Some artists are so versatile they defy genre labels. Smooth jazz acts, for example, have been known to mix it up with Latin, blues, reggae and even traditional jazz. Then there's David Benoit. While he's done all of the above, that's only part of the picture. In addition to being a classical pianist, he is a composer and conductor. His credits include work with Leonard Bernstein, the National Symphony, the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra and the Dresden Philharmonic. Television and film credits include themes for All My Children and Sisters, and scores for The Stars Fell on Henrietta and The Christmas Tree. Benoit also spent ten years composing music for the "Charlie Brown TV specials, a spinoff of his popular cover of Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy.
In jazz, Benoit is a five-time Grammy nominee who has performed or recorded with Russ Freeman and the Rippingtons, Dave Koz, Patti Austin and David Sanborn, among others. Breakthrough albums like Freedom at Midnight and Every Step of the Way established Benoit as a pioneer of what came to be known as smooth jazz.
Benoit's new release, Full Circle, sets the tone early. With Nathan East on bass, John Robinson on drums, Oscar Castro-Neves on acoustic guitar, and Luis Conte and Alex Acuna on percussion, "Cafe Rio mixes vintage Benoit cool with Brazilian seasoning. Bassist Roberto Vally sets the pace for the elegant "First Day of School, which features an acoustic guitar solo by Paul Brown. It's back to Brazil with "Water to Drink (Agua de Beber). This exceptional interpretation of the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic is aided by light horns supplied by Jerry Hey (trumpet), Dan Higgins (sax and flute) and Bill Reichenbach (trombone).
The music turns funky with "Beat Street. Co-writer Jeff Lorber provides an exceptional drum program along with his play on Fender Rhodes and synthesizers. On "Six P.M., Benoit is joined by long-time associates Rick Braun (trumpet) and Andy Suzuki (saxophone). This straightforward jazz groove features solos by Braun and flutist Tim Weisberg. Robinson's skills on drums and cymbals help make it one of the better pieces on the album. For the smooth jazz fans, there is the laid-back "Chasing the Tides, which features Euge Groove on a soprano sax solo. The remaining tracks are "Neat with a Twist, "Katrina's Little Bear, "Yusuke the Ghost and the high-energy, funk-fueled "Monster in the Attic.
Through it all, Benoit's dexterity on piano stands out. With the exception of Jobim's "Ague de Beber, all tracks are originals penned by Benoitalone or in collaboration with one of his sidemen. Full Circle is titled to represent both, a description of Benoit's musical path, having ventured into straight-ahead jazz, fusion, symphonic, orchestral and R&B, and a reunion with several friends who either worked with him or crossed his path early in his career. Conceptually, it sounds a lot like the music Benoit played two decades ago. But it's all fresh, resulting in his best effort in several years.
Cafe Rio; First Day of School; Water to Drink (Agua de Beber); Beat Street; Six PM; Chasing the
Tides; Neat with a Twist; Katrina
David Benoit: piano, keyboards, Hammond B3; John Robinson, Michael White: drums;
Nathan East, Roberto Vally, Alex Al: bass; Oscar Castro Neves, Paul Brown: acoustic guitar;
Luis Conte, Alec Acuna: percussion; Pat Kelley, Dwight Sills: guitar; Jerry Hey, Ron King,
Rick Braun: trumpet; Dan Higgins: sax, flute; Bill Reichenbach: trombone; Jeff Lorber:
Fender Rhodes, synthesizers, drum programming; Gary Meek, Euge Groove: saxophones;
Brian Bromberg: acoustic bass; Andy Suzuki: tenor sax; Tim Weisburg: flute; Timothy
Landauer: cello (8); Paul Jackson Jr.: electric guitar (10).