Friday, February 18 2011
9:30pm The Triad Theater, NYC
The double-bill was to benefit not-for-profit Abingdon Theatre Company. First it featured the Daniel Bennett Group. I had not heard this group before but caught a glimpse online earlier that afternoon just to get the scoop on his background as multi-instrumentalist. I have to admit, I was pretty excited based on the reviews of his music compared more to that of a folk musician than jazz (whatever that means). Perhaps such critics see the word folk beyond the sense of a folk “guitar strumming story-teller” or the “folk music of India”. Music for the folk. Music played by the folk. Bennet’s music did not evoke this feeling. It also lacked a critical element of traditional jazz make-up: swing. This being said, his musicianship is refined as well as his is technique (he studied at New England Conservatory). He performs each composition with a combination of dignity and playfulness. You can hear it in his tone, light and airy with the chromatic and lyrical motion of his lines.
The musicians who accompanied him during his set included: Mark Cocheo (electric guitar), Mark Lau (bass) and Brian Adler (drums). The trio played superbly, executing challenging, metric modulating charts with detail and color. Cocheo’s improvisations were particularly enjoyable out of the band (including Bennett). Precision and grace in his playing while incorporating his pedal board to compliment one moment experimental, followed by a blues sensibility. This may unveiled a fop-ah behind the quality of musicianship backing up Daniel Bennett. The music is challenging to perform and was, at times, challenging to absorb . The fact is Bennett has more of the chops of a refined classical musician than a sunday soulful supper alto saxophonist. His music reflects this, conveying rigor and meticulousness over down-home folk art.
After a brief intermission, Charlie Hunter strutted on to stage with drummer Eric Kalb and smiled into the audience. Then looking at Kalb, he asked “what do you want to play?” “Muuuusic” Kalb replied, the audience chuckled and I let out a sigh of content. The air in the room dropped and the audience rolled their shoulders back. Hunter’s creation, a 7-string guitar featuring 3 strings of bass and 4 of guitar, allows him complete control of harmony and melody just like that of a pianist. During most of the performance he vocalized frustrated grunts responding to both his ability and inability to execute on the instrument. He moves across the fretboard effortlessly while facing Kalb (un mic’d), they smile as if they are jamming in their living room and to the audience, it felt just as personal. At one moment, Kalb dropped a stick, reached back behind him to grab another, mouthing “I’m a professional” to Hunter who let out a roaring chuckle. They’ve been playing together a little over 2 years now and have been touring the states having a great time, Kalb later told me.
If this double-bill was like Napoleon ice-cream, Daniel Bennett Group would have been vanilla and Charlie Hunter would have been strawberry and chocolate. I was lucky to have experienced all sweet flavors of music at The Triad but would have left a lot hungrier had Charlie Hunter not been one the most talented, captivating, entertaining guitarists I have ever seen.