After a year of extensive touring to support last years' The Mystery at Clown Castle (Manhattan Daylight Media, 2015) the Daniel Bennett Group returns with a fresh eclectic musical blend they describe as Surf Rock + Avant-Pop + Modern Jazz. All that touring seems to have inspired a stripped-down approach, both stylistically and in the instrumentation. This is music for the road, built for speed.
As on the previous album, Bennett is joined by Nat Janoff on electric guitar and Matthew Feick on drums. Returning electric bassist Eddy Khaimovich (he left his acoustic bass at home this time) is credited as a "Special Guest"making the core group a trioand Bennett limits his collection of winds primarily to alto saxophone, plus flute (and clarinet on only one track). The surf rock beat only makes itself heard on the title tune and opener "John Lizard Comes Home," but the avant-pop sound is very much in evidence, especially in the frequent use of electronic treatments on the instruments.
"Andrew Variations" features a bass solo with an envelope follower (or auto wah), along with saxophone and overdubbed flute in dialog. Bennett overdubs saxophone/flute counterpoint on "Sinking Houseboat Confusion" as wellnot the expected thing to hear over a surf rock beat. "Bobby Brick Sent Me" is mainly a duet between the drums and alto sax with delay, but an uncredited Bennett ukulele overdub provides an ostinato figure that thickens up the texture. Janoff provides an atmospheric introduction to "Paint the Fence" with whammy bar and delay. Khaimovich also plays another solo: he may only be a guest on this album, but he makes a substantial contribution to the group sound.
"Doctor Duck Builds a Patio" changes things up by being in seven, which Janoff solos over quickly and fluidly. "We Are OK!" seems to be an ironic title, given the ominous sound of the track. Bennett sets the scene with overdubbed piano and alto saxJanoff jumps in with a psychedelic guitar solo, joined by sax with delay. Bennett's alto receives its heaviest processing (providing a full background all by itself) on "Little Disappointments of Modern Life," this album's charming bit of spoken word, courtesy of poet Michele Herman. The closing track "Sinking Houseboat ConfusionAcoustic Reprise" is a bit confusing in the beginning, since it seems to be neither acoustic nor a reprise! Guest guitarist Mark Cocheo and Bennett are both playing acoustic instruments, but the music is atmospheric, heavily electronically processed, and played freelyuntil a little over five minutes in, when the promised reprise finally happens. A surprising and effective ending to a short but varied program.
While there is some jazz flavor, the Daniel Bennett Group is mainly about single-handedly reviving the nearly forgotten genre of instrumental pop. They do it with style, and a joyous energy that is truly infectious.
John Lizard Comes Home; Andrew Variations; Bobby Brick Sent Me; Sinking
Houseboat Confusion; Paint the Fence; Doctor Duck Builds a Patio; We Are OK!;
Little Disappointments of Modern Life; Animals Discussing Life Changes; Sinking
Houseboat Confusion - Acoustic Reprise.
Daniel Bennett: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet, piano; Eddy Khaimovich: electric
bass; Matthew Feick: drums; Nat Janoff: guitar; Michele Herman: spoken word
(track 8); Mark Cocheo: guitar (track 10).
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