Daniel Bennett Group: The Legend Of Bear Thompson
The Legend Of Bear Thompson
Acoustic guitar and alto saxophone form a key part of Boston saxophonist Daniel Bennett's musical recipe, and the combination informs the pleasingly melodic The Legend Of Bear Thompson.
The lineup is Bennett on alto saxophone and flute, Brant Grieshaber on acoustic guitar and Sean Jefferson drums. The sound is light on percussion, and indeed Bennett did not have a drummer between 2004 and 2006. As he observes, the group's music spans jazz, folk and the minimalism of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. (The trio has since become a quartet, with bassist Jason Davis and percussionist Rick Landwehr, and can be heard in concert on Live At The Theatre, Bennett Alliance, 2008).
Bennett has his own record label and production company, and also founded the Bennett Alliance Music Fest, a folk and jazz festival held annually in Rochester, NY. He has received encouragement in his direction from, amongst others, the legendary drummer Rakalam Bob Moses. In 2008, Bennett performed in double bill performances with guitarist Bill Frisell and the indie rock group, Zyrah's Orange.
Bennett describes The Legend Of Bear Thompson as the second album in a trilogy of "musical fables," with the third planned for 2010. The first was called A Nation Of Bears (Bennett Alliance, 2007), and the track titles and cover art so far in the trilogy show a shared theme connected with bears. Indeed, the second CD's sleeve features a cartoon adventure involving the character Bear Thompson.
The album is a well-arranged collection of upbeat explorations. "Lunta," which opens, has a very engaging melody, while the Brazilian angle to the guitar on "The Hills Of Beijing" brings to mind the sound of saxophonist Stan Getz and acoustic guitarist Charlie Byrd's Jazz Samba (Verve, 1962). Byrd studied with classical maestro Andres Segovia and guitarist Grieshaber has a clear classical leaning himself.
Another side of Bennett is his energetic and fluid flute playing, given dramatic effect on "Geronimo," a fast and constant Glass-like rush that leads into what sounds a bit like a Spanish influenced take on Jethro Tull. It's easy to see why the band plays so many coffee house gigs around the US as well as the more usual jazz venues: they can fit in anywhere.
Light-and-airy is an over-used expression but it accurately describes DBG's sound. There is a deeper aspect to its music though: the sense of a message being transmitted. Bennett's style has been described as folk-jazz and folk has a long tradition of dealing with vital issues; sometimes his themes function as reminders to take note of nature. "Bear Cub" sounds like a musical portrait of a nature scene. The bear seems to escape at the end, in the face of a metallic cymbal-like attack. (Could this track herald a new genreecological jazz?).
Drums join the sax and guitar on "Andrew." The enigmatically named "Paint The Fence" is for solo guitar and ascends from the engaging repeated riff-like theme into classical figures. Then a series of harmonics carry the music to its end. It is always good to hear harmonics on an acoustic guitar. "Adobe" is an intense track (alto sax, guitar and drums) that recalls a mix of Stan Getz's bossa nova era and his work with keyboard player Chick Corea. It's marked by a solo break passage by Bennett that echoes the "computer-Glass" effect in "Geronimo." The latter sound is something of a Bennett trademark and it introduces the title track, which closes the album. This begins with a hypnotic, Glass-like figure that evolves into new tonal areas over a drone effect. Some people don't need a computer to play this tumbling music: Bennett does it the "real" way.
Given his varied influences and the structure of his ensemble, Bennett could move in any number of interesting directions in the future. The Legend Of Bear Thompson is an excellent example of mixing acoustic musical influences and colors.
Tracks: Lunta; The Hills Of Beijing; Geronimo; Bear Cub; Andrew; Paint The Fence; Adobe; The Legend Of Bear Thompson.
Personnel: Daniel Bennett: alto saxophone, flute; Brant Grieshaber: acoustic guitar; Sean Jefferson: drums.