Michel Benebig – ‘Noumea to New York’ tour

Michel 2015 (11)Michel Benebig visits New Zealand once a year and we anticipate his visits with Joy. His authentic B3 groove journey didn’t start in East Philly, but in tropical Noumea; a South Pacific Island north of here. After honing his craft he travelled widely and in consequence his star steadily rises. The more North American audiences hear him, the more they embrace him. He is now regarded as a B3 master. The B3 greats who inspired him are all but departed and he deservedly steps into their shoes. His travels in the USA have brought him into frequent contact with a number of well-known musicians. As good musicianship and a pleasant disposition are the highest recommendations possible, the musicians he worked with recommended him to others. That is how he teamed up with Carl Lockett.

I was in San Francisco in 2012 and as I had been tracking Benebig’s latest tour, I saw that he was gigging in the Bay Area. I said to my son, “Kid you need of piece of this, it will gladden your heart”. It did and I will always remember the smile on his face as the sound of the B3 floated up the stairs from the Academy Francaise auditorium. That was the first time I saw Benebig and Lockett together. I was over-whelmed by the warmth and groove they created. Around that time Michele recorded ‘Yellow Purple’ in California with Carl Lockett on guitar, James Levi on drums and his partner Fabienne Shem Benebig on vocals. Released in 2013 and the album brought him many new fans. Michel 2015 (3)The new album ‘Noumea to New York’ is his finest to date (and true to label, recorded in New York). Again Lockett features on guitar, Lewis Nash lays down the drum grooves and special guest Houston Person appears on tenor saxophone. What a marvellous line up this is and what an album they turned out. This album alone will secure Benebig a place in the pantheon. It has modern B3 classic written all over it.  All compositions are by Benebig, with one tune co-credited with his partner Shem. There are so many treasures on this album that it is hard to single out one particular tune, but if pressed I would say ‘Noumea To New York’. A medium paced groove track with enough warmth to melt the ice in your drink. The flawless interplay between Benebig, Nash and Lockett is in strong evidence here. With Nash creating a solid cushion of groove, it is no wonder that Benebig and Locket sound so marvellous. Michel 2015 (4)The tour down under was minus Nash and Person; Locals filled those gaps. In Auckland we had Roger Manins on tenor and Ron Samsom on drums. This was also a perfect fit, as both had accompanied Benebig previously. The set list in Auckland was partly material from the album and partly marvellously quirky tunes from classic TV shows. How often do you hear the theme from ‘The Pink Panther’ or the theme from ‘The Naked City’ played by a groove unit? More common in Jazz circles is the Johnny Mandel standard ‘Suicide is Painless’ from Mash. When people think of that last number they think Evans and seldom the B3. To show what skilled groove merchants can do with such material I have uploaded a clip. Michel 2015 (6) While Benebig is very much in command here his groove collaborators preached just as hard from their respective pulpits. Lockett in particular was astonishing. Gasps of delight erupted as he utilised his finger picking blues-guitar credentials. Moving seamlessly from lightning quick double-time to a steamy groove; often leaning slightly back on the beat. His comping was equally delightful as he does what Pat Martino does. There is either a slight vibrato or he pulls gently down on the strings with each comping-chord; creating simultaneously a warm but slightly mournful effect. Whether on fast single-note runs or octave chords, its hard not to think of Wes Montgomery. His extensive use of thumb and fingers and his fluidity evokes that comparison. Michel 2015 (7)Manins was clearly in his element here. Happy among friends and happy to find himself back in the groove space. The same went for Samsom. Both are highly regarded straight ahead Jazz musicians but both have released great groove albums in the previous year. Their joyous abandon added to the quantum of happiness; every note making us smile.

In the end it was the leader Michel Benebig who stole the show. He set the tone with his groove-worthy compositions and his utterly authoritative old-school B3 style. He is a monster of the organ and a real showman. What also impressed was his ability to manage the Hammond SK2; reputedly a little tricky if you play the real beast. If the lack of pedals and the different touch troubled him, it certainly didn’t show. A B3 master can tame any beast and do it convincingly. It sounded perfect from where we sat.

Michel Benebig Quartet Album: Michel Benebig (B3), Carl Lockett (guitar), Lewis Nash (drums), guest – Houston Person (tenor saxophone). (New Zealand tour – Roger Manins replaces Houston Person – Ron Samsom replaces Lewis Nash)

Michel Benebig B3 Master: Review of ‘Black Cap’ Album

This album confirms what those on the Pacific rim have long known and what is just dawning on the wider Jazz world.   We have a fully fledged B3 master in our midst and the time for proper acknowledgement is due.   ‘Black Cap’ should gain Michel Benebig the wider recognition that he deserves.

Michel has always been an artist with astonishing chops but like all great musicians he also has good judgement.  He knows when to lay out, when to comp gently and when to lay down a burning foot-thumping groove.  If you listen carefully you will hear how totally in the pocket this man is.  He sounds as if he could swing with one hand tied behind his back.  This is about timing, an innate sense of swing, a relentlessly propulsive groove but above all taste.    This is a sound that many aim for but few can master.

I will also mention his pedal work, which lays down such solid walking-bass lines that you shake your head in disbelief.  It made me pick up the album cover to see if I had missed a bass player .  This album has come to the attention of organ trio/quartet specialists and their praise for it has been strong.  The various comments have invariably drawn attention to the astonishing pedal work.

The numbers on ‘Black Cap’ are all Michel’s compositions and the track list is carefully balanced.   This is great groove music and that would be enough, but the album possesses an extra something – a presiding spirit that holds you until the last note.  I was already familiar with his ‘Brother Jack’; a tribute to Brother Jack McDuff.  On the album this is fast paced and crackling with energy.  In perfect contrast is the slow burner on track 6 – titled ‘Black Groove’.

These days Michel spends a lot of time away from his native New Caledonia, gigging up and down the western seaboard of the USA.  The other musicians on the album are all from the west coast and the line up is very impressive.

These guys are serious Los Angeles heavyweights and their biographies are simply staggering.  Saxophonist Doug Webb has played and recorded with everyone from Horace Silver to Quincy Jones and has worked on several Clint Eastwood films including ‘Mystic River’ and ‘Million Dollar Baby’.

Frank Potenza on guitar is well-known for his years with pianist Gene Harris.  He has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison (long a favourite of mine), James Moody and more.  He was a protegé of the immortal Joe Pass and no guitarist can carry higher credentials than that.

Lastly there is drummer Paul Kreibich.   He has worked with Carmen McCrae, Red Rodney, Kenny Burrell, The Woody Herman band and dozens of luminaries.  He was Ray Charles drummer for three years and spent considerable time with the Gene Harris quartet.  These are the very musicians to have in your corner if you have something special to say.  Michel does.

I would defy any lover of B3 Groove jazz to fault this album.  In this world of financial turmoil and endless conflict, this is the eternal balm.  Order it from Amazon as a CD or download – do it now.

Also an older review is located onhttps://jon4jaz.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/michel-benebig-soul-on-pacific-soul/

What: ‘Black Cap’

Where: Recorded in Pasadena USA 2012 – distributed by Rhombus Records – iTunes or Amazon

Who: Michel Benebig (leader, B3 organ, composer)

With: with Doug Web (sax) , Frank Potenza (guitar), Paul Kreibich (drums)