Friends for many years, David Benoit and Russ Freeman have toured together and appeared on each other's albums. Now, they've reunited for their second collaboration as dual frontmen, Benoit/Freeman Project 2. Accompanied by a stellar cast of sidemen and The Nashville String Machine, the duo deliver a sound that is at once distinctive of their respective sounds, yet different from what fans might expect from either on his own.
Benoit, a pianist who is just as comfortable playing classical music with a symphony as he is playing jazz with a small combo, is perhaps best known for his cover of "Linus and Lucy," Vince Guaraldi's famous Peanuts theme, and such originals as "Kei's Song" and "Every Step of the Way." Freeman has a couple of solo projects to his credit, as well as being founder and leader of The Rippingtons, who've scored many hits with such albums as Curves Ahead , Live in L.A. and Let It Ripp.
On their new album, Benoit and Freeman never seem to miss a beat. Whether playing something up-tempo like the opener, "Palmetto Park," or the mellow "Via Nueve," they sparkle throughout this outing.
Lest anyone suspect these two emissaries of smooth jazz are going to deliver some formulaic, radio-friendly tranquilizers, they don't. While it would be nice to believe radio is mature enough to give this music decent airplay, these songs are anything but sleepers. That's especially true of the Latin-flavored "Club Havana," arguably the best song on the album. Arguably because "Palmetto Park," "Samba," and "Struttin'" are equally deserving. Still, with Luis Conte on percussion, Chris Botti on trumpet, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, "Club Havana" is as festive as it is straightforwardin subtle ways reminiscent of Benoit's "Sao Paulo" and Freeman's "Avenida Del Mar."
Country music star Vince Gill, who has recorded with other jazz acts such as guitarist Larry Carlton, lends his voice to the charming "Two Survivors." Botti rejoins the ensemble for the groove-based "Struttin'," which features some funky guitar licks by Freeman and Botti's own straightforward trumpet solo.
All but one track were penned by Benoit and Freeman, with the duo combining on several, proving their composition is as excellent as their playing. The Benoit/Freeman Project 2 covers a lot of territory in a short time. But then, this is no surprise, as Benoit and Freeman, together or separate, are masters of delivering a lot of good music in a short period of time.
Palmetto Park, Via Nueve, Montecito, Club Havana, Two Survivors, Samba, Moon Through the Window, Struttin', Stiletto Heels, Waiting for the Stars to Fall
David Benoit, piano, Fender Rhodes, Yamaha Motif 8; Russ Freeman, acoustic, classical and electric guitars, synth and guitar synth; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Luis Conte, percussion; Dave Carpenter, bass on "Via Nueve"; Byron House, bass on "Samba"; Peter Erskine, drums on "Via Nueve" and "Two Survivors"; Vince Gill, vocals on "Two Survivors"; Chris Botti, trumpet on "Club Havana" and "Struttin'"; David Pack, vocals on "Montecito"; The Nashville String Machine on "Via Nueve," "Two Survivors," "Moon Through the Window" and "Waiting for the Stars to Fall"