David Benoit – The Steinway Sessions – Steinway & Sons 

David Benoit – The Steinway Sessions – Steinway & Sons 30066, 69:17 ****1/2:

Jazz pianist excels in his solo debut…after 35 years of recording! 

(David Benoit – piano)

It is always interesting hear jazz pianists in a solo format. The absence of a rhythm section shines a more revelatory light on the overall technique from both hands in the adaptation.. David BenoitThe Steinway Sessions represents his debut on the label. As the pianist remarks in the liner notes, this is his first solo recording in his stellar thirty-five year career. The tracks are comprised of familiar, previously recorded tracks and the premiere of “Etudes For The Contemporary Pianist”. Opening the festivities is “Kei’s Song” (from the 1987 album, Freedom At Midnight). The lyrical texture and rolling tempo is catchy. Benoit’s technique is forceful at times, and full of innate warmth. “Every Step Of The Way” may be Benoit’s most recognized composition. This solo rendition maintains the dynamic rhythm of the original. The volume modulation and joyful upbeat vibe is shaded with soulful inflections. Covering Bill Evans is always challenging. The selection of “Letter To Evan” (written by the iconic pianist for his son, just two months prior to his death) is a nice choice. Benoit infuses the jaunty, melodic progressions with his trademark stylization. But the heartfelt tribute “I Remember Bill Evans” captures the pathos of Evans and that era’s jazz reinvention of classical composers like Debussy and Ravel with tone chords and modal inflections.There are wisps of 3/4 time signatures and accessible modulations that are compelling.

Benoit is equally fluent in his cover of Dave Brubeck’s “Strange Meadowlark”. The graceful elegance and whimsical nature come across in this translation. Benoit’s heartfelt “Dad’s Room”  glows with agile sentimentality. “Once Running Free” and “Rainbows” are fine examples of his delicate and emotional content as a writer and performer. The final two “covers” are brilliant compositions interpreted with finesse and artistic range. “Your Song” (the Elton John song that launched his career) is converted to jazz phrasing with regard for the core melody. Benoit adds Guaraldi-esque flashes as emphasis. His medley of Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide and Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns” is superb. The former showcases the innate “Lenny” swagger, and Benoit frames Sondheim’s eternal ode to melancholy “Send In The Clowns” with a deft eloquence and a nice waltz-time transition.

Etudes are designed as a skill-practice vehicle. Benoit’s collection has a lot of diversity. There are buoyant melodies (“Journey In A Rental Car”), dissonance (“Peacock Fallen”, Scherzo For Charles Brown) solitary musings (“I Miss You”, “A Solitary Moment By The Ocean”, “Lonely Boy”) and playful New Orleans riffs (“Kenji”). And there could be no better way to end a solo album than with Vince Guaraldi’s unforgettable “Linus And Lucy”. Benoit first recorded this in 1986 (This Side Up). For much of the performance Benoit is faithful to Guaraldi’s arrangement. But at the 2:00 mark, he throws in some funky, boogie woogie riffs before returning to the main theme.

David BenoitThe Steinway Sessions is a rousing success. Here’s hoping that there are other solo efforts in the future!

TrackList:
Kai’s Song
Every Step Of The Way
Letter To Evan
I Remember Bill Evans
Strange Meadowlark
Dad’s Room
Once Running Free
Rainbows
Your Song (John)
Candide/Send In The Clowns
Etudes For The Contemporary Pianist: Journey In A Rental Car
I Miss You
A Solitary Moment By The Ocean
Lonely Boy
Scherzo (For Charles Brown)
Kenji
Betty’s Dance
Peacock Fallen
Linus And Lucy

-Robbie Gerson

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