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)

‘Keester Parade’ – ‘A Smooth One’

Listening to old friends like these is time well spent. The material comes from the swing era but these albums have a more modern feel as they were recorded at a time when bop and post bop music had gained ascendancy. The artists on the albums are a mix of the famous and not so famous, swing and boppers, East and West Coasters. When I run my eyes over the names on the track lists I marvel at the lineup and realise that many of these names are fading from our collective memory. Pepper, Mandel and Torme will never be forgotten but what of Cy Touf? He is a mere footnote in the Jazz lexicon and he only recorded a few times. Not withstanding that his Octet/Quintet album has remained a favourite with Jazz musicians and arrangers and this is probably because of the loose easy-going West Coast style arrangements by Johnny Mandel.

Even ‘Sweets’ Edison is fading from memory and few modern listeners would hunt for his name in a Basie band lineup (I do). Another great band leader and arranger was Marty Paich. His piano playing is probably what is termed arrangers piano but it still sounds fine to me. He has that minimalist touch and his arranging style owes a lot to Basie; sweet verses tart & hard swinging. I collect Marty Paich albums and never tire of his orchestration. He was called the Picasso of Big Band Jazz and his use of tonal colour was achieved to great effect. He allowed wonderful trumpeters like Jack Sheldon to shine and he is closely associated with Art Pepper. Lastly there is the Mel-Tones. Their origins go back to the Chico Marx Orchestra which Mel Torme joined up with in 1943. To modern ears their harmonising can sound old-fashioned, but this group (with Mel at the forefront) were big names in their day.

The albums date from 1955 and 1959 respectively and they star an almost unbelievable group of musicians. Only a few of these guys are still alive and that is sad because they once grooved their world (the famous Johnny Mandel is still an arranger par excellence and as a young man he also played the rare bass-trumpet like Cy Touf). To hear an incomparable ‘Sweets’ Edison solo with his signature lazy-feel, bluesy slurs or Art Pepper with his biting cut through on alto is still exciting to me.

These albums are a peephole into an era that is long gone but it is one that still deserves our respectful remembrance.

The albums;

Cy Touf his Octet and Quintet (Pacific Jazz 93162) featuring – #1 -4 Cy Touf (bass trumpet), Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison (trumpet) Conrad Gozzo (trumpet), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax), Matt Utal (alto and baritone sax), Russ Freeman (piano) (Pete Jolly (piano #3), Leroy Vinnegar (bass), Chuck Flores (drums). Johnny Mandel & Ernie Wilkins (arr).

Track one – Keester Parade (Johnny Mandel)

Track seven – A Smooth One (Benny Goodman)

Mel Torme- Art Pepper – Marty Paich Sessions: (Lonehill Jazz) Mel Torme (vocals) The Mel-Tones (vocal) Marty Paiche (piano) (celeste) (organ) (arranger) (Conductor) Orchestra featuring; Art Pepper (alto sax), Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Victor Feldman (vibes), Barrney Kessel (guitar), Joe Mondragon (bass), Mel lewis (drums).

Track eighteen – Bunch of The Blues/ Keester Parade/ TNT/ Tiny’s Blues – (Mandel/Kahn).

Footnotes: The album track list that come up in iTunes gave ‘Keester Parade’ as ‘Easter Parade’. That would certainly have amused the musicians and especially Johnny Mandel. For those who don’t speak the lingua franca of the hipster 1950’s, a Keester is what you sit on. West Coast pianist Pete Jolly is credited in the Cy Touf album and he has a lot of loyal devotees in New Zealand. In the early 1960’s when tours by lessor known Jazz musicians were unheard of and when such journey’s were long and arduous, Pete Jolly and Ralph Pena visited here. The tour had been organised by Auckland Jazz fan Frank Collins and the subsequent fun has never been forgotten. Recordings from the gigs were carefully squirreled away by John Good (recently deceased) and these treasures were later released in the USA as a posthumous Pete Jolly album.

