Helge Iberg: The Black on White album review – gently beautiful Beatles interpretations

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The Norwegian pianist puts his own beguiling twist on songs he knows by heart

Yet another “fresh approach” to a selection of Beatles tunes? I almost let this one pass. But listening to the first few minutes was enough to keep me hanging on until the end. Helge Iberg is a Norwegian composer and pianist, distinguished in jazz and classical idioms, who can move serenely from one to the other. His own fresh approach to the songs he grew up with began not surrounded by piles of sheet music, but sitting at the piano, relying on his memory.

This very fact may account for the air of reminiscence pervading all 12 pieces. They are improvisations, not formal arrangements, and some of them turn out very different from the originals. Notable among these are the tunes he calls “corny” – presumably such as Yellow Submarine and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, both of which emerge more grownup, but far less cheerful. Following Iberg’s musical wanderings can be fascinating, touching and sometimes surprising. Why, for instance, does Here Comes the Sun have such an ominous ending? Eleanor Rigby plays clever tricks with melodic and harmonic variations, while Blackbird, Nowhere Man and She’s Leaving Home are gently beautiful.

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