MICHAEL BENEDICT & BOPITUDE
feat. GARY SMULYAN
Five and One (Planet Arts)
by Randy Treece
Bebop, hard bop, and post bop are derivatives of the same creative forces, musical idioms that I adore. And yet it is hard bop that grabs my immediate attention more than the others, primarily because of the underlying elements of blues, rhythm and blues, and nascent funk. It seems that the hard bop tradition is more transformative and less extravagant than bebop and post bop, but I could be challenged on that proposition. And because of that notion, I submit, the hard bop tradition has had a longer shelf life, and thank goodness for that. And thank goodness there are modern purveyors of this marvelous music such as Michael Benedict and Bopitude to carry on the tradition.
Five And One follows the group’s critically acclaimed Bopitude that hoovered on national jazz charts for months. With the many recognitions Bopitude received last year, who could conceivably have nerve to say our local jazz scene is moribund. Benedict and Bopitude have confirmed that the Capital Region is ripe with exceptional musical talents and an enthralling jazz scene, and, we are very graciously the beneficiaries.
Bopitude is a wonderful assemblage of musicianship with the leader Michael Benedict on drums, Bruce Barth on piano, Chris Passin on trumpet, Mike Lawrence on bass, and Brian Patneaude on tenor sax. Benedict is not just a drummer but a percussionist, who is as facile on the vibes as he is on the kit. Bruce Barth, who may be better known in the big apple, is a tremendously gifted pianist, composer, and arranger. Until Bopitude, I was not familiar with trumpeter Chris Passin, but after being featured on both of Bopitude’s albums, his brilliant yet mellifluous tone is now recognizable. Bassist Mike Lawrence has been on the local jazz scene for nearly two decades and he is a richly rhythmic anchor to the music featured on Five And One. And, what more can be said about Brian Patneaude other than he has matured into a prodigious saxophonist with an exceptional style and tone.
Adding tremendous heft to Five And One is the appearance of perennial Downbeat readers and critics polls number one baritone saxophonist, Gary Smulyan. I don’t know about you, but I like my bop served up with a bang, a baritone sax, and the trading of frenetic fours. The baritone adds dynamic dimensions and rousing resonants to any jazz genre, especially hard bop. Smulyan dishes up beefed-up portions of muscular sonorous sounds on this recording.
Five and One is a wellspring of exceptional selections from amazing hard bop musicians/composers, but, interestingly, both Bopitude and Five and One reveal Benedict’s enchantment with the compositions of Hank Mobley, Bobby Watson, and Gary McFarland. Although the overall theme of this recording is hard bop, the bonanza is in its musical variety. This recording is neither a pedestrian retread nor an exactitude to the originals. Instead, these fine musicians play the music as they hear it.
There can’t be a more propitious start of a bop recording than with Sonny Stitt’s "Eternal Triangle." Bopitude’s treatment is reminiscent of Stitt’s, Rollins’s, and Gillespie’s 1957 version, except here there is a broader harmonic depth rendered by Smulyan’s baritone sax. "Eternal Triangle’s" combustible bop lines are set afire by the neck and neck pace played in remarkable unison by the band. Barth, Smulyan, Patneaude, and Passin provide sonic solos while Benedict propels the high octane rhythm, ala Art Blakey. To my considerable delight, the band ended with a rattling trading fours.
The tempo, but not the quality, is decelerated just a tad on Thad Jones’s "Three and One," arranged by Barth and with Smulyan taking the lead in stating the theme. "Three and One" swings heartily and everyone gets a chance to show off their chops. The cut has great harmonics and ends as it started with Smulyan furnishing a signature baritone rejoinder.
Bopitude assumes a more spry stride on Miles Davis’s "Compulsion" than the original 1953 version. The changes are driven hard and Patneaude, Barth and Smulyan operate with providential bop precision.
Bobby Watson has composed some very exciting musical themes and melodies - "Appointment in Milano", "Blues of Hope", and "Old Times Ways", to name a few. Here Bopitude serves up one of Watson’s best," As Quiet As It is Kept," a lush and intoxicating melody. Passin’s decision to play with a mute was a wellborn idea and Patneaude’s reverence to the euphonious theme is well received. This may well be my favorite cut on this recording.
No band could go astray by playing Ken Dorham’s "An Oscar For Oscar" and Nat Adderley’s "Work Song", especially with the respectful arrangement of the latter furnished by Barth. The band performs admirably on each cut.
As I mentioned earlier, not all of the music is hard bop. Variety comes in the form of two ballads and a samba. Passin takes the lead on J.J. Johnson’s "Enigma" with his warm, muted trumpet playing. Smulyan and Barth touch our hearts with gorgeous solos and interchanges on Gary McFarland’s "Last Rites For The Promised Land". McFarland’s "Train Samba" is painted with wondrous and chromatic South American splashes.
The price of admission is the group’s savory rendition of Hank Mobley’s hard bop anthem, "Ifra-Rae." This is one of Mobley’s most accomplished and recognizable tunes, a quintessential bop tune that pops and rocks as played to perfection by Bopitude. Lawrence’s bass line delivers the swing, while Smulyan is a tour-de-force furnishing the sizzle. Until this cut, with the exception of "Eternal Triangle," Benedict’s playing is complementary and understated; you would not have known that he is the session leader. But, on "Ifra-Rae", he takes his turns trading several fours with Smulyan; Overall, a rather tantalizing interpretation of a spectacular song.
Once Again, Bopitude has delivered the goods in abundance. They have “simply [gone] back to go forward.” (Benedict). And, thankfully, the tradition lives albeit with new apparel.
Randy Treece is an avid and ubiquitous fan of jazz music, especially on the local scene. For many years he has contributed jazz artist reviews for "A Place For Jazz" and has written album reviews on request by jazz artists. Randy resides in Albany