A consummately elegant jazz pianist in the mold of Hank Jones who can also swing as hard as Wynton Kelly, Benny Green was originally introduced to the world via the great Ray Brown. He’s arguably been at his best on record in the all-instrumental trio format, on albums like 1990’s In This Direction, 1999’s These Are Soulful Days, and 2013’s Magic Beans. But Then and Now is a decided left turn, and a joyous one at that.
Incorporating 24-year-old vocalist Veronica Swift, bassist David Wong, and drummer Kenny Washington, among others, Then and Now recalls a jubilant mashup of CTI-era Bob James, the playfulness of Sérgio Mendes, and the kind of hard-bop blowing one expects from a rhythm section of this caliber. The album brims over with happiness and unbridled swing.
Lush electric piano steers the opener, “Donny Hath a Way,” its bubbling groove underpinning a melody stated by flutist Anne Drummond, which lifts a cue from the Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway hit “The Closer I Get to You.” Swift doubles the melody to Dexter Gordon’s “For Regulars Only,” sailing over the trio like a happy sprite. Cedar Walton’s “Latin America” traces an Amazonian path; Hank Jones’ “Split Kick” shows Washington at full force; and Green’s “Humphrey” finds Swift again doubling the pianist’s burning piano melody and rhythms. Then and Now is, at its core, a celebration of life.Originally Published