Oran Etkin: What's New? Reimagining Benny Goodman

Dan Bilawsky BY

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Oran Etkin: What's New?  Reimagining Benny Goodman
Those looking to preview some of the most interesting jazz offerings due to arrive in any given year know that New York's Winter Jazzfest is the place to do it. For more than a decade, this annual January happening has had its finger on the pulse of the jazz world, giving the press, the fans, and curious jazz newcomers an opportunity to hear the best of what's around and the best of what's to come.

The 2015 edition of the festival was no different in that respect, and one of the most memorable performances this writer encountered was Oran Etkin's tribute to Benny Goodman. While it lacked the pre-fest buzz factor of some of the other events (i.e. David Murray's shows, Trio 3's meeting with pianist Vijay Iyer, etc.), it wasn't lacking in any other way. Etkin managed to present a set of music that was both respectful to its subject and adventurous in nature. This album—arriving about eight months after that performance and eighty years after Goodman's famous Swing Era-launching concert at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles—does the same.

Etkin tips his cap to the King Of Swing in a variety of ways, covering classics from his repertoire, delivering some originals (re)made in his image or his honor, creating some unique, Goodman-sourced derivatives, and convening a quartet of clarinet, vibraphone, piano, and drums—the same instrumentation Goodman used in his famed color barrier-breaking quartet. The musicians that Etkin works with even speak to the substance of Goodman's quartet mates in certain respects. Pianist Sullivan Fortner often seems to have the whole history of jazz at his fingertips, but he zones in on a classy, Teddy Wilson-esque sound while working behind guest vocalist Charenee Wade on "After You've Gone"; drummer Matt Wilson manages to evoke thoughts of Gene Krupa with his swing flair and zaniness; and Etkin and vibraphonist Steve Nelson capture the spirit of Goodman and vibraphone pioneer Lionel Hampton during the chipper "Running Wild."

Elsewhere, as on "Be Good Lady," where Etkin uses a four note cell from Goodman's introduction to "Lady Be Good" as the launching pad for an outré, klezmer-tinged number, this quartet's work is almost antithetical to the Goodman ethos. But antithetical or not, it's a winning performance. Other album highlights include a rubato, walk-through-the-clouds take on "Where Or When," a cheery trip through "King Porter Stomp," and Etkin's soulful and moving "When Every Voice Shall Sing," written to commemorate Goodman's role in the fight against segregation. If anybody thinks Benny Goodman and/or his music are passé, they need only spend a little time with this album to be proven dead wrong. Etkin does right by Goodman while still managing to maintain his own voice on this thrilling date.

Track Listing

Prelude; Dinah; Why Don't You Do Right; Running Wild; When Every Voice Shall Sing; What's New; Brink; King Porter Stomp; After You've Gone; Be Good Lady; Where Or When; Sing, Sing, Sing.


Oran Etkin; clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Sullivan Fortner: piano; Steve Nelson: vibraphone; Matt Wilson: drums; Charenee Wade: vocals (3, 9).

Album information

Title: What's New? Reimagining Benny Goodman | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Motema Music

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