Four ears are better than two, well that seems to be the case with Guitarist Dave Askren and Saxophonist Jeff Benedict. The two have combined their ears as co-leaders for a CD entitled, It’s All About The Groove. The ensemble is rounded out with drummer Ramon Banda and bassist John Belzaguy and the quartet present six standards in a unique fashion and four originals that keep the theme of the entire project; “groove.”
Askren studied with the famed Charlie Banacos and iconic Jerry Bergonzi. After graduation he taught at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and currently teaches at California State University, Los Angeles. Askren is known for his playing abilities in both the jazz and classical idioms. Benedict has won four “DeeBee” awards from DownBeat magazine for Best Instrumental Jazz Soloist, Best Original Composition and Best Classical Chamber Music Group.
It’s All About The Groove has many contrasting tempos and styles, and alternates between originals and standards in a carefully chosen combination. Most of the standards have been given fresh “grooves,” a shuffle feel for “Old Folks” and a med swing with modal colors for “Nature Boy.” The CD artwork is also very enjoyable with a nice painting from Lena Karpinsky.
“Holmes,” a Benedict original, is a 12/8 New Orleans tinged blues that has an interesting cycle for the turnaround. Bassist Belzaguy and Askren keep the bass figure solid over Banda’s drum colors for the intro and first chorus, while Benedict’s warm alto states the melody. The second chorus finds Askren switching to a harmonized version of the melody. Benedict’s solo is musical and floats over the concrete groove with Askren’s voicings playing commentary all the while. Askren takes a chorus of chordal figures to build to a single line statement that flows back to variations of the first chorus chordal figures, giving it a funky vibe. The melody is restated with some new twists and a solid ending.
“Old Folks” has a Kansas City shuffle feel with Askren showing his chordal melody skills. Askren takes the first solo with fiery flurries of single notes, while keeping the melody in mind and the groove at heart. Benedict displays his fluid boppish lines through the changes with clear articulation and a focus on the melody.
Things get funky with Askren’s “McCannism,” starting with Benedict blowing over Banda’s kit colors and driving snare click. Askren’s clean crisp funky chordals soon come in over Belzaguy’s big funky bass lines. The melody is a toe tapping line mostly through a two chord vamp with a release at the end of the phrase. Benedict devours the two chord vamp for his solo statement. Askren and Benedict seem to play off each other in a very joyful manner. The last line of the melody is used for an interlude and then Askren takes us through the chordal and singular line possibilities of the two chords, which leads to a very nice second interlude, where he is joined by Benedict for a pleasant “shout chorus” of call and response, leading us to the new key (up a minor third) and more guitar soloing. Askren again writes another very creative interlude that has the guitar and alto playing tutti to a clear ending statement.
Askren and Benedict have eloquently achieved the intended goal of a “groove” album, which grooves through many styles, once again showing that groove is in the heart. A very enjoyable listen throughout.
Nature Boy 8:37; Holmes 5:15; Old Folks 4:59; Monk’s 5:57; Like Friends 5:50; Speak Low 5:32; McCannism 5:21; You Stepped Out of a Dream 6:07; While We’re Young 6:45; The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful 5:38.
Personnel: Jeff Benedict (alto saxophone); Dave Askren (guitar); Ramon Banda (drums); John Belzaguy (bass)
H. Allen Williams
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