Digitization has made reissues the backbone of the compact disc industry, lending new life to old material and, to some extent, getting the major labels off the creativity hook. It also has spawned homages (such as orchestral versions of songs by the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and even the Sex Pistols) and tributes (to artists such as the Carpenters and Gram Parsons).
Ann Dyer's project is a kind of different kettle of fish. By surrounding herself with some of the most adventurous jazz musicians in the Bay Area, this San Francisco thrush has both updated and, at times, transcended her inspiration. When the Beatles released Revolver in 1966, they spoke for what then was known as the youth culture: Utopian in nature, deeply psychedelic, it was yet to be commodified. And the Beatles, then still very much a group, spoke well for it. In tunes such as the politically astute "Taxman," Paul McCartney's nostalgic, painterly "Eleanor Rigby," and the acid-etched "Tomorrow Never Knows," the Beatles fused rhythm 'n' blues harmonies, vaudeville conceits, and the happy cheekiness of commercialism in an indelible, timeless blend.
Oddly, Dyer's disc is more of its time than its original. This is oddball jazz yearning to be free, and -- by and large -- it's successful. Dyer's chanting voice, the fervent saxophone of Peter Apfelbaum, Rob Burger's plaintive accordion, and a rich blend of guitars, tabla, and rhythm create memorable settings for the Beatles songs and remind us how very well made they are. Some tunes work better than others: Recasting "For No One" as a Parisian waltz is ravishing, and so is the industrialization of "Taxman." But why did Dyer give such short shrift to "Good Day Sunshine," one of the brightest tracks on the original? And why make "I'm Only Sleeping" even more soporific (and, yes, more mysterious) than its model? Happily, "Tomorrow Never Knows," with Dyer in full drone over odd bleats, squeaks, and roiling rhythm, is as prescient and haunting as the original. Which is the point of the Beatles, Dyer, and her talented, fearless friends.