It is not the first album by Daniel Bennett Group and beg the Universe it won’t be the last. Their first album dates back to A Nation of Bears in 2004 and Sinking Houseboat Confusion marks their seventh.
The group is made up of Daniel Bennett on alto saxophone, flute, clarinet and piano; Nat Janoff on electric guitar; Matthew Feick on drums along with some special guests like Eddy Khaimovich on electric bass.
All of the compositions were written by Daniel Bennett and they are—each and every one—amazing.
The album is introduced by John Lizard Comes Home. The opening measures catch you. The strong melodic hook along with the beach backbeat is outrageous fun. Bennett plays the alto sax and Nat Janoff rocks the Dick Dale-esque guitar.
Now, it is indeed great fun but you are also hearing some of the most intelligent and creative stuff you can imagine. So, keep the grin on your face as you listen but also keep your ears and (more importantly) your mind open.
Andrew Variations is a sweet number with Bennett alternating between (and overdubbing) alto sax and flute. The cool bass and drums groove pave the way for exquisite alto sax and flute. Eddy Khaimovich knocks down the heavy bass lines and Janoff works a cool rhythm guitar which morphs into an effects-laden lead. Meantime, Matthew Feick carries out a cool bamboo-sounding percussion. Sweet stuff.
Bobby Brick Sent Me sounds like the messenger came from a bad basketball player or some mobster. Probably the latter. The drums are a bit menacing and the alto sax sounds like a talkative wiseguy. This was thoroughly enjoyable.
Sinking Houseboat Confusion is a grabber from the start. The chord changes were excellent and unexpected. The alto sax and flute were again in complementary duet. Janoff’s strumming was rockfish and Khaimovich and Fieck rolled a smoking groove. This one could have gone on for 30 minutes and I would have been happy.
This was followed by Paint the Fence with its Eastern guitar licks inaugurating the piece. The flute and rhythm section join in together. Go ahead and admit that you hear the Moody Blues here and then forget you ever thought it. The lines are jazzier, the guitar more esoteric, and the bass is more Jaco Pastorius than John Lodge. Bennett’s flute intonations are gorgeous. What a sweet song.
Doctor Duck Builds a Patio has Bennett back on the alto sax. Good God, this guy can create an image and an emotion with the very best. The ripping guitar of Janoff is a great add and Khaimovich’s bass is extraordinary. All the while, Bennett keeps your attention rapt in his incredible explorations on the alto. Feick works in some cool fills and rolls, as well.
We are OK! sounds like the signal from a distressed spacecraft. The Bennett alto sax and piano sound adrift while bass and drums reveal the propulsion coming and going. A hard-driving piece, the Janoff guitar strives to find direction amidst the confusion. A blistering foray into expressions of misdirection this.
Little Disappointments in Modern Life is an original poem by Michele Herman who narrates the poem to Bennett’s alto saxophone accompaniment. Bennett’s alto sax opens the piece and does so beautifully. The delivery is versatile and continues into the narration. The poem is about a woman’s disappointments with a man who didn’t press or pound or impress her, with this or that key, only to discover… You find out. The track closes with a detailed and entrancing run of the alto.
The penultimate track is Animals Discussing Life Changes. Bennett picks up the clarinet for the first and only time on this number. Playing tightly with the whole group, the guitar scratches, pulsating bass and straight-up drums, the clarinet is a warm expression of the melody. It is cheerful and lively with the discussion passed between clarinet and guitar. Fantastically frivolous.
Sinking Houseboat Confusion – Acoustic Reprise is gorgeously rendered by Bennett’s alto saxophone and special guest Mark Cocheo on acoustic guitar. It is lovely, enchanting, captivating. It serves as a rich close to an album full of riches. It is emotional and delightful. That same melodic hook reappears and brings back the same smile.
Sinking Houseboat Confusion is too creative, too fun, too innovative to ignore. With their razor-sharp and laser-focused artistry and intelligence, Daniel Bennett Group has crafted a light-handed and heavy-minded narrative that speaks to each of us precisely in the place we reside. In mischievousness or madness, joyfulness or jadedness, loss or love, Daniel Bennett Group finds you…and whispers wisdom to you.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl