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Friday, May 08, 2020

CD Review: Dave Askren and Jeff Benedict - PARAPHERNALIA, The Music Of Wayne Shorter,

Jeff Benedict (saxophones); Dave Askren (guitar); Jonathan Pintoff (bass); Chris Garcia (percussion)
(Review by Chris K)
Benedict and Askren are a US pairing who occasionally record with pals, but are not a household name in the UK.  Their game is to take classics and give them a laid back West Coast work over, recasting rhythm and arrangement, so much in some cases that the songs' own parents wouldn't recognise them.  Their previous 2017 effort, Come Together (reviewed here) jazzed up the Beatles’ number, and "smoothed out" jazz classics like Nardis and Moment’s Notice.

This time their raw material is a varied slice of ten Wayne Shorter songs, spanning from Miyako and JuJu (1964), through the title song from Miles in the Sky (1968)  and on to a Weather Report number, Harlequin (1977). They state that they don’t try to sound like Shorter, because you can’t do better than the original music. Taking that at face value, the joy here for me was re-acquainting (or listening for the first time) to the originals, to better understand what Askren and Benedict have done. (Whether it was worth the effort, you'll have to read through to the end!)
When I first saw the CD title, I thought for one brief moment that the magnificent Barbara Thompson's Paraphernalia had released a new (or old) album!  After overcoming my disappointment, it did occur to me that the Shorter song may even have been the inspiration for her band's name, as surely he was one of her heroes : - anyone know? 
The album kicks off with E.S.P. (title track of Miles’ 1965 album). This has morphed from a confident post-bop statement driven by Tony Williams’ skittering pulse into a light bluesy funk, exquisitely and sensitively played on alto and electric guitar, but with the immediacy of the original replaced by a relaxed detachment.  Yes and/or No gets even more extreme treatment emerging as a slick mambo, with an array of Latin percussion keeping it all ticking over effortlessly.
The slow jazz waltz Iris and groove of Mahjong both retain their original feel with Benedict’s soprano emerging as distinctive voice on the latter’s captivating melody. On the other hand, Fall (from Miles’ 1967 Nefertiti) and the title track are transmogrified into a 6/8 Cuban and slinky funk respectively. Miyako and the closer, Infant Eyes, are played as slow and tender duos, with Askren on acoustic. The 1977 Weather Report stalwart Harlequin loses the synth layers and punchy tenor and electric bass, in favour of intricate alto dancing over busy Latin percussion.
So, was it worth the re-visit? Askren and Benedict are agile and adept arrangers and musicians, who clearly had a ball with this clever homage to their hero. I’d recommend this album for fans of smooth Latin and funky jazz, but I found their arrangements rather bloodless. In most cases, the raw essence and power of the originals were lost in the sleek West Coast treatment. Overall, I was left grateful for the reminder of Shorter’s remarkable history!
Chris Kilsby
Release date: 01.05.2020 Tapestry 76029-2
Format : CD / Digital available “online everywhere”

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