The Jeff Benedict Big Big Band,
(Tapestry, 2015)

Big band recordings are hard to pull off. Too many of them sound like retreads of the swing era, as if the leaders have listened to way too many Count Basie albums and see their mission as recreating that sound without offering anything of their own to the project. Others run too far and too quickly in the other direction, fighting so hard for originality that they lost the very values that make big band music so fine when it's done right.

The Jeff Benedict Big Big Band doesn't make either of these mistakes. They respect the tradition without being bound by it and value the modern without tossing out the tradition. It's a fine balancing line and they walk it well in a set of originals and jazz classics.

Everything works here. The horns are crisp, tight, well arranged and sharply played, while the rhythm section lays down a solid groove. The solos all find a groove and ride it; they are imaginative and creative while rooted in the chord changes of the tune in question. And in a nice touch, the back cover names the soloists and the order in which they play for each tune. The band works together with the assurance of musicians who have known each other and played together for years, which is the case here.

Another strength to the album is their song choice. While many of the songs are written by Benedict or other members of the band, the outside choices resist the impulse to stick to big band standards. They play Sting's "Seven Days," Pat Metheny's "Jaco," Michael Brecker's "Delta City Blues" and John Coltrane's "Naima" -- none of which are associated with big band music but all of which lend themselves in these hands to the bigger treatment.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

21 November 2015

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