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Clarinetist Dave Bennett's Don't Be That Way is a throwback album, but it's not a carbon copy of what's come before. Bennett certainly finds inspiration in the work of past masters, driving down the highways and byways that have been paved by Benny Goodman
and others, but he's willing to look at their music with a fresh set of eyes; he's a centrist, but not a complete traditionalist. He'll occasionally throw a curve ball on a well-known tune, as demonstrated on the Brazilian-coated title track, but the ball always goes back over the plate in the end, locking in to some form of widely established and accepted practice.
Goodman, more than any other figure, is the influence that hovers over this date. Bennett delights in interpreting several key pieces from Goodman's repertoire, from the immortal "Sing, Sing, Sing" to the bleak-and-beautiful "Goodbye" to the fun-filled "Slipped Disc," and he even resembles the King Of Swing, with a serious bespectacled face and firmly parted hair. The similarities stop there though, as Bennett's tone and timbre bear little resemblance to Goodman's clarion call clarinet sound. Bennett has a more soothing-and-streamlined soundnot the same as, but in the realm of Ken Peplowski
While it would be a lie to say that the album is filled with surprises, a few pop up along the way; the inclusion of a Beatles classic ("Yesterday") amidst the older fare is one and the clarinet supplanting the drums on the "Sing, Sing, Sing" solo break is another. Elsewhere, things are often predictable but pleasing. A rollicking "Woodchopper's Ball" makes for a good time, as does the oft-covered, album-ending "When The Saints Go Marching In." The only misstep here is "Saint James Infirmary." Bennett's vocals don't measure up and the song feels a tad stiff, but that's simply the Achilles heel on an otherwise healthy-and-strong body of material.
Bennett is the undisputed star of his own show, but his band mates deserve a bit of praise for their work; they're attuned to his attitudes about this music and they do an excellent job in helping him shape these performances. Guitarist Reg Schwager
, more than any side man here, establishes himself as a player to watch and a force to be reckoned with. The depth and breadth of his work is astounding and Bennett's clarinet playing rests on his pianistic shoulders. The sixth manarranger Shelly Bergeralso deserves a nod, as his pen defines the overall shape of this music. Together, this crew makes wonderful music that recalls the past but lives in the present.
Track Listing: Slipped Disc; Begin The Beguine; Don't Be That Way; Running Wild; St. James Infirmary; Yesterday; Sing, Sing, Sing; Woodchopper's Ball; My Inspiration; Goodbye; A Funeral In New Orleans; When The Saints Go Marching In.
Personnel: Dave Bennett: clarinet, vocals; Tad Weed: piano; Paul Keller: bass; Pete Siers: drums; Reg Schwager: acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Shelly Berger: arrangements.