Jazz CD Reviews

Bennett Paster – Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful – self-released

Not the search for an aesthetic pleasure, but for inner beauty.

Published on April 1, 2013

Bennett Paster – Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful – self-released 700261361154 – 67:39 ***1/2:

(Bennett Paster – piano, producer; Joel Frahm – tenor saxophone (tracks 3-4, 7-9); Tim Armacost – tenor & soprano saxophone (tracks 1-2, 4-6, 8); Alex Pope Norris – trumpet & Flugelhorn; Gregory Ryan – acoustic bass; Willard B. Dyson, Jr. – drums, Gilad – percussion (tracks 2, 7))

Pianist Bennett Paster’s latest release, the 68-minute Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful, is not a conceptual album about romantic obsession. Rather, the composer, producer and in-demand sideman says the title refers to something personal and philosophical, an “honest musical expression from within” in order to “create a picture of life through music.” Paster’s nine originals do just that: he incorporates swing, Latin and Brazilian rhythms, and straightforward jazz into amiable, traditionally-tinted modern material which taps into an inner voice or presence.

Paster is joined by consistently supportive artists. Tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm has played with the Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet, Kurt Elling, Cyrille Aimée and others, and was notably a member of Brad Mehldau’s early ‘90s group. Saxophonist Tim Armacost (who uses both tenor and soprano) has worked with Bobby Bradford, and spent time with Kenny Barron, Roy Hargrove, and Randy Brecker, among others. Alex Pope Norris (on trumpet and Flugelhorn) is also a busy session player, who has performed with Paster, and been on studio dates with Lonnie Plaxico, Ron Carter and scores more. Bassist Gregory Ryan appeared on three previous Paster projects. Drummer Willard Dyson has a high standing in both pop and jazz circles, and has toured or performed with Michael Franks, Jimmy Scott and Cassandra Wilson. Guest percussionist Gilad (featured on two tracks) does a lot of studio work, and his credits include Anat Cohen, Al di Meola, Uri Caine and more.

Paster’s intention to “preserve the spontaneity of improvisation in my compositions” is perceived on the swinging opener, “A Penny for Kenny,” which has a rippling, post-bop stride and fine solos from the horns, particularly Norris, who displays his inherent talent. The proceedings get invigorated on the third piece, “Scraper,” where Frahm bursts out and cuts loose, demonstrating quick tempo and improv intensity. Paster abates the heat to a slow boil during his solo section, and then Dyson supplies an unaccompanied solo near the end to switch things up a bit. Paster has a deft touch, especially on the quieter numbers, where his lyrical style and strength is in the forefront. He starts the placid “Homecoming,” which has a liquid and languid movement accentuated by Gilad’s moistened percussion. Here, the horns are understated but still appealing, chiefly in the way Armacost and Norris mingle their horns. On “Harmonia Mundi” (a Latin phrase which means “world harmony”), Paster commences with a classically-colored piano summary (which seems to allude to noted classical music label Harmonia Mundi). After the intro, the tripled horns take over and the tune gradually builds up to an ardent mid-section, before the arrangement reduces speed to a relaxed outro.

Paster’s earlier productions with Grupo Yanqui, which has issued two records, showcased Paster’s Latin jazz admiration. That spirit is heard during the Latin-hued “Lewinparie,” another standout for Frahm’s tenor sax, where he and Norris trade lines. While the Afro-Cuban influences are light, Gilad’s firm but nimble percussive support adds spice. When Paster secures the spotlight, he exhibits his ability to be elegant and swing at the same time. Another Paster inspiration is highlighted on the quirky “Suspicious Fishes and Quiches,” which has an angularity akin to Charles Mingus, with little, unexpected jumps and flashes which are balanced but nevertheless shift and weave, and thus provide a wider breadth than shown on other cuts. Paster concludes with the memorable, lengthy “Bash into Spring,” aptly named. Just like the progression from one season to another, at first there are subtle hints of brighter shades, but steadily everything warms up and a lively tempo arises, where the instrumentalists begin to escalate their presence. Norris is energized in the midpoint area, while the piano, drums and bass deliver a rollicking rhythmic foundation which pushes the pace to expressive heights. Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful is an independent creation, which has become the norm for jazz artists with limited funds. It is self-released and was taped at Paster’s Brooklyn studio, Benny’s Wash n’ Dry, which he owns and operates: past clients include Drew Paralic, Lonnie Plaxico, Sheryl Bailey and a long list of others. The small budget does not affect the musical or auditory quality, which can be tested out online by anyone who wants to stream Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful prior to purchase.

TrackList: A Penny for Kenny; Homecoming; Scraper; Harmonia Mundi; Suspicious Fishes and Quiches; Once Astray; Lewinparie; Endgame; Bash into Spring.

—Doug Simpson

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