by Bea Willis
Clarinetist Dave Bennett has released his sophomore CD on Mack Avenue entitled Blood Moon. A “blood moon” is a natural phenomenon when a lunar eclipse combines with a “super moon” to make our moon appear red in color. “During the period of establishing what this new album’s direction was going to be – pop? gospel? – I spoke with Mack Avenue’s president who said, ‘Why don’t you do your own stuff?’ That gave me the confidence to finally sit down and create my own songs for this record,” says Bennett. To co-write five original songs, Bennett teamed up with Toronto-based composer, arranger and bassist Shelly Berger. Bennett supplements his own pieces with a half-dozen road-tested covers from his regular repertoire. The result is eleven original compositions penned by Bennett that explore a theme of instrumental music that is lyrical in nature.
The album was recorded in Toronto with a band assembled for the occasion by Berger. The resulting ensemble is: Bennett’s longtime drummer, Pete Siers, pianist Dave Restivo, guitarist Reg Schwager, bassist Jim Vivian and percussionist Davide DiRenzo.
The opening track, “Blood Moon,” is a relaxed straight eight pulsed composition that has a singable melody. Bennett’s clarinet sound is warm and dark, his phrasing is relaxed and full character. His soloing is full of large intervallic leaps and quick lines that sit directly in time with Siers kit. The mood of the music is reflective while maintaining energy and direction. The composition has nice sonic surprises and moves through time in a logical manner.
For a complete change of pace, “Down In Honky Tonk Town” provides some toe-tapping New Orleans funk. Bennett and Restivo both excel on this selection. The two turn in impassioned solos that have a rhythmic drive and melodic focus. Siers and Schwager keep the New Orleans beat going strong and lock-up as one rhythmic force of nature.
Spirits stay high with a buoyant “(Back Home Again in) Indiana,” which serves as a spring board for more inspired improvisations. Bennett’s solo is strong with melody, and one can hear that he has a great time playing with this band. Schwager’s solo statement is a fine example of controlled burn. The melody of “Donna Lee” is used as a break between solos with good effect. The ending arrangement is very nice, the writing is fresh, and one can tell that this arrangement would work very well in a live setting.
Finding this new path and direction, Bennett pushes his musical boundaries with original compositions. The album has a nice flow and the band is fun to listen to as they navigate the various styles, arrangements and compositions. Bennett’s playing is full of passion and the rich clarinet tradition runs deep in his lines. There are skillful performances showcased throughout the album and jazz fans will love diggin’ in deep with this one.
Tracks to sample first: “Blood Moon,” “(Back Home Again in) Indiana,” “Down In Honky Tonk Town” and “A Long Goodbye.” The song to take a chance on is “13 Fingers.”