Composer/woodwind player Daniel Bennett and his group make music that cheerfully disregards genre conventions, especially purist notions of what "jazz" can be. There are generous doses of instrumental rock: previous album Sinking Houseboat Confusion (Manhattan Daylight Media Group, 2016) even made a point of adding surf rock to the mix. Most of their albums have been made by a core quartet (plus occasional guests), with the core group recently cut back to a lean trio formation.
But the aptly titled We Are the Orchestra takes a new approach. While the arrangementsBennett's music was inspired by a recent commission to arrange the musical score for "Whitman at the Whitney" at the Whitney Museum in New York Cityfeature a larger ensemble, all of the parts were performed by the duo of Bennett and guitarist Mark Cocheo (who was featured as a guest on the previous album). The leader plays woodwinds, piano and percussion; Cocheo plays several stringed instruments. The program also includes two arrangements of opera themes by 19th century composer Giuseppe Verdi, a departure from the usual all-originals practice. So we can add Classical music to Bennett's already long list of influences.
The song titles alone would indicate that Bennett's puckish sense of humor is intact. "Loose Fitting Spare Tire" is brighter than might be expected. After a jaunty theme, Cocheo contributes a melodic electric guitar solo, which leads back into the theme (with clarinet obbligato), which in turn leads into an alto saxophone solo. Most of the other tracks do not offer as much space for solosat almost five minutes this is the longest. "I'm Not Nancy" has a different tone color, emphasizing flute and banjo.
The arrangement of the first Verdi composition"Theme From Ernani" treats it like the folk music it has become. So it fits in naturally, as does "Theme from Il Trovatore," which is a folk waltz with the clarinet taking the lead. "Refinancing for Elephants" (you have to love that title) features flute and saxophone doubling the winding theme, with a piccolo countermelody. "Inside Our Pizza Oven" has a Middle Eastern feel, with Bennett's oboe providing a change in timbre. Closer "Carl Finds His Way" gives Cocheo the opportunity to rock out on distorted electric guitar, and to alternate solos with the alto saxophone.
Both players display remarkable versatility. Cocheo proves adept at both guitars and banjo. And as always Bennett plays a variety of woodwinds and makes it look easy. I believe alto saxophone is his main horn, but he sounds equally comfortable on all of his instruments, ranging far more widely than the average doubler. And not too shabby on piano and percussion, either. The listener quickly forgets the overdubbed aspect of the projectthis truly is a Daniel Bennett Group album.
Loose Fitting Spare Tire; I'm Not Nancy; Gold Star Mufflers; Theme From Ernani; Refinancing for Elephants; Inside Our Pizza Oven; Theme from Il Trovatore; Carl Finds His Way.
Daniel Bennett: alto sax, tenor sax, flute, piccolo, clarinet, oboe, piano, percussion; Mark Cocheo: electric guitar, banjo, acoustic guitar, nylon string guitar.
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