Daniel Bennett Group: Peace & Stability Among Bears
Peace & Stability Among Bears
The New York-based Daniel Bennett Group has released its third "bear album," Peace & Stability Among Bears (Bennett Alliance, 2010). The disc is the last in a trilogy of what the former Bostonian describes as a "trilogy of fables" that follows the progress of a group of fictional bears. The two earlier releases were notable for their bright and mobile music, and a sparky adventure story touch. This album continues the adventure, involving at least in part a quest for the "lost treasure of Lunta," but brings a more urgent feel to the bears' progress. The first albums also featured excellent cartoon artwork by artist Timothy Banks, and Banks contributes this time the CD equivalent of a double gatefold depiction, with his strongly graphic drawings of bears in High Noon Western outfits that may raise curiosity as to what the music is about.
"The Local Sheriff," the first track, begins the answer to that question. The tune ushers in a reggae tinge to the Bennett ensemble's sound, which soon clarifies itself into circular African-flavored interplay between Bennett's alto saxophone and the electric guitar of Chris Hersch. Hersch is a new addition to the band, replacing the acoustic guitar sounds heard on the previous album. Bennett layers an almost Latin solo over the Afro-pop rhythm.
"The Lost Treasure of Lunta" follows, and confirms a sharper edge than has been heard on record before from the group. Again, this must reflect, at least in part, the presence of Hersch in the band. The tune is again African-electric in nature, and features some deft turns off the top of a phrase by Bennett's sax.
"Arizona" begins with big, country music guitar chords, signifying the outdoors. Then Bennett's clarinet (no saxophone here) joins. Drums pick up and then we are traveling through the desert. The rare matching of electric guitar with clarinet is followed by a pure country guitar solo.
If the bears are in Arizona they are clearly disorientated, far from the forested wilds, so, imagining ghostly scenes may not be an unexpected result: the next track is entitled "Ghost," and is well driven by a firm bass (Jason Davis) and swirling electric guitar figures. The sax swirls too, likes leaves in the wind. There is surely further potential for development in music in the mixing of electric guitar effects with saxophone.
"Andrew Variations" follows (those familiar with the previous albums will know that Andrew is a bear). An indie rock vibe develops into African moods, as Bennett's alto presents his characteristic light and talkative sound, and the guitar solos in a sparkling manner, first in single notes then in block chords. Like the other tracks, this music translates very well to live performance. A Police-like, (Sting) feel ends the music.
"Dogs In Our Time" bends up the music a little, as a more modal approach throws a musical curve-ball into the picture. "Farmer Joe Was A Bear" mixes spacious bass notes with electric guitar in an effective solo passage.
"The Village" contrasts strongly with the country wood-scape of "Farmer Joe" by introducing avant-garde sound against the sax. This tense stretch of music indicates that perhaps the bears are uncomfortable in the village. The music begins to sound as if it could be a series of intermezzi in a road-trip opera, instead of an exploration in "folk jazz": Andrew The Bear, The Opera perhaps?
"Open" is next, and is a breathy track that may show the bears' relief at escaping the village. They certainly seem happier traveling. The last track is the upbeat "Bears In A Covered Wagon." This party-like end to the album has a reggae/jazz meets 1960s swinging "beat club" feel. The tune also has a quasi Gypsy mood. Hersch's guitar touches on Keith Richards and ska, as the sax tells its story and the drums of Rick Landwehr patter meaningfully. Davis' bass has the last word as the album leaves the bears with the creatures optimistically on the road to somewhere.
"Bears In A Covered Wagon" may provide a second tier to the band's sound in its new environment of New York. The Daniel Bennett Group will certainly be on the way to somewhere if it keeps up, and develops, this tight and energized sound. Far from just relaxing in peace and stability, on the evidence of the final track the bears are on the loose in the city and looking to party.
Tracks: The Local Sheriff; The Lost Treasure Of Lunta; Arizona; Ghost; Andrew Variations; Dogs Of Our Time; Farmer Joe Was A Bear; The Village; Open; Bears In A Covered Wagon.
Personnel: Daniel Bennett: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Chris Hersch: guitar; Jason Davis: bass; Rick Landwehr: drums.