David Benoit at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz – Music Connection Magazine

After 40 years as a pioneer of contemporary jazz, the great pianist David Benoit remains determined to evolve and innovate sonically and rhythmically – bringing the kind of new stylistic surprises that make his latest album A Midnight Rendezvous a multifaceted delight. facets. Beyond its signature batch of high-octane lyrical and melodic gems featuring longtime associates like Jeff Lorber, Pat Kelley and John Robinson – and engaging reimaginings of hits by Maren Morris and her old pal Dave Koz – the most dynamic aspect of the new collection is that this is Benoit’s first recording with a big band. For all the bubbly fun and engaging melody and groove that precede them, the three tracks featuring his bold brass arrangements – powerful reworkings of his classic “Waiting for Spring” and cooking classics “Cabin Fever” and the charming , whimsical-filled new track “Generations”-forms the emotional centerpiece of the collection.

With the show billed as David Benoit with the Midnight Rendezvous Big Band, anticipation was high for the CD release party at Vibrato – which also marked the pianist’s first-ever performance at the iconic Los Angeles venue. But even before the full nine-horn section was seated and ready to roar, Benoit reminded us how he’s remained so creative and relevant decades after his inimitable, soulful and adventurous vibe set the standard for sound. which evolved into “soft jazz”. ”

It was always about playing to the energy of his incredible ensembles – and this performance was meant to showcase the new dynamic of his explosive new relationship with veteran bassist Roberto Vally (a legendary sideman of the genre whose intricacies and groove intensity take everything on A Midnight Rendezvous to the next level) and saxophonist Justin Klunk, who has toured with, among others, pop superstar Ariana Grande. Vally was stellar throughout, his mesmerizing rhythms coming through powerfully and intuitively with drummer Dan Schnell on repertoire that took us through decades of Benoit’s career, starting in the present (featuring light funk jam “Pioneer Town”) and time traveling delightfully for the ever-magical pop-jazz classics “Kei’s Song” and “Freedom at Midnight” and “Letter To Evan,” an easy swing from the early 90s. During the first half of the show, the soprano Klunk’s astuteness on the Benoit/Vally composed “Long Journey Home” and thoughtful “@Home” and his alto dazzle on “Vernazza” were tonally on par with the seemingly thousands of great performances Eric Marienthal did with Benoit over the years.

Moving on to the dual role of pianist/bandleader of the Midnight Rendezvous Band, Benoit delivered on the big promise of the evening in unexpected ways, setting the stage for the catchy album numbers “Generations”, “Waiting for Spring” and ” Cabin Fever”. with sizzling, imaginative arrangements of two exuberant tracks from his 2006 Full Circle album, “Beat Street” and the fast-paced samba “Café Rio,” which featured free-wheeling dialogue between the lead piano vamp and fiery horns. The most impactful surprise of the set was the big wow, the constant and intriguing change of tempo and the loud rotation of “Mercy Mercy Mercy”, the arrangement of which was based on a painting by Phil Wilson for the Buddy Rich Big Band. Before moving on to “Generations” – whose flowing melody rides a similar swirl of tempos – Benoit mentioned the inspiration behind the song. It was from a show he once did with his bandmates. pianists Dave Brubeck and Taylor Eigsti Put together by entrepreneur Darryl Tanakawa, Benoit’s brass ensemble included Klunk and featured stunning saxophone solos by Brian Scanlon and Mike Nelson.

Now that Benoit has his proverbial toes in big band waters, perhaps we can imagine future albums with more than three tracks – and perhaps, a little later, a full album with big ensemble arrangements. brass instruments of his greatest hits.

Ada J. Kenney