Pianist David Benoit likes to think of himself as a traditional jazz artist who also has a thing for classical music, conducting the music of Copland, Stravinsky and Mozart on the side as music director of the Southern California-based Asia America Symphony. So it’s no surprise that his most recent works have been a classical CD called Orchestral Stories and a reimagining of Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts music with 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas.
But Benoit is just too darn good with the pop-inflected songs that have made him a favorite among smooth-jazz fans and a mainstay on the summer-touring circuit. On Full Circle, Benoit returns to his bread-and-butter, creating 10 songs so effortlessly engaging it’s no surprise the bean counters pull him back to his pop-jazz songs every few years.
This CD’s title refers to Benoit’s collaboration, on six songs, with Jeffrey Weber, who produced some of the pianist's most popular discs in the 1980s. Even more, the title reflects Benoit’s return to the acoustic-based, jazzy and easy-swinging music that lay dormant in recent years. While Benoit recruits smooth jazz studio rat Jeff Lorber to punch up tunes such as “Beat Street” and “Chasing the Tides,” the best tunes are the most organic, such as the tropical “Café Rio,” “Six P.M.” and a cover of Jobim’s “Water to Drink.” “First Day of School,” which combines the best of Benoit’s smooth jazz and orchestral influences with cascading piano runs and sharp, symphonic melodies, is also a keeper.