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David Benoit: Earthglow (2010)

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Code - OD-K-63260

The words coming out of the press offices regarding pianist, composer and film scorer David Benoit’s several last releases have all read the same.They have consistently trumpeted his return to the roots of his jazz style, as seen on the incredible releases Every Step Of The Way and Urban Daydreams, that made him so instantly unique, vitally influential and exciting to spin in CD players. With each release fans of his contemporary jazz days have, for nearly a decade, hoped, he would turn away from the more overtly commercial style he’s promulgated during the last 15 or so years and just “sit down and play some piano in his own style. Unfortunately, for the last decade plus, that hasn’t been the case.Benoit’s strength used to be his slip-n-slide harmonic leanings and clean pianistic technique wrapped within his own tightly constructed formal conventions that move in directions not always expected. That his melodies were not hindered by repetitive hooky-oriented principles made him, at the beginning of the smooth jazz movement, stand out. Once smooth jazz, however, got its hooks into the record industry, company executives started to dictate what they thought should be on the releases so as to aim for airplay and higher record sales with any thought of what direction the artist’s jazz leanings might be pushed to the side. One need only read the interview with Paul Taylor (Saxophone Journal, September/October 2005) for just such a description, as well as note how different most of the smooth jazz artists played when performing live as opposed to the sound of their recordings. The result was Benoit became just another artist who sounded like everyone else. Now, with the downfall of smooth jazz upon us, interestingly predicted by Marion Meadows six years ago (see Saxophone Journal, July/August 2004), it’s up to the artists to find their own way again. Fortunately for Benoit, as demonstrated on Earthglow, he hasn’t forgotten how to make the piano sing and, with a few minor exceptions, his melodic leanings show a marked return to music for the sake of music. As if to underscore his return to making real contemporary jazz the first track, "Botswana Bossa Nova,";which begins with a radio-friendly repeated motivic groove, is altered shortly into the first section with a rhythmic displacement well beyond what Les McCann would have imagined. Then, as if to further the stark new direction, an out-of-time held synth patch breaks up any radio-oriented simplicity. The total effect is to focus one’s attention on the upcoming music as the opening track now functions as more of an overture. While radio leanings do show up in the next track, “Will’s Chili,� the straight-up introduction of improvised solos from guitarist Pat Kelley and saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa quickly into the track, followed by a masterful improvised turn on the keys not heard from the Benoit in way-too-long, as well as an incredibly suave and thrillingly exciting ending piano solo, quickly forgives any too-simplistic notions one may have initially felt. By the time “Unbelievable� has kicked in any died-in-the-wool lover of contemporary jazz will welcome Benoit back, like the prodigal son after being away and lost for way too long, to the world of thinking jazz artists with open arms. Neither orchestrally oriented nor syrupy-smoothly-redundant nor straight-ahead like Standards, this recording locks Benoit into the format for which his masterful mind is truly most suited. It’s easily the best he’s released in the last decade-plus and will certainly show up on critics top 10 contemporary jazz albums of the year list.
Tracklist: Botswana Bossa Nova, Will's Chili, Unbelievable, Easy Day, Straightaway, New Creation, Earthglow, Sneaky As A Cat, Downtime, Brownie's Gone and Freedom At Midnight (The Schroeder Variations)
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