David Benoit: Heroes (2008)
An ongoing trend in music is for veteran artists to do albums comprised of cover songswhether to celebrate a particular musician, era or record label, revisit the music they grew up with or for commercial reasons. Done poorly, the collection can be trite. Pianist/keyboardist David Benoit attempts to avoid that pitfall with Heroes, a mixed bag of favorites heard over his lifetime.
Benoit has compiled an impressive resume of solo albums, as well as collaborations with Russ Freeman and contributions to recordings by the Freeman-led Rippingtons, among others. Benoit is also an exceptional composer and conductor, whose catalogue includes straight jazz, classical, pop, smooth jazz and R&B. Examples of all of those styles are present on Heroes, which is part tribute to popular jazz recordings and part nostalgia.
Dave Grusin's "Mountain Dance" opens the set. Benoit begins by keeping with the mood and melody of the original. He then shifts into a swinging solo, accompanied by bassist David Hughes and drummer Jamey Tate.
One song that's already received lots of attention from fans is "Human Nature," originally recorded by Michael Jackson and expertly covered by Miles Davis. Benoit makes it familiar enough for fans of the Jackson recording, yet gives it that Benoit touch which makes it an excellent stand-alone tune. Hughes and Tate provide strong accompaniment, but it's Benoit's piano that emphasis the beauty of this song.
Elton John's "Your Song," The Doors' "Light My Fire" and the Clifton Davis composition "Never Can Say Goodbye" are pleasant but unremarkable, especially when compared to existing covers of these songs by other artists.
The orchestral side of Benoit comes through with The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home." His regular accompanists sit this one out as Benoit is joined by a string quartetmembers of the Asia American Symphony, which he has conducted. Though the melody is recognizable to fans of Lennon and McCartney, it has the feel of an original song.
Percussionist Brad Dutz adds some emphasis on Horace Silver's "Song for My Father." The arrangement isn't very distinctive from other covers of this classic, but it's hard to argue with Benoit's elegant piano. Things get playful on Oscar Peterson's "You Look Good to Me." Bass, drums and piano deliver a fiery performance on one of the liveliest tracks on the album.
Benoit brings a different arrangement to a song he has previously covered, Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debbie," performs the album's only original song, "A Twisted Little Etude," featuring saxophonist Andy Suzuki, and closes the set with Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk."
Except for the trilogy that begins with "Your Song," Benoit largely succeeds in playing the music that influenced his development without sounding like everybody else. That may not be enough for some listeners, but Heroes is one example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
Track Listing: Mountain Dance; Human Nature; Your Song; Light My Fire; Never Can Say Goodbye; She's Leaving Home; Song for My Father; You Look Good to Me; Waltz for Debbie; A Twisted Little Etude; Blue Rondo a la Turk.
Personnel: David Benoit: piano, synthesizer; David Hughes: acoustic and electric bass; Jamey Tate: drums; Brad Dutz: percussion; Andy Suzuki: alto and tenor sax; Yun Tang: concertmaster, violin (6); Michelle Suh: violin (6); Quing "John" Wang: viola (6); Catherine Chan Biagini: cello (6).