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The Daniel Bennett Group's music is seductive. Bennett's jazz/rock tunes are bright, attractive, and relentlessly catchy: but odd meters, minimalism, hard rock guitar, and outside jazz are all lurking just below the surface. He even manages to make spoken word go down just as easily as vocals, no doubt greatly aided by the skills of guest poet Britt Melewski.
The Mystery at Clown Castle (Manhattan Daylight Media, 2015) the group's sixth full-length album, also features guest pianist Jason Yeager, as well as Melewski's spoken word contributions.
"The Clown Chemist" opens the set with a sprightly Middle Eastern-sounding rhythm, with Bennett switching between alto saxophone and piccolo. Jazz horn players who double will usually switch between songs: a tenor saxophonist might play soprano sax on a few tunes, flute on another. But Bennettwho also plays woodwinds in the New York City theaterfrequently moves from one horn to another in the same song. It helps keep the band's arrangements fresh, almost like having several horn players instead of just one.
"Paul Platypus" gives guitarist Nat Janoff a chance to strut his rock chops. Then "Minor Leaguer" introduces the first of poet Britt Melewski's spoken word appearances. It's a remarkable performance, almost more like vocalizing than speaking, and the musical backing is extremely supportive. Bennett contributes an overdubbed wind section reminiscent of a minimalist Steve Reich piece. "Morning," the other spoken word selection, is just as striking.
Guest pianist Jason Yeager makes his first appearance on "Inside the Outside Interlude," which is indeed a bit of outside jazz. The fact that the group can make this work (along with the reprise "Outside the Inside Outro") is a testament to its musical flexibility, as well as its ability to make such disparate music approachable. Yeager also makes a strong contribution to "Uncle Muskrat," this time with a more traditional Gospel flavor, recalling the great Horace Silver or perhaps Keith Jarrett.
It's hard to decide how to describe this music stylistically. It's instrumental, frequently uses rock rhythms, and the tracks are pop song length (several are under three minutes long, with the longest only slightly over four minutes). And then there's the outside jazz, odd meters, and spoken word! But despite the sophistication in the writing, the Daniel Bennett Group always sounds like it's having a good time. Best to just call it "music," I guess.
The Clown Chemist; The Spinning Top Stood Still; Paul Platypus; Minor Leaguer; Nine Piglets; Strange Jim and the Zebra; Morning; Inside the Outside Interlude; Flow; Uncle Muskrat; Outside the Inside Outro.
Daniel Bennett: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo, clarinet, oboe, piano; Nat Janoff: electric guitar; Eddy Khaimovich: electric and acoustic bass; Matthew Feick: drums; Jason Yeager: piano; Britt Melewski: spoken word.