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)

Dizzy on the French Riviera

Dizzy Gillespie 1955

Image via Wikipedia

John Birks (Dizzy) Gillespie was a preeminent  force in the development of modern Jazz but his persona and the ‘Dizzy’ legend extended well beyond the notes he played.     For a number of reasons Dizzy was bigger than the music he lived for and this was no bad thing because all marginalized art-forms (as BeBop certainly was) needed someone like him.   Dizzy played with great technical facility but more importantly he told a new and interesting story.   He did this in part by making fun of the very underpinnings of the new music – an implied hi-brow intellectualism and a formidable technique.

He gently parodied the hip young Beatniks with their goatee beards and heavy-framed horn-rimmed glasses and became their hero in spite of it. Shops carrying ‘Dizzy Gillespie prescription-less horn-rimmed spectacles’ sold out in New York novelty shops and his bent-up trumpet bell and the accompanying story became part of the folk law of BeBop.

He was also be a relentless trickster and when playing as a sideman he was often in trouble over his antics.    Later on he scripted some of that slap-stick humour into his own bands routine and even though it can look a little dated now, it was part of the ‘Dizzy’ experience.    He wanted to make the music fun and yet profound; he succeeded in the in the best possible way.

Dizzy the man may have had some detractors but I have never heard of them.   Louis Armstrong once complained that BeBop was ‘chinese music’ and ‘Miles’ objected to negro bands clowning around on the band stand as it was allegedly demeaning.  Dizzy was too good-humoured to care about such niceties.    His personality was larger than life and in filmed or recorded interviews a deeply tolerant and a likable man was revealed.    He played with musical genius Charlie Parker for years and his attempts to steer Parker away from his self-destructive path eventually failed.  For much of his life Dizzy was a member of the peace-loving ‘Baha’i’ Faith and later he was a United Nations World Wide Ambassador for Peace.   It is obvious to me that this open-minded tolerance was a well-spring that was sourced deep within him.   Watch him interviewed in ‘A Great Day Out in Harlem’.

In the Forties Dizzy played with the ‘Cab Callaway Band’ and it was while there he came into contact with Cuban and other Latin American musicians.   He soon became the number one champion for Afro-Latin American Music and he is credited with setting the scene for that ever popular genre.  ‘Manteca‘ was a big hit for his bands and it is still played today.

My absolute favourite recording of his is ‘Dizzy on the French Riviera‘ (1962).  It is acknowledged as a work of genius but it scandalously languished  in the vaults for nearly 40 years and was not put out as a CD until a year ago when ‘Verve’ re-issued it (only finding its way to New Zealand in recent months).   Shame on ‘Phillips Records’ and their successors for their laggard behavior .    A number of years ago we got sick of lamenting the lack of access to this joyful disk and so we took a well-worn ‘Mono’ LP version to a friend for de-clicking and digitizing.    Those two back-up copies are now consigned to the bin because the cleaned-up ‘Stereo’ version by Verve is fabulous.   They also corrected the miss-spelling of the name Lalo Schifrin from the mono LP cover.  I know completist  collectors who will now want both versions.    I would urge everyone who loves 60’s Jazz to grab a copy before it vanishes again (‘Amazon’ has them at bargain prices and the US dollar is our friend now).

The Band is:  Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet – vocal), Lalo Schifrin (piano – arranger), Leo Wright (alto saxophone-flute- vocal), Tzigone Elek Bacsik (guitar), Chris White (bass), Ruby Collins (drums),

Dizzy on the Riviera

Pepito Riestria (percussion).     The arranging on this album is masterful and the multi talented and soon to be famous Schifrin was a typical Dizzy Gillespie discovery.    His often bluesy and time displacing chords can subtly and swiftly merge into a ‘clave’ and he is a real power-house in this band.   Leo Wright is fabulous on both Alto and Flute and I dont know enough about his story to know why he was not heard more often.   That he could be impassioned, Dolphy like and romantic on the one disc is impressive.  I will include some information about Elek Bacsik as he is impressive also:

Bacsik was born in Budapest, the son of Arpad Bacsik and Erzsebet Pocsi. He was of Romani ethnicity and studied violin at the Budapest Conservatory, but found his primary musical inspiration in bebop pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. He was also the cousin of Django Reinhardt. In his early years he travelled as a musician to Lebanon, Spain, Portugal and Italy. He worked in Paris in the early 1960s and recorded with some well-known French musicians such as Jeanne MoreauSerge Gainsbourg and Claude Nougaro as well as making solo albums. In 1966, he went to work and live in the United States and played at Las Vegas. Bacsik recorded on guitar on Gillespie’s Dizzy on the French Riviera (1962) and later on violin with Gillespie at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1974. His bebop violin playing is featured on his two albums as a leader, I Love You (1974) and Bird and Dizzy: A Musical Tribute (1975).  – Wikipedia

The entire band is great and I love the happy sounds of children playing in the surf at Juan Les-Pins on the opening and closing tracks.    It is somehow appropriate given Dizzy’s love of humanity.  This is the well-loved Antonio Carlos Jobim song ‘No More Blues’ (Chega de Saudade).    I have also included a later version of the song with James Moody and Kenny Barron replacing Wright and Schifrin.