The programme on this Jeff Benedict Big Big Band recording The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful is a generous one – not only clocking in at a little over an hour, generous by recent album standards – but it is also one in which this Big Big Band sounds… well really Big Big, indeed. There is also ample evidence to suggest that each member is right where he should be [in this large ensemble] and making a singularly important contribution to the sculpted wall of music that does ensue from the collective instruments.
Of course it also helps to have a well-chosen repertoire with the arrangement of each song assiduously-judged not only on paper, but in performance too. This is music that has been wonderfully crafted by Mr Benedict, deeply interiorised by the performers and rendered – by soloists and ensemble – with wonderfully idiomatic interpretations. Swing is king and the funky grooves ripple through the performances of this band. Soli are delectable, short and driven by atomic power and dynamism. The opportunities to solo are also well-distributed and Brian Bettger makes to most of the only one assigned to the trumpet. Soli are also, happily, perfect in length; soloists traverse the harmonic universe stretching as far as they can before they return the song to its original melody. The apogee is, of course, “Cheek to Cheek”.
“Why…” you may ask? The pacing is superb here. The tempo is fast – really blisteringly fast – but changes are perfectly judged, counterpoint is wickedly edgy – so diabolically so at times that you may find yourself holding your breath in anticipation of certain collapse. This, of course, happens not only because these musicians are expert readers and technically proficient instrumentalists, but more importantly because they play with imagination and interpret the music idiomatically. This is evident all over the recording, [but] especially on the classic “Someday My Prince Will Come”, “Tom and Jerry” and – my favourite one of all – Quincy Jones’ “Hikky Burr”, made famous by Bill Cosby’s vocals.
Jeff Benedict, who leads the charge with his playing on both alto and soprano saxophones, is clearly an inspiration to his musical charges. His musicality is a revelation. But this should not be a surprise to anyone. Mr Benedict has a very impressive resume. All credit goes to the ensemble – especially on “Cheek to Cheek” – where the musicians are really put through their paces with the rapid pace of the piece, sudden changes in tempi and challenging harmonic changes – all of which is performed seamlessly with each harmonic and rhythmic change moving with inexorable beauty from one to the next. These spirited and lively tutti sections are all superbly judged, All in all it’s a very appealing performance, not only here, but throughout the repertoire of this album.
Track list – 1: Moonscape; 2: Nardis; 3: The Fotomat Song (Someday My Prints Will Come); 4: The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful; 5: Armadillo Research; 6: Ant Dance; 7: Cheek to Cheek; 8: The Mighty Dollar; 9: Tom and Jerry; 10: Hikky Burr
Personnel – The Big Big Band – Steve Hawk: lead trumpet; Kevin Mayse: trumpet; Brian Bettger: trumpet [solo 10]; Tom Tallman: trumpet; Paul McKee: lead trombone [soli on 1 – 5]; Jacques Voyement: trombone; Alex Henderson: trombone; Jerry Amoury: bass trombone [solo on 4]; Jeff Benedict: soprano saxophone [solo on 3] and alto saxophone [soli on 2, 5, 6, 9], and leader; Adrian Williams: alto saxophone; Ken Foerch: tenor saxophone; Jeff Ellwood: tenor saxophone [soli on 1, 4, 8, 10]; Charlie Richard: baritone saxophone; Dave Askren: guitar [solo on 1, 6]; Jeff Helmer: piano [soli on 2, 4, 7]; Jonathan Pintoff: bass; Dean Koba: drums and percussion
Released – 2021
Label – Groovy Panda Records
Runtime – 1:07:32