Today is officially the last day of summer, and the cooler and possibly rainy weather here in the Pacific Northwest today almost feels celebratory. We’re talking about a summer where on the hottest day here on record–118 degrees F–was also the same day our building caught fire. The entire west coast was also on fire all summer, with the skies continually hazy from smoke in the distance. On the first big rainstorm of the year, just last weekend, we found out the roof hadn’t been repaired yet from where the firemen partially installed a new sunlight–well, they got the hole going at least–and The Joy of Playing from the Benjamin Schnake Ensemble is perfect for the moment, for looking forward to a glorious and uneventful autumn.
Benjamin Schnake, a jazz guitarist from Chile, has plenty of energy to go around. The Joy of Playing is exactly that, full of good energy coming from a room full of loving people who are together in one place making music because it doesn’t get any better than this. Schnake has composed these pieces for nonet, an ensemble so rare that I almost had to look the word nonet up–oh, that nonet. That straddles the line between big band and more intimate ensembles such as trios and quartets so that the music can be intricate and powerful without feeling too aggressive and overly dynamic and designed to merely wow the audience.
As you might imagine, the album has that familiar Latin Jazz feel with the polyrhythms, but Benjamin Schnake has broadened those horizons considerably thanks to some inspiration from uncommon sources such as Lakitas, an Andean musical style that is light and playful, and Chilean cueca and Peruvian waltzes. These sounds are so novel, at least to my ears, that I easily imagined all those European influences found in South American music, the ones that connect the dots between the Andes and the Alps.
The climactic point for the Benjamin Schnake Ensemble is their performance of Mingus‘ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” where this unique blend of jazz traditions is applied to a familiar composition and yet flows with the rest of the album so that you almost don’t notice that famous melody. This is a joyful performance, lively and bright, and a valuable and necessary respite from what’s going on outside.