Ed Bennett’s quintet is a superior group from Portland, Oregon, which has become a hotbed of jazz activity. The bassist boasts an admirable resume including stints with Carmen McRae, Joe Henderson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sonny Stitt, the Akiyoshi-Tabackin Big Band, and a number of West Coast stalwarts. Tourology is his fourth album on his own label, Saphu. While the disc’s back cover emulates the appearance of classic Blue Note LPs, the music within is skewed solidly toward West Coast coolness.
The unusual alto-trombone front line works very well in this style of music. Warren Rand’s alto approach is reminiscent of Bud Shank and Phil Woods, edgy without being abrasive. Tom Hill is a fine trombonist with a fluid attack and bright tone, complementing the alto sound nicely. Pianist Steve Christofferson, a popular local figure, and drummer Tony Jefferson form a flexible rhythmic partnership with Bennett, who composed most of the selections here. The bassist’s approach to the upright is limber and technically masterful.
There’s an enjoyable array of tunes on this collection. The bossa rhythm of Melange and lightly swinging waltz of Waltz For Milo are especially comfortable, and the ensemble holds fast onto the uptempo Whee Up. Ray’s Idea, a less familiar piece by Ray Brown and Gil Fuller, nostalgically recalls the fertile era between bebop’s complexity and the openness of free jazz. Another little-known gem is the dark, mysterious White Flight, by bass icon Putter Smith. Bennett takes the initial melodic statements on Tiny Capers, a Clifford Brown composition, and the Billy Strayhorn classic Chelsea Bridge. All of the performers have a natural feel for the unfailing swing necessary to pull off this type of jazz. Tourology works beautifully on all levels, an immensely enjoyable jazz offering.
By LYNN DARROCH
Jazz bassist and composer Ed Bennett grew up in the mainstream, where he honed his craft with such greats as vocalist Carmen McRae, Grammy-winning saxophonist Joe Henderson and the Akiyoshi-Tabackin Big Band. That journeyman’s odyssey with the older generation prepared Bennett will for the future, because the most vital jazz being written today speaks through a form first developed more than 40 years ago.
Bennett’s new CD, “Tourology” – the Portland resident’s fourth as a leader- evokes the mainstream compositional style at its most melodic, lavishly voiced peak in the 1950s. And his all-star quintet makes this recording’s 11 examples of the hard bop, West Coast jazz and classic bebop styles sing with contemporary freshness.
For most of its history, the highest value in jazz was innovation. Musicians relentessly pursued new sounds and techniques at the expense of fully investigating the possibilities of each successive form. But the latest generation of jazz players to reach maturity are the music’s first real post-modernist. With the whole history of jazz at their fingertips, many used some of the hippest inventions of the past to express themselves in the present. Bennett’s music never sounds like work of preservationists, though.
“Acoustic jazz breathes,” says Steve Christofferson, pianist on this album and a leader and recording artist on his own. There’s organic motion and elasticity here that makes each tune a new adventure, as if it were being performed live. Like Warren Rand’s incisive alto saxophone, the sound is pretty but rough-hewn. Cut with bold strokes, it is emotional, dynamic and spontaneous.
It’s also carefully arranged, showcasing Bennett’s well-constructed melodies and lovely chord voicings on his seven originals. With trombonist Tom Hill harmonizing with Rand on the front line, while Christofferson and drummer Tony Jefferson join Bennett in the swinging rhythm section, they recall the soulful and complex music created at the legendary Prestige recording sessions outside New York city and the expansive optimism of jazz on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1950s.
By GEORGE FENDEL AUGUST, 1997 Jazzscene Magazine
Ed Bennett is one of those powerhouse players whose virtuosity inspires the other participants on the bandstand to give it all they’ve got. Bennett remains one of the few bassist committed to a totally unamplified sound. But it’s the hugely rhythmic sound of infinite ideas as demonstrated on this CD. Bennett’s quintet includes Warren Rand, alto; Tom Hill, trombone; Steve Christofferson, piano, and Tony Jefferson, drums. Together they cruise through a selection of Bennett originals and a few standards mostly in medium to up tempos. I was tickled to see the inclusion of a Clifford Brown tune with a lilting, infectious melody. It’s called Tiny Capers, and since I first encountered it through the selective ear of my son Marc, it has remained an all-timer. It’s just one example of an album brimming with vitality and artistry.
By DICK BOGLE
The Portland Skanner
Bassist Ed Bennett is a California transplant who should be welcome in Oregon with open arms since he brings a boatload of talent with him. OK, so he’s been here for seven years. He brought with him years of experience working with Jimmy Witherspoon, Carmen McRae, Joe Henderson, Sonny Stitt, Frank Morgan, Anita O’Day and more. That kind of experience holds him in good stead working with such first-class Portland cats as alto saxophonist Warren Rand, trombonist Tom Hill, pianist Steve Christofferson and drummer Tony Jefferson, all of whom help make this a five-star release in anybody’s city. Bennett also ably showcases his composing style with seven of the 11 charts penned by him. His arranging skills also deserve high marks, particularly with the way the horn parts are written.
Rand and Hill blend their sounds so well. Some tracks are reminiscent of Tadd Dameron’s sound. An example of the nice pairing of the two horns comes with the first track, “Tourology.” It’s a cute up tempo piece written by Bennett. Hill is impressive with his trombone solo on “Melange,” a Latin-flavored nifty. Rand is mellow and warm on the thoughtful ballad “Passing,” written by Bennett and dedicated to his father. One of the most beautiful ballads ever written is given its due by Bennett as he lays down a gorgeous unaccompanied solo on the Billy Strayhorn classic “Chelsea Bridge.”
By FRANK RUBOLINO
Bassist Bennett has assembled a well-deciplined band that showcases seven of his compositions, plus four others. The group consists of a strong trombone/alto front line that projects a sound larger than what you would expect from a quintet. The music is straight-ahead jazz done in a very tasteful way, but the 11 tunes are short (longest is 5:19) and don’t offer much room to stretch out.
Bennett’s composing style reminds me of Mancini’s work with Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky television series. It consists of close harmonies in the theme statement, short improvisational periods, and a strong rhythm section. I know we no longer differentiate east and west coast sounds, but this album projects a definite Southern California flavor, even though it was recorded in Oregon. Only later did I read that Bennett is originally from and has played in Los Angeles. A good example is “Melange.” It is a sound track in search of a sit-com that has a delightful Latin beat and a theme that is original and catchy. Hill and Rand skate through the piece with vigor and the whole thing gels.
On Clifford Brown’s “Tiny Capers,” Bennett takes the lead with a bass solo that touches on the melody and then prances through the changes accompanied by only piano and drums. He also pays homage to Ray Brown on “Ray’s Idea” with a fast-paced bebop rendition of the tune. His other spotlight tune is a bass solo of Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” When the quintet format is on stage, Bennett uses a propelling bass sound to boot his up tempo songs or to control the slower paced ones. Typically he allows Rand and Hill some short bursts, but no extended improvisation occurs. They do and excellent job with Bennett’s charts, though, and their harmonies mix very well with the theme statements. Bennett’s band plays with gusto and spirit. This album is a fine example of his compositional skill and his leadership ability. Besides, after listening to the melodies a few times, they start to grow on you.