As saxophonist Jeff Benedict is a professor emeritus of music at California State University-Los Angeles, he shouldn’t be overly concerned if an impartial observer should decide to grade the southern California-based Jeff Benedict Big Band’s second album, The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful. After careful listening, herewith is the report card. Brass and reeds: A. Rhythm section: A. Cohesion: A. Swing quotient: A. Soloists: A. Choice of material: A. Arrangements: A. Album title: A+.
In sum, Benedict leads a grade-A ensemble, one that benefits enormously from his engaging compositions and arrangements and takes to them like ducks to water. For the record, Benedict wrote four of the album’s admirable themes and arranged all of them. Among those he didn’t write, Irving Berlin’s venerable standard, “Cheek to Cheek,” is alone worth the price of admission, presenting the sax section with a formidable exam that it aces with honors. Miles Davis‘ seductive “Nardis” is fairly well-known, as is Frank Churchill’s “Someday My Prince Will Come,” from the Disney film Snow White, remodeled here as “The Fotomat Song” (someday my prints will come—get it?).
Less familiar but no less charming are Quincy Jones‘ undulating “Hikky Burr”—which rings down the curtain—David Arnay‘s New Orleans-themed “Mighty Dollar” or Sandy Megas‘ playful and skittish “Tom and Jerry” (dedicated to L.A. studio legends Tom Scott and Jerry Hey). As for Benedict, he wrote the shuffling, soulful opener, “Moonscape,” the hard-swinging “Weather Is Here,” the minor blues “Armadillo Research” and multi-sided “Ant Dance” (inspired, Benedict writes, by the music of Pat Metheny). Benedict solos brightly on alto sax (“Nardis,” “Armadillo Research,” “Ant Dance,” “The Mighty Dollar,” “Tom and Jerry”) and soprano (“The Fotomat Song”). Another of the band’s blue-chip soloists, trombonist Paul McKee, is superb on the first five numbers but for reasons unknown vanishes afterward. McKee, baritone Charlie Richard, pianist Jeff Hellmer and tenor Jeff Ellwood are exemplary on “The Weather Is Here,” as are Ellwood and guitarist Dave Askren on “Moonscape,” McKee and Hellmer on “Nardis,” Askren on “Ant Dance,” Hellmer and the resilient sax section on “Cheek to Cheek,” Ellwood on “The Mighty Dollar” and (with Askren and trumpeter Steve Hawk) on “Hikky Burr.” Benedict and trumpeter Brian Bettger are more than able replacements for “Tom and Jerry.”
On further examination, The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful affords no grounds on which to award a less than commendable grade. Benedict gave the band its assignment, and the band completed it without mischance. The letter grades speak for themselves, as does the written appraisal.
Moonscape; Nardis; The Fotomat Song; The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful; Armadillo Research; Ant Dance; Cheek to Cheek; The Mighty Dollar; Tom and Jerry; Hikky Burr.
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