JAZZ BLUES MAGAZINE
by Ron Weinstock
BENJAMÍN SCHNAKE ENSEMBLE The Joy of Playing SELF-PRODUCED Benjamín Schnake was born in Chile, where he learned to play a variety of instruments and received his initial musical education. Later he studied at Howard University and then New York University. The multiinstrumentalist, composer, and arranger studied guitar and composition with some of the finest musicians of the New York scene: John Scofield, Peter Bernstein, Adam Rogers, Alan Ferber, Gil Goldstein, Alan Broadbent, among others. He has recorded with various Chilean groups.
“The Joy of Playing” brings forth the Benjamín Schnake Ensemble primarily with original compositions for nonet and small ensembles. Alto saxophonist Dave Pietro is present on two of the seven tracks. Schnake plays nylon-string guitar, electric guitar, and mandolin and composed six of the seven tunes. Others heard on this album include Sunhyun Yoo on alto sax and soprano sax; Tim Struven on tenor sax; John Blevins on trumpet; Eric Quinn on trombone; Jennifer Wharton on bass trombone; Ammon Swinbank on flute; Santiago Leibson on piano; Gui Duvignau on bass, and Paul Shaw on drums. Often working on folk materials, Schnake provides breezy rhythms and melodic musical compositions.
The album opens with “Maripol,” whose lyrical motif he wrote when at Howard. He has since developed it with the airy arrangement for his nonet. Additionally, it showcases his facile, melodic nylon string playing along with Pietro’s light, dry alto sax. The title track has some rhythm changes, and Schnake notes can be tricky to play, but the nonet handles it with a deft piano solo, scintillating ensemble segments, and a crisp drum break. “Fragment” is based on an ostinato rhythm introduced on nylon string guitar with You on alto sax initially sounding like he is playing the flute. Pianist Leibson also shines here. There is a gorgeous ballad, “She’s Gone,” with a haunting trumpet opening along with the composer’s stating the melody first on guitar before the horns join in. The tune showcases Eric Quinn’s wistful trombone and Pietro’s bluesy alto sax.
The brisk “Ajú,” based on Chilean folk melodies, follows. This hornless quartet track showcases the leader’s clean horn-like electric guitar playing and with splendid spots for Leibson, Duvignau, and Shaw. Leibson is the only soloist on Schnake’s light Latin-inflected arrangement of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” “Lakitas” was inspired by this Chilean musical tradition and written years ago, although expanded here. Schnake plays mandolin here, and Ammon Swinbank is on flute. There is a spirited ear-catching interplay with them. It is the closing selection of a wonderfully played, engaging recording by a musician and composer that one should look forward to hearing from in the future.