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Michael Benedict and Bopitude

by Jeff Nania on May 10, 2012


Michael Benedict and Bopitude’s sophomore release comes less than a year after their debut on Planet Arts Records, and yet another serious NYC jazz cat has been added to the mix. In addition to the gifted pianist and arranger Bruce Barth, baritone saxophone wizard Gary Smulyan leaves his mark on this album in a big way. Hence the title, Five And One.

Smulyan is the foremost proponent of the instrument on the present day jazz scene. His sound is sharp and biting with long, flowing rhythmic lines, and an incisive wit. This wit is something that tenorista Brian Patneaude also shares and is one of the reasons that their sounds mesh so well together. Rounding out the horn section is trumpeter Chris Pasin, who has some bop chops of his own and a sound that is informed by greats like Lee Morgan and Dizzy Gillespie.

Barth’s arrangements of Thad Jones’ “Three And One,” and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” are glowing highlights of this disc. “Three And One” has always featured the bari sax when played by the Grammy award-winning Village Vanguard Orchestra, which incidentally features Smulyan in the Bari sax seat.

The true genius of Barth’s arrangements is the fullness of sound that is achieved with just three horns. This is readily apparent on the horn soli sections that follow the written solos. The “pyramid” effect that ends the melody and leads into the solo section on “Work Song” is a classic figure that makes the group sound more like a big band than a sextet.

Benedict’s cymbal sounds are a staple of this group. He always knows when to set up group figures, and he has a very distinct “and one” feel as he alternates cymbals heading into the solo sections. His fills are always steady, and so is his time—in part due to the steadfast arm of bassist Mike Lawrence, who has no trouble laying the foundation and driving the train. On “Infra-Rae,” however, the group breaks to just Benedict and Smulyan in the middle of the bari solo, and the two of them go at it in true uptempo bop fashion without dropping a beat.

Patneaude’s rock-steady tenor sound is all over this disc. His concept has reached a new level of maturity in the past few years of his career, as signified by his work on the two Bopitude records and his own most recent release All Around Us. He trades melodic phrases with Smulyan to begin “Train Samba,” and they finish the tune by soloing simultaneously.

This record has a classic bop sound, but it is not an attempt to simply re-create what has already been done. Rather, it is Benedict’s effort to “simply go back to go forward.”