Dave Askren Jeff Benedict Denver Sessions
Dave Askren Jeff Benedict
Denver Sessions is the fourth collaborative album for guitarist Dave Askren and saxophonist Jeff Benedict and follows their 2020 tribute to the recently passed Wayne Shorter, entitled Paraphernalia. The two have actually recorded together a dozen times in their 30-year history in L.A. The location and lineup are different this time around, with the two front liners adding a third player, New York-based vibraphonist Ted Piltzecker, to round out their sound, Moving the sessions to Denver from their usual L.A. base was the suggestion of drummer Paul Romaine where he had a close relationship with the Mighty Fine Productions studio and with the Denver-based bassist Patrick McDevitt, who completes the quintet. The repertoire features nine originals, with each of the front liners contributing three, and just one cover, an inventive treatment of “Stompin’ at the Savoy, that traces to the Benny Goodman era.
The duo used several reference points in devising compositions for the guitar-vibes-sax lineup including Goodman’s early formation of Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton through such figures as Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson. Let’s take Askren’s tunes first. “Jackie’s Idea” has the kind of melody associated the great soul-jazz Blue Note albums of the ‘60s. Indeed, he drew inspiration from Jackie McLean who often recorded with sax, vibes, trumpet, and trombone. In this case, following the bass intro drawn from “Hootman” (McLean’s 1967 Action) each instrument states the melody before all three join in unison for the joyous romp. “Englewood Cliffs” obviously points to the site of so many great recordings from Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, which likely remains the town’s leading landmark, at least for jazz fans. Again they pay homage the classic Blue Note era of the late ‘50s and ‘60s with a singable melody where the three stretch out on this hard bop tune. “Memories” is a tender ballad, principally featuring Askren who nods to the recently passed guitar great Pat Martino. The ethereal, spacious nature of the tune allows for poignant turns from Piltzecker, Benedict’s soprano, harmonic support from McDevitt and subtle brushes from Romaine.
Benedict weighs in with his own ballad, dedicated to his mother, “Marie Adele” on which he again plays soprano as he paints his portrait of an elegant, graceful woman. The loping, engaging “Ennui Anyone?” takes its name from illustrator Edward Gorey’s macabre ABC book, The Gashlycrumb Times. It’s a minor blues with a stomping beat, complete with a “shout” section for the three front liners. Romaine, as he does throughout, consistently drives, never ostentatiously but with a flair nonetheless. “Orange Express” could be taken as the jazz cousin to the famous bluegrass tune, “Orange Blossom Special.” This burner puts the aforementioned Romaine in the spotlight, soloing and driving the veritable locomotive.
Piltzecker takes the Latin route on his three, beginning with the gentle samba, “Poised” where Benedict’s also floats over the swaying rhythms, following by a crisp, punchy lines from Askren and effervescent mallet work from the vibraphonist as Romaine and McDevitt provide the Latin tinges. “Resilience” is a calm but buoyant melodic ode to those who front line heroes who shined during the pandemic while “Rhumba Liam” is an upbeat Cuban dance number, named for his rabbit. As such, it’s another free spirited excursion.
It’s not often one finds such stylistic breadth due to three distinctly different composers on one album. Askren, Benedict, and Piltzecker make it work beautifully with highly accessible melodies and spirited interplay.
- Jim Hynes