The Bentzon Brotherhood hearkens back to the heyday of '70s jazz rock. The group's live recording Godzilla des Groove
is soaked in the trappings of the period: ringing Fender Rhodes, ornate yet still funky electric bass lines, mechanically precise drumming, spiraling horn solos and blissed out bridges. Culled from concerts in its native Denmark, the double disc draws on material from the group's previous five albums and offers nine new pieces.
The Brotherhood gets its name from keyboardist Nikolaj Bentzon, a multi-tasking instrumentalist, composer and arranger. His background includes classical piano, as well as writing and arranging for the Danish Radio Big Band. He has adapted Earth, Wind & Fire’s music for an acoustic ensemble, and most significantly for this album, he has filled Herbie Hancock’s shoes in the Headhunters. The powerhouse grooves of the '70s stay close to Bentzon’s heart throughout the disc, grooves he adorns with an arsenal of keyboards. His Rhodes sizzles on “Tricked,” and “Comeback of the Avergae Joe” gets a healthy injection of warbling, spacey analog synthesizer. A few tunes even feature some sampled vocal elements, but to dubious effect.
When the group hews close to the crisp, high energy jazz rock form, they shine. “Powered” is vintage Headhunters; the bass churns, the snare pops and Bentzon unleashes floods of in-the-pocket licks. “Constiuents” touches on '70s Miles, his dark, brawny funk given a more inside reading here. Henrik Sveidahl’s bass clarinet adds a twist to the slow grind of “Mount Ego.” “Gonna Holla Like Tarzan,” the funkiest track here, bounces likes classic electric Eddie Harris.
But there a few missteps, and they all revolve around Bentzon’s attempts to add multi-cultural elements. “Suite Africaine” features an African chant, a flaccid Afro-funk head arrangement, and thinly recorded congas. When the group moves to a more conventional rhythm for the solos, it makes what came before feel superficial. For some reason, Bentzon reworks the already overworked “I Shot the Sheriff,” giving it a short fusion passage and inserting a sampled montage of police sirens and Jamaican voices. Nice idea, but then he also uses the click of a gun being cocked as a percussive device, and the whole piece comes across as tasteless, a limp attempt at social commentary.
Godzilla des Groove captures a tight live band capable of pounding out fun, danceable grooves. Unfortunately, the energy they probably transmit on stage does not make it onto the disc. An enjoyable, if slightly uneven, set.
Visit Nikolaj Bentzon on the web.
Personnel: Nikolaj Bentzon: Fender Rhodes, clavinet, analog synthesizer, sampler, digital piano, vocals; Henrik Sveidahl: tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet, vocals; Kaspar Vadsholt: electric bass, vocal; Zoltan Cs