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I missed the Benny Lackner trio when they came last year and I had subsequently been besieged with the inevitable, “man you missed a great gig”.   This time I made sure that was able to attend.  Benny Lackner is from Berlin, Germany and his touring schedule has taken him round the world a number of times.  His brand of jazz is forward-looking and has a distinctly modern-European feel about it.   I am a fan of European styled Jazz although surprisingly it is often overlooked by American Jazz fans.  This is ironic because American Jazz musicians have always relied heavily on European tours and are hugely supported there.

This trip Benny came without his trio and teamed up with Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom for the Auckland gig.   As the gig approached a problem arose, when the building owners required the downstairs room for a function.   The room with the lovely grand piano in it and the better acoustics.  An urgent call went out for a Fender Rhodes and before long Mark Bains had lent one, along with a nice keyboard.   The upstairs venue has a nice feel to it but the acoustics are more difficult to manage.  Such obstacles are quickly dealt with by experienced musicians who are quite used to playing in a wide variety of settings.

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The sets were mainly centred on Benny’s own compositions, but interestingly he had thrown in some modern pop tunes, mined for their improvisational worth.   There was a Bowie number and a Radiohead number, both of which went down extremely well with the audience.  Gone is that awkwardness that the 50’s Jazz musicians often exhibited when they tackled the popular tunes of the day.   From Miles onwards and through to Brad Muhldau ( a mentor of Benny’s) the game has changed.   American musicians like Bob Frisell and others will routinely interpret modern tunes or rock classics.   In many cases the vocabulary of rock is appropriated.  The Europeans however are the masters of this and artists like Mathius Eik, Esbjorn Svensson and Marcin Wasilewski have blazed a clear trail ahead.  He also tackled Monk’s ‘Bemsha Swing’ which I have posted.  EST played this often and this version takes the tune even further out.

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Benny Lackner approaches his material obliquely and to my ear there is no hint of the Evans legacy in his voicings.  He often plays big percussive chords, but he can also show real sensitivity as he negotiates the well constructed tunes.  The Radiohead number worked particularly well on the dominant sounding Rhodes, with the slightly softer voicings emanating from the smaller keyboard.  You get the feeling watching Benny at the keyboard that he views each performance as an open-ended adventure.  I am only sorry that we never got to hear him on the clubs grand piano.

He told us that he was very pleased with his new band mates and why wouldn’t he be.   Ron Samsom is such a fine drummer that you expect a top-level performance from him.   Ron has a world of experience behind him and so many local and visiting overseas acts benefit from his multi faceted traps work.  I have never seen him falter in any setting and the diverse styles required of him only appear to urge him on to greater heights.

As has been the case so often in recent months, Cameron McArthur filled the bass slot and all of the experience he is gaining is now paying dividends.  This guy is a crowd pleaser, with the chops and ears to provide the goods.   We also heard some very nice solos from him.

This has been a big tour for Benny.  From Berlin his hectic schedule took him through South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.  Although he was born in Berlin he also lived in the USA for many years.  The many influences absorbed along the way have moulded him into an original and interesting pianist.

Who: Benny Lackner (leader, keys, compositions), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 building, basement, Britomart, Auckland 9th October 2013

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