The pieces chosen for this album move from Blues to Swing to Jazz standards and originals along the way with lots of great arrangements by Jeff Benedict himself.
The first track is an open invitation from conductor David Caffey entitled “Come On In!” It is a sweet swinging tune suited especially for the big band. The three-note hook starts early and returns early and often. Benedict himself has a fine solo on the alto sax and Charlie Richard is featured on the baritone sax. The concluding portion of the track offers good work to drummer Paul Romaine.
Paul McKee’s “Bitter Jug” is based on Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Matt Harris has an excellent turn on the piano solo and works it beautifully. Composer Paul McKee steals the spotlight for a bit on trombone, as well. This revamped standard is a fun piece of rambunctiousness.
Jeff Benedict has a fine arrangement of Sting’s “Seven Days” for the third track. Dave Askren’s guitar solo is lyrical and is a complimentary set-up for Jeff Ellwood’s tenor sax. Truthfully, the Benedict arrangement is superior to the original. Tim Emmons creates a smooth but strident bass beneath Matt Harris’ piano.
“Holmes” is a Benedict original dedicated to Jeff Benedict’s late father. It is a cool and quirky piece that, according to Benedict, describes his father. Jeff is featured on alto sax as is Charlie Richard on baritone sax, Tom Tallman on trumpet and Paul McKee on trombone.
If this piece is truly reflective of Mr. Benedict, Sr., I wish I had known him.
Another standard, “Easy Living” (Rainger and Robin) is a lovely showcase for Benedict’s alto sax and Paul McKee again on trombone. The tonality is warm and smooth. The Benedict arrangement a fine retake on the original with languid phrasing that truly describes easy living.
Benedict switches to soprano sax in his arrangement of Pat Metheny’s “Jaco.” The bright textures of Metheny’s original lose none of their vividness in Benedict’s treatment. Ken Foerch on tenor sax and Charlie Richard on baritone sax add a breadth to the melodic lines. The honoring of the great bassist is restated respectfully and with fondness. Benedict’s soprano sax carries the piece to conclusion lightly and affectionately.
Benedict and Harris light it up on Benedict’s arrangement of Joe Zawinul’s “Young and Fine.” Often in lock-step, the alto sax and piano also trade off in terms relished by Zawinul during the heady days of Weather Report. The rhythm section gets the Latin groove on the ensemble expands the theme beautifully.
“Caravan” is one of the hottest tunes ever. Ever! Again, Benedict arranges the Tizol/Ellington number exquisitely for his big band. Jeff Ellwood gets to take off on tenor sax and does the piece proud.
The rhythm section gets to shine, especially drummer Paul Romaine, in the second half of the track. This is the stuff big bands were made for.
Michael Brecker’s “Delta City Blues” is given its Blues dues in this Benedict arrangement, who also adds a bit of a funky waltz to keep it as fun as it should be. The call and response of Ellwood’s sax and Jacques Vayemont’s trombone is like going to church. Paul Romaine’s heavy-handed drum solo propels the ensemble to the cool conclusion.
“Castle Creek Shuffle” is a Benedict original and features him on alto sax along with Paul McKee on trombone and Dave Askren on guitar. This is straight up swinging ensemble at its finest.
It is only the second of three tracks to prominently feature Askren on guitar whose contribution is clean and direct. McKee’s trombone is smoking and Benedict shows on alto sax that he is a great performer in addition to his splendid composing and arranging.
“Naima” is, of course, the great John Coltrane piece from “Giant Steps.” Paul McKee arranged this gorgeously for the big band setting. The melody is unmistakable and unforgettable. It may be Coltrane’s most lyrical piece and Benedict’s Big Band does no damage to the beauty of the original. Askren’s guitar work is masterful in carrying the melodic line. This is the way to close an album—with a Coltrane classic.
Not only has Jeff Benedict assembled the right musicians, he has also assembled a great collection of songs, arranged superbly, to fashion an album of exciting and enjoyable artistry. “Holmes,” the song, may be a tribute to Benedict’s father but “Holmes,” the album, is a tribute to Jeff Benedict himself.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl
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