With peak anticipation building in lovers of the Bard of Montreal, here finally drops Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen, the Larry Klein-helmed and Blue Note-imprinted all-star tribute we have been sneaking peeks at these past few months. We have been a little underwhelmed by James Taylor and then bowled over by Nate Rateliff, so what of the rest?
First, some background. Klein and Cohen were good buddies during the final decade and a half of the singer’s life, having been crossing paths a good deal longer. Klein himself has an interesting pedigree, a jazz bassist of some renown, starting his career off by playing with Joe Hubbard and Wayne Shorter. Becoming more mainstream, as rock drew out for the greater sophistication jazz might offer, he began to play with, most notably, Joni Mitchell, actually marrying her. Whilst that didn’t last, he became one of the go-to bassists. It is him on Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” Bob Dylan’s Down in the Groove, and Peter Gabriel’s So album, still keeping his hand in with older buddies like Herbie Hancock.
Adding the production arrow to his quiver, Klein went on to take charge of studio work by a throng of artists encompassing many, many genres. Who else can say they produced acts as varied as Holly Cole, Rodney Crowell, and (Jefferson) Starship? Not to mention Joni, even after their marriage dissolved, and the aforementioned Hancock, including his The Joni Letters, where those two worlds aligned.
Having spent a fair amount of time covering Cohen songs for other artists, Klein came up with the idea of assembling an album’s worth of new ones. He brought together a collection of his contacts and acquaintances, largely from the jazz world, or, as he himself put it: “a group of the most prescient and forward-looking musicians.” Thus the band here, which is led by unassuming guitar titan Bill Frisell, includes also saxman Immanuel Wilkins, Kevin Hays on piano, and the rhythm section of bassist Scott Colley and drummer Nate Smith. Longtime Frisell associate and pedal steel player to the stars Greg Leisz also gets to play, as does Larry Goldings. So a crack band, and already catnip to the Blue Note label, even ahead the roll call of vocalists.