm section works it from below while the horns hammer away from atop it all. Cool piano and organ licks and DeGanon is absolutely brilliant on the drums.
Wayne Alpern never ceases to amaze at his talent to reimagine well-known, if not well-worn, tunes into something absolutely fresh and oh-so-appealing. As Alpern says, in the style of Mary Shelley, in his liner notes: “I dreamt some new species, reconstructed and revived, might someday bless me as its creator. My hands trembling, I looked down: blink—it was alive!” Reconstructed indeed. Revived absolutely. Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, however, Wayne Alpern has given us a reason to rejoice with his creation.