David Benoit and Russ Freeman: The Benoit/Freeman Project 2 (2004)
Anybody familiar with these artists likely knows what they’re getting by purchasing this album: soothing comfort food with no pretense at gourmet trappings.
Pianist David Benoit and guitarist Russ Freeman have both notched artistic achievements in the smooth jazz realm during their lengthy careers, but the mentality here seems to be playing it safe above all else. It’s one of those albums perfect for hosting dinner parties and romantic encounters where the goal is to keep the music from intruding on the evening’s activity. But anybody planning to actually listen to this, including those hoping to catch a taste of Freeman’s work with the Rippingtons or Benoit’s occasionally thoughtful fusion composing, is in for a disappointment.
The opening “Palmetto Park” is all one needs to know about this collection. A vanilla melody with no memorable hook gives way to Benoit and Freeman exchanging brief and equally bland solos—the main message seems to be “Hey! We’re two popular artists! We’re interacting!”—and the tune ends in a nice radio-friendly four minutes (4:01, to be exact). It’s a formula that repeats for the other nine songs, with the so-called interaction perhaps the most maddening aspect, since both artists can provide at least crowd-pleasing riffs when given enough measures to do so.
There’s a vague Latin theme throughout much of the album, and other commercially successful artists like Chris Botti (trumpet) and Vince Gill (vocals) contribute cameos here and there. The 23-member Nashville String Machine backs many arrangements and fulfills its role of providing texture in competent fashion, never getting overly syrupy or threatening to outshine the solo players.
The duo at times briefly threatens to rouse listeners, offering at least decent hooks on songs like “Club Havana” and “Moon Through The Window,” but it never lasts beyond any single song.
The album is almost too easy to bash from an artistic standpoint, so perhaps the real test is whether it fulfills its mission to its target audience and Freeman’s Peak Records label. By that measure, it probably is a modest success. As noted, those who buy smooth jazz for background listening will find this a safe purchase. And Peak Records can take comfort knowing they will sell plenty of albums to fans of both artists, even if they don’t win over too many new ones.
Track Listing: 1) Palmetto Park; 2) Via Nueve; 3) Montecito; 4) Club Havana; 5) Two Survivors; 6) Samba; 7) Moon Through The Window; 8) Struttin
Personnel: Russ Freeman, guitars, synth and guitar synth; David Benoit, piano, Fender Rhodes and Yamaha Motif 8; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Luis Conte, percussion, Dave Carpenter, bass (2); Byron House, bass (6); Peter Erskine, drums (2, 5); Vince Gill, vocals (5); Chris Botti, trumpet (4, 8); David Pack, vocals (3); The Nashville String Machine (2, 5, 7, 10). Members of the ensemble include Carl Gorodetsky, Pam Sixfin, Lee Larrison, Conni Ellisor, Alan Umstead, David Davidson, Mary K. Vanosdale, David Angell, Cathy Umstead, Cate Myer, Janet Askey and Gerald Greer (all on violin); Kris Wilkinson, Gary Vanosdale and Jim Grosjean (viola); Bob Mason, Carole Rabinowitz and Anthony LaMarchina (cello); Craig Nelson and Jack Jezioro (bass); Ann Richards (flute); Bobby Taylor (oboe); and Jennifer Kummer (french horn).