Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dave Askren & Jeff Benedict's Come Together on CD

A friend of mine recently brought up the idea of a "jazz mood." When I asked him what he meant, he replied something about cool, relaxed and mellow, something to be enjoyed while wearing dark sunglasses. Indoors. At night. He's not really a jazz fan, but I kind of understood what he meant--jazz is supposed to be cool and hip. I don't want to suggest that it's not, but over the last year I've been submerged in the stuff and I think it's not mellow at all. It's dynamic and punchy and exciting at times, but I don't experience many old-school jazz moods these days. Besides, cool and relaxed leads you directly into that palace of sin known as "lite jazz." Let's not be that "cool," okay?

Here's a surprise, however--guitarist Dave Askren and sax player Jeff Benedict, along with organ player Joe Bagg and drummer Paul Romain, have come up with a pure jazz album that is cool, relaxed and mellow in a completely undorky way. Come Together stands out from the crowd, and not because it's doing crazy things that have never been done before. This collection of standards, centered around the epic yet understated Beatles track in the title, exists in its own world where you can put on a pair of sunglasses at night and no one will say a word about it.

Askren is the de facto leader here--he's one of those jazz guitarists who's been around forever and has what they call an "impeccable pedigree." (He's the guy who once recorded a fabulous tribute to Bill Evans--on guitar.) Benedict, despite the nature of his instrument, is the quiet core of the group. His sax performances are solid and understated and keep the quartet firmly grounded--a good idea since there is no bass player per se. That's where Joe Bagg's earthy and gritty Hammond B-3 comes in, supplying the lower foundation while almost single-handedly providing layer after layer of cool. Paul Romain's drumming is also fantastic in that same subtle way. He's not flying all over the place with macrodynamic flamboyance, but creating new depths of rhythm and shine.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the sound quality of Come Together is uniformly excellent, but it has a dash of that live feel as if the audience was present but had their hands tied behind their backs. The immediacy of the performances and the chemistry within the quartet are fleshy and vibrant. But because the music is so calm, so confident, you might not recognize the greatness. It's there, however, sitting in the corner, wearing a pair of Wayfarers.

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