Last December, Beck released an album's worth of material for the first time in four years. But it wasn't available on vinyl, or as a download: Song Reader was issued as a set of sheet music. Richard Gartner, a local musician best known for his work in Soma Mestizo, took that as a challenge.
"I think it was primarily the form that attracted me to it," says Gartner. He's always enjoyed Beck, though he's not a fanatic — "I kind of drifted away from following Beck" for a time, he says, "but I appreciate his work."
He dug the sheet-music idea enough, in fact, that he spent his Christmas vacation arranging the music — which Beck scored primarily for piano, guitar and banjo — for a band with horns and drums, which performs the album in its entirety Wed., April 3, at Club Café. Recordings of the performance will then be posted on the album's website, www.songreader.net, where plenty have already added their own interpretations of the music.
"There are a lot of electronic versions posted," Gartner says, "which makes sense because you can do that by yourself. But I wasn't seeing many big band-ish ensembles up there. I thought that would be a cool way to honor the music."
The band includes musicians from Sugar Daddy and the Big Boned Girls, of which Gartner is a member, plus some he'd never met until recently, like ukulele player Elliott Sussman. Gartner arranged the music in part to play to the strengths of the group.
"There's one song on which Beck included horn parts," he says. "And I figured, ‘It would be great to get a horn line together! But why have them just play one song?' There are 10 other songs that I arranged horn parts for.
"Beck's really giving carte blanche to the person interpreting it, which is so unusual. He does give cues in terms of tempo markings. But with that in mind, he's perfectly fine with anyone doing anything with the songs."
After it's all said and done and posted online, will Gartner delve further into being a bandleader?
"We'll see," he says with a laugh. "I really just think of this as a project. But it's been fun!"