Paris-based bassist, composer, and bandleader Michel Benita has been a figure on the international jazz scene since 1980. Known for his light touch, melodic compositions, and exotic arrangements, Benita is a noted experimentalist with a keen ear for rich, detailed harmony.
Since the beginning of his professional career, he has been an in-demand session player and touring sideman. He has worked extensively with a long list of bandleaders including Horace Parlan, Lee Konitz, Archie Shepp, Joe Lovano, and Bobo Stenson, to name a scant few. As a leader and co-leader, Benita has many records of his own and as a guest. His 2010s project is the quintet Ethics, an experimental folk-jazz ensemble.
Benita was born in Algeria and began his musical studies there. He was originally a guitarist inspired by Bert Jansch, and he pursued folk music. He later swtiched to bass when jazz caught hold of him. His studio debut was as a member of the psychedelic, jazz rock and electronic outfit Patricon the album Betiari in 1977. He remained with the quartet until 1979.
He emigrated to Paris in 1981 and began studio work almost immediately, playing on albums by Doudou Gouirand, Antoine Herve, and Marc Ducret. In 1990, he made his leader debut with the album Preferences on Label Bleu. His supporting cast included saxophonist Dewey Redman, pianist Rita Marcotulli, and drummer Aldo Romano. After collaborative albums with Marcotulli, Paolo Fresu, and others, Benita issued his follow-up, Soul, in 1993. The album was noted in the jazz press for its wide-ranging musical landscape, and for its cover of Gerry Goffin's and Carole King's "Natural Woman." Benita began his recording relationship with saxophonist Andy Sheppard in 1999 on Lower the Walls.
Benita began the 21st century as a member of experimental trumpeter and composer Erik Truffaz's band. He played on Mantis (2001), Saloua (2005), and Face-À-Face (2006), all issued by Blue Note.
Under his own name, Benita issued Drastic in 2005. The album was the first to showcase his songwriting and singing. He played a wide variety of instruments, and was aided in part by oudist Dhafer Youssef, trumpeter Nils-Petter Molvær, and vocalist Stephanie McKay.
While in Truffaz's band, Benita established a relationship with guitarist Manu Codjia; the pair issued a duet album in 2008 entitled Ramblin'. That same year, he collaborated with Peter Erskine, Nguyên Lê, and Stephane Guillaume on the ACT Records set Dream Flight.
Benita founded the quintet Ethics in 2010; its personnel included flügelhornist Matthieu Michel, guitarist Eivind Aarset, drummer Philippe Garcia, and koto master Mieko Miyazaki. The band made its recording debut for Zig Zag Territoires that year. In 2012, Benita returned the favor and played sideman to Sheppard on the saxophonist's Trio Libero album with drummer Sebastian Rochford. It marked the beginning of the bassist's relationship with ECM Records. Benita was also a member of Sheppard's quartet for 2015's Surrounded by the Sea, and in the touring group. That same year, Ethics signed to ECM and recorded River Silver, its debut. Produced by Manfred Eicher, it was issued by the label in early 2016. ~ Thom Jurek