Jazz music, news and views

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Benny Reid: Findings

26-year-old Benny Reid's debut is an artful showcase for his well-sculpted compositions. The Indiana University graduate has a full, buttery alto sax sound with a touch of grit at moments. His luminous songs on Findings provide the perfect backdrop for his haloed tone. Then again, his tunes are actually dramatic enough to be the focus themselves. He proudly wears the compositional influence of Pat Metheny: lush keyboards, evocative pop- and Brazil-inspired harmony, storytelling, picture-painting. But while the vibe is familiar, Reid's alto voice gives it some subtle new colors.

The ear-grabbing opener, "Destiny?", is a catchy, syncopated groove with some ethereal, wordless vocals from Jeff Taylor. Cuban-born guitarist Richard Padron appropriately nods at Metheny and lays some brief statements in just the right places while Antonio Sanchez keeps things moving with some skittering cymbal work. Reid's solo isn't reckless or overly flashy; it serves the composition rather than itself. The acceleration from his slow-groove solo back into the driving, chant-like melody is a rewarding moment. An expert colorist and accompanist, Aaron Goldberg splits his duties between Fender Rhodes and piano throughout the date. His milky piano voicings are the perfect bookend on the symmetrical "Findings: a Quest For Peace," and like the leader, his solo here focuses on feel and melody before chops. But he brings out those sparkling, cascading runs he's known for -- with a soupcon of gospel -- on "Transient Melody."

Reid's solos aren't the hard-blowing, something-to-prove affair some young players often engage in. In fact, he modestly defers to, and enhances, the tune. His solo grows from his elegantly simple melodies and the space around him on the contemplative "Waves of Red," but he can also negotiate funkier territory like his rhythmic feature on the title cut. "Dancing With My Father" is undoubtedly a high point. The spare piano ostinato and sax variations build while the harmony seems to get brighter with every chord change. Reid lets the song breathe, and with Sanchez's drums and Padron's jangly acoustic guitar, you can almost feel the breeze rushing through. (Listening to the harmonic movement and drum interlude in the seventh minute, I can't help but think of Metheny's "The First Circle.") Goldberg's signature chops give his Rhodes feature plenty of momentum, setting up Reid's patient, lyrical solo.

The compositions themselves are Findings's main virtue, with emotional depth and sonic breadth ranging ranges from intimate to oceanic. A young player who displays his influences as proudly as his ambition, Reid is a skillful writer. And he isn't afraid to tackle these sprawling compositions with superlative colleagues. His debut is well worth hearing -- a true find.

Listen to:
"Dancing With My Father"

Findings (Concord)
- Benny Reid (as, kbds, voc)
- Jeff Taylor (voc)
- Richard Padron (g)
- Aaron Goldberg (p, Rh)
- Reuben Rogers (b)
- Antonio Sanchez (d)
- Ryan Fitch (perc)

Also visit:
Reid's MySpace
The Padron Project's MySpace


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