Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review: Clockhead Goes to Camp - Daniel Bennett Group

Personnel: Daniel Bennett: alto saxophone, flute and clarinet; Mark Cocheo: guitar; Peter Brendler: bass; Tyson Stubelek: drums.

Clockhead Goes to Camp begins with “The Old Muskrat,” a sweet, cheerful tune with an African feel (aided by handclaps) taken at a strolling mid-tempo, alto sax playing in unison with guitar.  After the theme, Bennett plays a simple, bluesy solo, and Bennett and Cocheo improvise together to close out the cut.

“An Elephant Hugs a New Car” is another mid-tempo tune with an African feel that again features handclaps (or claves?).  Mid-way through the cut, it breaks out into something of a party, with Bennett playing a repeated phrase on alto sax against a background of shouts, a penny-whistle, tom toms, and a tambourine.

“Nine Piglets” has Bennett on flute, playing a pleasant, mid-tempo melody with a strong, water-clear tone.  The tune has a slight Spanish tinge, which is carried on in Cocheo’s pretty solo.  The cut ends on a repeated phrase played by flute and guitar.

“Mr. Duck’s Beautiful New Kitchen” has Bennett on alto again but in ¾ time.  In his solo, his tone is somewhat like Paul Desmond’s, except that he occasionally employs a very un-Desmond-like growl.  Cocheo adds a skillful, lyrical guitar solo.     

“Clockhead Goes to Camp” starts with an unaccompanied Bennett alto solo, his sweet, liquid tone standing out.  The tune itself is strongly syncopated and has a tricky meter.  Cocheo contributes a solid guitar solo.

“Whatever It Might Be” has Bennett on flute again, playing the tune’s theme in a brisk 5/4.  Bennett plays another solid solo, as does Cocheo, and then the cut has a partly distorted, singing/talking interlude.  The cut ends with Bennett improvising on flute. 

“Last Summer at Camp Creepy” has another tricky meter and Bennett improvising on alto sax with some jarring, against-the-grain lines.  Cocheo’s solo is more respectful of the chord changes and, again, intensely lyrical.  Brendler then plays a soulful bass solo that makes good use of dynamics.

“Paint the Fence” is a lovely, bittersweet melody, another flute feature, again in a tricky meter, with gentle acoustic and electric guitar strumming in the background.  Bennett lets loose with a somewhat wild solo, setting a mood rather than making a logical statement. 

“Sandpaper is Necessary” is an unaccompanied alto sax feature, on which Bennett uses his warm, liquid tone to good effect, creating his narrative by playing a phrase, resting a beat or two, and then playing exploratory variations on it, increasing the intensity as the performance unfolds.

“John Lizard & Mr. Pug” has Bennett on clarinet, displaying a thick, fluid tone on a 3/8 piece that sounds almost like a polka waltz, lasting just over a couple of minutes.

“Cabin 12 Escapes into the Night” is a foray into the avant-garde, made up of snippets of spoken phrases (from two sources), loose alto sax musings, tambourine, and guitar strumming.  Bennett gets into some altissimo screaming before the cut closes with Cocheo picking a repeated phrase.

“Patience” is a fast, 5/4 piece with Bennett on flute.  Bennett gets off a slick, bluesy flute solo, and then Brendler adds a funky, folksy bass solo.  Cocheo then plays a distorted, bluesy solo, displaying a few more tricks he has up his sleeve.

The recording ends with “Ten Piglets,” a feature for Cocheo’s unaccompanied, reverb-y electric guitar, a pretty, spacy piece appropriate for an alternative folk/rock group.

Most of “Clockhead Goes to Camp” is a jazzy take on the kind of earthy African pop music you might hear on Putumayo recordings, and it strikes me as a refreshing and innovative approach.  Bennett employs tricky meters to keep listeners on their toes, and the musicians keep their improvisations concise; the average cut is under four minutes.  Bennett and Cocheo are first-rate musicians and improvisers; Bennett takes the lead, but Cocheo provides stellar contributions to the project with vital background support and intelligent, ear-catching guitar improvisations.  This is not straight-ahead jazz that invites deep analysis, but it is attractive, rhythmically affecting music enlivened by terse jazz improvisations, and it is a sheer pleasure to listen to. 

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