On March 31, I attended Whole Note Wednesday with the Daniel Bennett Group, which plays at the Liberty Hotel every Wednesday from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM. I approached him before the first set to see if I could ask him questions in between sets, and he was very receptive to the idea. His trio, which consisted of him on alto sax and flute, Brant Grieshaber on electric guitar, and Jason Davis on string bass, played in the hotel lobby next to the Clink Bar. The atrium was very airy; a circular, open column about eight stories high. The converted brick prison-to-upscale hotel allowed the music to reverberate, and the trio filled the space quite well. The ambiance was fairly relaxed with well-dressed, talkative patrons chatting over libations.
The trio began the set with a standard called “Have you met Ms. Jones?”, which had a moderate tempo. The major tonality gave it a light and happy feel. In the sax solo, Bennett would double notes at times while the walking bass kept time. The guitar and bass solos exhibited short runs up and down their respective ranges, jumps, polyrhythm, and syncopated eighth notes. When the trio went back to the head, there were several sequences down the scale, as well as call and response between the sax and electric guitar. In “Joy Spring,” the energetic and up-tempo melody was played in parallel by the sax and guitar, characteristic of the bebop style. The sax solo embellished over the melody with runs across the range of the instrument. The guitar solo played many passing notes and appoggiaturas. The sax and guitar traded fours after the solos, with the sax doubling the notes played by the guitar at times, creating a highly dense melody or exhibiting a cross-rhythm at other times. Key modulation at the bridge provided harmonic complexity. The tag at the end of the piece was a riff played three times, or as one of my classmates pointed out, a turnaround.
The trio as a whole played with great balanced. I expected the saxophone to overpower the electric guitar and string bass, but they all played with equal strength. The flute was an interesting contrast from the strums of the electric guitar and the low tones of a walking bass riff. Bennett remarked after the first set that since the trio lacked a drummer, they all had to be impeccable with timing to maintain the rhythmic structure of the performance. The trio played very cohesively and the lack of drums did not take away from the overall effect of the group.
Bennett employed several interesting techniques in his playing style, including growls on the alto sax for slow ballads such as “How Insensitive” and trills and scalar rips or glissandos on the flute, as heard in “Wave.” In “Confirmation,” Bennett would oftentimes smear the end of an eight bar passage. Also in this piece, the sax traded fours with the guitar, which often played blues scales linearly in bebop fashion. Many of the pieces the trio played were standards with a unique twist, such as a funky (accentuated and prolonged two and four beats) feel, such as in “Blue Monk” or a Latin fusion feel, such as in “Wave.” The flute also provided a nice contrast in sound from the melodious alto sax from piece to piece. One trick Bennett used was a flute pattern that emulated a singing bird, apparent in “Yardbird Special.”
After the first set, which consisted of twelve pieces, Daniel Bennett came over to our table and talked to us for some time. He has played the saxophone since he was 10 years old and moved to the Boston area in 2002. His trios repertoire consists of the Real Book, Bossa Nova, Joe Bean, Bonfi, Kern, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Paul Desmond, and Henry Mancini, playing jazz ranging from the 1950s to 1970s. He keeps the music “light and bright” for gigs at places like the Liberty Hotel, since he provides ambiance for the well-to-do patrons at the bar. He also composes original compositions, and plays four to five nights a week in New England (Rhode Island, Maine, and New York City). Bennett is influenced by funk and world music, flavors that I noticed in the first set. The Daniel Bennett Group has been playing at the Liberty Hotel every Wednesday for the past three months, echoing the trend discussed in class of a band playing at a specific venue over time, developing an in-depth relationship between the band and venue (the band was served a handsome dinner in the lobby after the first set). All in all, the dynamic performance, along with the club ambiance, made for a great evening for jazz appreciation.