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Benny Benack III: A Lot Of Livin' To Do

Dan Bilawsky By

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Benny Benack III does it all. A trumpeter, vocalist, writer and arranger with a swaggering soul and the chops to back up the panache, he's clearly done his fair share of living already. He may be young—only at the tail end of his twenties, believe it or not—but he seriously has his act together in every way, shape and form, as this album proves.

Fronting a tight quartet with Takeshi Ohbayashi on piano, Christian McBride on bass and album producer Ulysses Owens, Jr. on drums, Benack is in his element(s) from beginning to end. He lays on the charm right from the opening title track, where both his vocals and trumpet work encapsulate the concept of joie de vivre. Then cooler weather prevails on a Rhodes-glazed, Brazilian-influenced take on Fred Rogers' eternal "Won't You Be My Neighbor." Come-hither swing comes to the fore with the arrival of guest vocalist Veronica Swift on Gigi Gryce's "Social Call." A rubato welcome leads into a bounding "What The World Needs Now" that's brimming with optimism. And sincerity reigns supreme on a return trip to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood for a mellow "It's You I Like." Sharing Pittsburgh roots with Rogers, who once had Benack's father on his show to give him a trumpet lesson, this young lion does the City of Steel proud by bowing at the iconic television personality's altar of positivity. In less capable hands, material like this has the potential to sink under the weigh of schmaltz. Benack, however, dodges that pitfall, carrying it with class.

As the man of the hour plays on, so too do his band mates. McBride steps forward on a number of occasions—for the Phineas Newborn, Jr.-inspired "New Born Blues" and during some breaks on "Irrepressible," to note two—lending his wit, dexterity and weight to the proceedings; Ohbayashi demonstrates supreme skill and flexibility in numerous settings, comping with purpose, playing saloon-song pianist, coating the music with subtle graces and adding his piano to the mix of soloists; and Owens proves to be a team player and serious stylist behind the kit, knowing just when to play it cool or kick the quartet into high gear. Everything that those musicians contribute to the project is first-rate, but this remains Benack's show, and for good reason. Whether tripping the light fantastic with Alita Moses on "Where Is the Love," soulfully gliding over McBride's sure-fingered lines on a duo ride across Ray Brown's "Gravy Waltz," showcasing his Harmon-muted horn during a subtly moody and capacious "The Shadow of Your Smile," or leading the charge on the swinging "Sub-Zero," Benack is in peak form.

The jack-of-all-trades label typically comes with a caveat connected to a lack of focus on mastery in specifics, but this man, through his multifaceted artistry, rejects that line of thinking. A trumpeter par excellence, dashing vocalist, and sophisticated writer and arranger, Benny Benack III is truly the genuine article.

Track Listing: A Lot Of Livin' To Do' Won't You Be My Neighbor; What The World Needs Now; It's You I Like; New Born Blues; Irrepressible; Where Is The Love; Gravy Waltz; The Shadow Of Your Smile; Later On; Sub-Zero.

Personnel: Benny Benack III: trumpet, vocals; Takeshi Ohbayashi: piano; Christian McBride: bass; Ulysses Owens Jr.: drums.

Title: A Lot Of Livin' To Do | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Self Produced

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