Daniel Bennett Group – Clockhead Goes To Camp (2013)

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Whenever I describe a jazz artist as unique and eccentric, using odd meters and irregular note progressions, that means I’m describing a whack jazz artist about 99% of the time. Reedman Daniel Bennett on the hand belongs in that one percent.

When taking in the Daniel Bennett Group’s Peace and Stability Among Bears a couple of years ago, I was struck by how Bennett could construct songs that were immediately engaging in spite of the complex construction of the songs. The remark “by performing jazz that’s as diametrically opposed to most of the jazz of the Downtown scene, Daniel Bennett and his cohorts can be just as unpredictable and creative” summed up what that record was like, and it easily describes the DBG’s newest venture, Clockhead Goes To Camp.

That Bennett was able to maintain the consistency is a feat since the Daniel Bennett Group was completely overhauled for this album. Mark Cocheo mans the guitar, Peter Brendler handles acoustic bass and Tyson Stubelek is behind the drum kit. With titles like “The Old Muskrat Welcomes Us,” “An Elephant Buys A New Car,” “Nine Piglets” and “Last Summer At Camp Creepy,” there seems to be an outdoorsy, animal theme and that’s apt, because this is outdoorsy jazz. Everywhere, Bennett is blurring the lines between improvisation and scoring because oftentimes the solo is the melody.

Using bright harmonies and agile arrangements the resulting music is deceptively easy sounding, bolstered by the usage of folk style strains. It’s even music you can clap along to, and handclaps are indeed used on the first couple of tracks, “Muskrat” and “Elephant,” the latter involving a real tricky time signature. Using a tone and articulation similar to Spyro Gyra’s Jay Beckenstein, Bennett suggests what that band’s music might have sounded like in an organic setting. Bennett’s flute, used on “Nine Piglets,” “Paint The Fence” and “Patience,” brings out the folk side of his musical complexion, with the last of those three employing a second line beat and remaining distinctly Daniel Bennett music. Bennett pulls out his clarinet for “John Lizard And Mr. Pug,” a folk melody set to a waltz.

It’s not as if Bennett and his crew don’t take changes: spoken word poet Rimas Uzgiris recites his prose for “Whatever It Might Be”…with Autotune. “Last Summer At Camp Creepy” threatens to get dissonant but never crosses over, and Bennett really cuts loose on the flute for “Paint The Fence.” For “Cabin 12 Escapes Into The Night,” Bennett sax maneuvers his alto sax rather artfully around jibber jabber voices, and by the end of the song, he’s come close to playing free jazz. “Sandpaper Is Necessary” is just him on that sax; even when it’s all unaccompanied improv as in this instance, it remains quite melodic.

Daniel Bennett had already found his own sound, but he and his band still manage to find fresh new twists on his older ideas for Clockhead Goes To Camp.

Clockhead Goes To Camp goes on sale in digital form May 7, by Manhattan Daylight Media. A CD release concert is planned for July 10th at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan. Visit the Daniel Bennett Group’s site for more info.

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