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20th Century Masters - The Millenium Collection: The Best of David Benoit

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Album Review

The "best-of" concept is more suited to pop musicians than to jazz players, if only because pop stars' more highly regarded works often have quantifiable markers of success, e.g., making the Top 40. Of course, the world of smooth jazz has its charts, too, even if they are only radio charts for industry tipsheets, and over the years musicians learn which tunes their audiences respond to most in concert. Still, the compiling of a highlights disc such as this one, part of Universal's discount-priced 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection series, remains somewhat subjective. Pianist David Benoit has been with Universal's GRP label since 1987, and compilation producer Mike Ragogna, choosing 12 tracks from ten albums released over 16 years, seems to have gone as much for familiarity and variety as anything else in his choices. The material ranges from standard smooth jazz, the sort of stuff that sounds like a Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers song minus the vocal track, to tunes with light flavorings of R&B, Latin, and classical. Benoit's affection for Vince Guaraldi, best expressed on his 2000 tribute album Here's to You Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years!, is reflected in his versions of two of Guaraldi's best-known tunes, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and "Linus and Lucy." "American Landscape," the title track of a 1997 album, allows Benoit to indulge Aaron Copland-like ambitions in music evocative of the wide open spaces, complete with keening harmonica. And Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," a 2003 performance that closes the collection, cements Benoit's ties to fusion. Throughout, his sparkling pianism, alternately reminiscent of David Lanz and Bruce Hornsby, remains striking and melodic, if only occasionally jazzy.

Biography

Born: August 18, 1953 in Bakersfield, CA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the more popular performers in the idiom somewhat inaccurately called "contemporary jazz," David Benoit has mostly performed light melodic background music, what critic Alex Henderson has dubbed "new age with a beat." Benoit has done a few fine jazz projects (including a tribute to Bill Evans and a collaboration with Emily Remler) but most of his output for GRP has clearly been aimed at the charts. He studied composition and piano at El Camino College and, in 1975, played on the soundtrack...
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20th Century Masters - The Millenium Collection: The Best of David Benoit, David Benoit
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