Festivals in the sun

Upstairs Jazz Club

On a continent twelve hours flight from here it is Jazz festival season (preferably flying Air New Zealand, with the Alyn Shipton selected Jazz soundtrack to get you through the long haul north).

Two weeks ago the well-respected San Francisco Jazz festival was held and the San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Festival is winding up about now.The latter is a 4th of July weekend festival and it is the way a lot of West Coast people enjoy Independence Day.   It always seems to get good reviews and part of its appeal is the easy-going vibe, free concerts and food.  My daughter-in law confirmed that it was an endless combination of Jazz , food, and craft stalls and an excellent way to spend long lazy days in the sun (hers is the larger photo).  The festival included the Mingusamungus band (dedicated to Charles Mingus) and the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra (strong Thad Jones/Ellington influence).

Further north and still running at the time of writing this is the worlds biggest Jazz Festival, The Montreal Jazz Festival.   I was in Montreal 7 months ago and caught the small L’off Jazz festival which profiles local Quebec Jazz.  While there I visited as many Jazz clubs as I could cram into a week (two or three a night) but the ‘Upstairs’ was undoubtably my favourite place (off Rue St Catherine).   It is actually in a basement (but the Upstairs neon sign is hung upside down).   It was there I saw a young Montreal based guitarist Carl Naud and his band.    In this group I saw a restless hungry spirit that hinted at Coltrane’s legacy but was reaching well beyond that.   Memories of that fabulous club and that edgy young band will remain with me for a very long time.  The Upstairs is part of the main summer festival and artists like Gary Peacock are appearing there.

This year at the Montreal Jazz Festival much-loved son, Canadian ex-pat Kenny Wheeler has returned as the main attraction.    Kenny is an artist I have loved since I first heard his deep melodic lines and signature stratospheric high-end squalls.   He is more often playing Flugelhorn than trumpet and his sound is unmistakable.    His ‘music for large and small ensembles’ is a Jazz masterpiece and regarded rightly as being a desert-island-disk.  Most often playing in the company of fellow UK resident John Taylor (p) and often with John Surman (s) Palle Danielsson (b) & Peter Erskine – all top rated ECM artists.    This clip is from some years back but it profiles Kenny Wheeler (fh), John Taylor (p), Palle Danielsson (b) , John (Crumbles) Abercrombie (g) and Peter Erskine.

Fillmore in the sun

Cowbop vrs Warrington

The Masonic Tavern in Devonport overlooks the Waitemata Harbour in Auckland and the view from there is always easy on the eye.  Last night it was also easy on the ear; in fact as the evening progressed the music developed a distinctly Western drawl.   On Friday night the Tavern hosted two Jazz groups from the USA; the Tom Warrington Trio and the Bruce Forman CowBop band.  These bands exemplified Jazz-infused Americana from differing prospectives and in that variance lay a world of fun.

It is always a pleasure to see the Warrington Band in town and I always seek them out when they pass through (this is their 4th trip to New Zealand as a trio – Tom Warrington, Larry Koonse, Joe La Barbera).  As soon I arrived I spotted Larry the trio’s guitarist (an old friend) and we were able to spend a good few hours catching up and laughing at the outrageous humour of the CowBop quintet (who played the second set).

The Warrington trio opened their set with one of my favourite tunes ‘you must believe in Spring’ by Michelle Legrand’.  For a guitar trio (minus piano) to do justice to this type of highly melodic tune they must keep out of each others way while the guitar and bass execute the right voicings and establish the melody line (implied or otherwise).  This is what good jazz bands do and this band is extremely good.   Joe laid down a solid beat and his brush work is equal to the best in the business.  We heard Evan’s tunes and originals from the ‘Back Nine’ album and it was never less than swinging, intelligent, well executed  music.  All of these guys are stars in their own right having worked alongside the greats of Jazz and their intuitive feel for getting the best out of the music was communicated to their audience.

