How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Benny Rietveld emerges from the first-call sideman shadows into a feral fusion adventureland. The exotic bassist paid some early dues in one of Miles Davis’ last lineups and recently broke into stardom with Carlos Santana’s smash Supernatural band. Benny obviously cribbed notes during his past gigs, as he has crafted some incredible tunes for his strikeforce of bandmates to interpret. All manner of styles rear their heads here: Indian pop, funk, Jaco grooves, Latin and Caribbean seasonings. At the heart of it all lies the leader’s tasteful bass virtuosity.
The first sounds on the disc, fluttering flutes and bubbling Indian percussion, let on that this isn’t your average fuzak offering. The twin sopranos whirl like dervishes through the outlandish melody of “Rope Dancers”, counteracted by Stef Burns’ searing electric guitar. This particular track will linger in the memory for hours, as will the hip-hop/funk/island groove of “Astoria”. Rietveld even stretches out with some breakneck speed-picked guitar on the latter track. The powerful use of flutes on the disc is especially surprising, since they tend to drag lesser sessions down to New Age-ism quickly.
Benny’s boss Santana guests on “Sea of Stories”, and his brocaded Latin guitar lines are a letter-perfect supplement to this slow, majestic piece. Robin Pfefer’s speed-metal shredding on “Earth’s Revenge” is an odd companion to the horns and accordion, but somehow it works out. Another pleasant surprise is the ethereal take on Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” with delectably languid vocals by Barbara Higbie.
As might be expected from a bassist-led session, comparisons to Jaco Pastorius inevitably arise. Perhaps that's unfair, but it’s certainly appropriate in this case. On a few tracks, notably his solo fretless features “Desert Skies” and “Kahi La’i”, Benny delves a little too deep into the Jaco bag. There’s less a sense of tribute here than just further aping of what Mr. Pastorius brought to town, though the tracks are dazzlingly executed. “Kahi La’i” is assisted by extra effects that pull away from the Jacoisms. Rietveld fares much better on things like “Remember”, where he draws out a more appealingly original sound. He’s too good a performer to stick to the cliches for too long.
Overall, this disc is an admirable first release that illustrates just how much Benny Rietveld has to offer fans of contemporary music. Recommended.
Track Listing: Rope Dancers; The Dreams of Maya; A Night at the Astoria; Sea of Stories; Desert Skies; Earth
Personnel: [Collective:] Rietveld, basses, guitars, programming, vocals; Alex Murzyn, soprano and tenor saxes, flute; Rita Thies, soprano sax, alto flute; Paul van Wageningen, Rodney Holmes, drums; Dan Shea, keyboards; Stef Burns, guitar; Jason Lewis, tabla, shaker, tambourine; Carlos Santana, Robin Pfefer, guitars; Tom Coster, accordion; Barbara Higbie, vocals.