Daniel Bennett: The Bear Truth
DB: Our debut album was We are Not Defeated (Tri-Head, 2004). It was really a crash course in our early folk-jazz concept. At that time, our music had a very raw quality that leaned towards folk rock more than jazz. As time progressed I began composing songs that featured more improvisation and a more balanced fusion of jazz and folk. Keep in mind I had no real reference point for this music. Very few prominent saxophonists have ventured into the American folk realm. Jimmy Giuffre is one of the few saxophonists who dared to explore folk music pretty extensively. Oddly enough, I think Ornette Coleman also has a certain folk twang in his sound.
I developed the bear concept in the winter of 2004. I had ten compositions that were ready for release, and a very active trio that consisted of Chris Hersch on acoustic guitar, John Servo on bass and myself on alto sax and flute. I have a real love for visual art, specifically cartoon animation. I wanted to create a concept where an artist would develop a storyline based on the music. I teamed up with Timothy Banks. Timothy has done work for Cartoon Network and a host of other great companies. I created a world of fictitious bears and let Timothy take the story in his own direction, and the result was A Nation of Bears (Bennett Alliance, 2007).
The album had more success than I had ever imagined. People loved the cartoon album illustrations and they could also really connect with the songs. A year later we released The Legend of Bear Thompson(Bennett Alliance, 2008). By this time I had already decided that this would be a trilogy of albums and the storyline became more elaborate with each album. Peter Lazarski designed the artwork. The album featured a stellar line up, featuring guitarist Brant Grieshaber and Rochester-based drummer, Sean Jefferson.
Between 2006 and 2009, I put the trilogy on hold in order to focus on live shows. The Daniel Bennett Group performed over 150 dates during that time. In the spring of 2009, the group performed a double bill with the Charlie Hunter Trio at the Cambridge YMCA Theatre. A week after the show, someone emailed me live audio that they had bootlegged at the show and to my surprise, the audio quality was great! So I decided to get the audio mixed and mastered, and we released a live album, entitled Live at the Theatre(Bennett Alliance, 2009). I think this album really captures the raw essence of our folk-jazz.
In 2010, I moved to New York City. A few months before the move, I met producer Jessie Gonzalez, who really dug what we were doing and invited us up to 9B Recording Studio in Milford, Massachusetts. A few months passed and I began to settle into life in New York, and I had a brand new NYC-based band. However, I had begun the trilogy in Boston, so it was fitting for me to complete the trilogy there. I drove up to Massachusetts for one weekend and recorded Peace and Stability Among Bears(Bennett Alliance, 2011). The album was our epic conclusion to the trilogy. We put every last bit of heart and soul into this albumsome compositions boarder on avant-garde, while others have a folk feel. You can also hear a strong minimalist current throughout the album. Various critics at media outlets like the Jazz Police and All About Jazz listed the album in their top-ten CD releases of 2011. I am very thankful for that!
The bear concept is meant to be fun and light-hearted, much like our music. The story is about a bear named Bear Thompson. He befriends Andrew the Panda and a host of other characters. The story is open-ended at times, much like our music. It can mean a lot of different things for different people! I still hope to create an animated movie about Bear Thompson, now that the trilogy is complete. Stay tuned!
AAJ: If there is one criticism regarding your recordings thus far, it is the sameness of the discs, if you listen to them as a whole. Do you envision a radical departure in your future writing and performing?
DB: That is a great question. We are already preparing for a brand new album that will be out in the fall of 2012. The disc is going to be a radical departure from our classic folk-jazz sound.
In the past, I have played mostly alto sax and flute on disc. I am constantly expanding my own creative palette by appending new instruments, sounds, and timbres. The trilogy had a unifying sound throughout, which was definitely intentional on my part. But now is the time for new sounds and new ideas!
I am also excited because this will mark the first recording for my New York band. The new CD will feature guitarist Mark Cocheo, bassist Peter Brendler and Tyson Stubelek on drums. Mark Cocheo is one of the most versatile musicians in New York. He can play odd meters with a very gentle, but groovy touch. Cocheo also teaches at New York University.