Like all Jazz fans I could not resist asking Larry later about the various people he has recently worked with and he singled out Alan Broadbent as someone he just loved working with. I hopefully suggested that they should think about recording a duo or quartet album together.  My one regret was not asking Joe about the Pieranunzi/Philip Catherine date – next time.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there were no second acts in American life he had not foreseen the second act on Friday night.  This was cheeky, sassy, swinging, bop-infused countrified music and against all odds it was seriously hip.  American life was re-branded that night and as we witnessed it in disbelief, we participated in the fun.  Bruce Forman is a Jazz legend, as he has been a fixture on the Jazz circuit for three decades now.  Like Larry he has also been at the forefront of Jazz education and has accompanied some of the musics icons.   Bruce is a natural comedian and he really pushed the envelope with his in-your-face CowBop humour.  It is hard to describe adequately in words, as the context was everything, but suffice to say it worked.   There were musical jokes of the highest order and some home grown corn; both delivered from under a stetson hat with a twinkling eye.  The CowBop bands treatment Besame Mucho sat somewhere between ‘Cheech & Chong‘ and ‘Diana Krall‘ and I loved it.    As Bruce said when he began the set:  ‘If you try this music at home I urge you to do so responsibly’.  Packs containing the bands CD ‘Too Hick for the Room‘ were supplied with a bottle-opener connected to a memory-stick – pre loaded ready for illegal downloads.  The sly BeBop quotes were everywhere and they slid in between the cow-licks with ease.   Bruce added as I was leaving “The good thing is, if you hate this music you just give it to your enemies“.

This was a great night out and the intimate setting added to the enjoyment – thanks to Roger Fox for bringing them.

                      CowBop drummer

San Francisco and Kiwi connections

My son and daughter in law have just moved to San Francisco and the goodbyes have been hard.    I watched them go through the departure gate with very mixed emotions – pride at what they had achieved and the inevitable sadness of a loving parent waving goodbye (my son is the CTO and co-founder of an IT company expanding into America).     He reminded me that Darien and I would have two good excuses to visit them as often as we could – family reunification and world-class Jazz.

He is right because San Francisco is one of the worlds great Jazz cities.   The city is at present building one of the worlds biggest dedicated Jazz centres.    It will be the first such centre in America totally dedicated to Jazz performance and education and it is expected to become a world-wide tourist attraction.    San Francisco is the home of the SF Jazz Collective and this amazing group is formed around Jazz Festival time each year.  They feature the compositions of one artist each year and to augment the already stellar lineup they invite a few top rated Jazz musicians to fill the guest spots.   This year they feature the music of Stevie Wonder – whose music is increasingly attaining Jazz standard status.   The bass player is Aucklander Matt Penman; who went through the Auckland School of music a few years earlier than my son.   Matt now plays at the top levels of Jazz and he tours America (and the world) with Jazz super-groups.   He is a core member of the SF Jazz Collective.    I have posted a link for this years San Francisco Jazz Festival which starts this week.    I would certainly pay good money to see the Eliane Elias quartet and that is on tomorrow night.    There are a number of free concerts and many headline acts (seeing hip-chic Ricky Lee Jones would be cool – remember her – married to Tom Waits once).     The big item will inevitably be the SF Jazz Collective though.    I will post a link to their site – so that you listen to a SFJC clip – Stevie Wonders ‘suspicion’.

This city is the home of the famous ‘Yoshi’s’ Jazz club and the Fillmore East (Miles and our own Mike Nock entertained huge audiences of hippies there).    There is a great Festival in mid summer which is in the Bay area – the ‘Fillmore Jazz Festival’.  This is a free festival dedicated to jazz and food and it occurs around the weekend of the 4th July.     I hope to keep you posted on these events as I will be attending vicariously – I have just appointed my son as a forward scout – ‘our man in SF’.