Wayne Alpern | Scarab
by Triana Klostman
Wayne Alpern is a noted composer and arranger. In his latest endeavor, Scarab, he explores the Beatles’ simplicity and intricacies on the piano, featuring Thelonious Monk finalist Billy Test. Alpern wittily calls them “recompositions and rearrangements,” each offers a focus on the tunes’ musicality.
Alpern has a delightfully delicious and varied background. Originally from Detroit, the osmosis of Motown was decidedly melded into the sonic structure of his influences. Studying at Oberlin College, University of Michigan, Yale University, and the City University of New York, with additional work at Harvard, Juilliard, Wesleyan, and the University of Pennsylvania. His musical scholarship and theoretical expertise focused on Schenkerian analysis and 20th-century music. Alpern worked at General Music Publishing, United Artists Music Publishing, and was Steve Reich’s editor. The Guardian, music critic Andrew Clements suggested that Reich is one of “a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history.” Credibly Alpern has garnered a well-rounded outlook on music. That outlook can be heard on each of his releases, which have been steadily releasing as of late.
“Let it Be” opens the album. This has always been a seminal tune for me. The eloquence of the writing and the inspiring message has always resonated timelessly. Test offers a heavy strike of the keys in his up-tempo approach to the tune. Alpern’s pen explores the vast colors available to him within the melody. “Eleanor Rigby,” is usually taken at a mid-tempo pace. Alpern explores the elegance of the tune with varied sections that, at times, dig in deeply with a strong waving emotive as it segues into a tender and delicately treated melody bringing forth the feminine qualities of the piece.
“Blackbird,” a song often covered in the jazz idiom, is given its dignity and resonance along with its playful moments highlighting the severe and beautiful lyrical nature of the tune, created initially to highlight race relations in the US. The lyrics typically portray the struggle of the song’s subject, but in an entirely instrumental version, the reverence remains. At times playful, while at other times forceful, but always with respect for the storyline and meaningful melody.
Scarab, a delightfully clever title for a Beatles piano album, fits the bill. Crafted by a well-traveled composer and arranger and brought to life by an exuberant pianist in Billy Test.