Benito Gonzalez – Circles – Furthermore Recordings 006, 68:35 ***½:
(Benito Gonzalez, piano; Myron Walden, alto and soprano sax; Ron Blake, tenor sax; Azar Lawrence, tenor sax; Christian McBride, bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums)
Venezuelan pianist, Benito Gonzalez, for his second recording as a band leader, has chosen to honor some of his heroes on his Furthermore Recordings release, Circles. His first CD had influences from his native country, and his sophomore effort blends 60s jazz with current jazz readings. Since coming to the States in 2000, Gonzalez has been fortunate to have worked with Jackie McLean and his son Rene. A period with saxophonist, Kenny Garrett followed and Benito was well along his path that has led to Circles.
Gonzalez has chosen to honor Elvin Jones, Kenny Kirkland, and McCoy Tyner on this CD, and the Tyner tribute is appropriate as Tyner’s percussive style can be heard in Benito’s playing.
The title track builds in intensity as saxophonists Myron Walden and Ron Blake build to crescendos that descend to opportunities for Benito to lock into a groove that regains steam driven by “Tain” Watts’ crashing cymbals. Blake and Walden enter free blowing territory on this extended piece.
The resurgent Azar Lawrence is featured on solos on several tracks, and his return to active playing that rivals his starburst period of the 70s, when he was thought of as the next Coltrane, is a welcome addition to Circles. Lawrence is also a Furthermore roster mate. He shines on “Taurus”, where again Watts is the catalyst. “Elvin’s Sight” begins with a super bass intro by Christian McBride before Lawrence again channels Trane in Benito’s dedication to Coltrane’s drummer, Elvin Jones – from 1960 to 1965 – in John’s classic quartet.
“Let’s Talk About You and Me” has a lighter welcome touch, and Benito’s melodic playing really shines. “Blues on the Corner” written by McCoy Tyner, gets a swinging arrangement by Benito, and Ron Blake’s soulful blues licks make this track my favorite. “Elise”, written for Benito’s young daughter, is a tender paean from a father to his little girl.
“The Movements” and “Journey’s End” end our circular journey with Senor Gonzalez, and Myron Walden shares sax solos with Ron Blake on the former, and Azar Lawrence on the latter. Both tracks were written by Benito and he lets the horns take center stage, while being content with comping after setting out the melody for the saxophones. I’d like to see Gonzalez have the opportunity to write for a big band as he expands his repertoire.
TrackList: Circles, Taurus, Elvin’s Sight, Let’s Talk About You and Me, Faces, Blues on the Corner, Elise, The Movements, Journey’s End
– Jeff Krow