|David Benoit - American Landscape|
|Music Disc Reviews DTS 5.1 CD|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 25 November 1997|
I’ve enjoyed pianist David Benoit’s work for several years, and he has certainly produced a good deal over the years. He can also write a good tune, and as a result is easily criticized as being too commercial and not "serious" enough. Well, I suppose I have no taste: his most "serious" work, the album "Waiting for Spring," is not one of my favorites, while the indubitably poppy "Freedom At Midnight" is. Oh, well.
Benoit began work on "American Landscape," originally released in 1997, after learning that his mother was dying of cancer. She had always loved what Benoit calls "American music" – the works of Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, Sondheim and others – and he decided to dedicate the album to her and to express the influence of these composers in the music.
The result is not one of Benoit’s most commercial albums – there’s no "Kei’s Song" here – but we instead get a collection of pieces at least as varied as in his 1994 album "Shaken Not Stirred." There are certainly influences aplenty, and some stunning sounds, including the London Symphony Orchestra (unfortunately rather behind the beat in some of the brisker passages) and the guest appearance of virtuoso instrumentalist Béla Fleck. The overall effect is lighthearted in most cases, but with tinges of sadness, notably in "Saying Goodbye," written for his mother, who ultimately died on the day the album was due to be mastered.
The title track is reminiscent of Copland, with a very Western feel enhanced by Tommy Morgan’s harmonica and the aforementioned Fleck on banjo. Some tracks have the feel of film music, and at least one number was apparently developed from a sketch for a Kevin Costner movie. Later on there’s an energetic salsa-influenced number, "Mr. Rodriguez’s Opus," featuring a very Latin trumpet from Jerry Hey.
The climax of the album and one of its finest tracks is the closer, "Speed Racer," in which Fleck’s banjo and Benoit’s piano duel with each other, alternating passages back and forth before taking off into animated, fully-orchestrated jazz trio. Benoit does his own orchestral arrangements, and even conducts.
The 5.1 remix was handled by Al Schmitt, who also recorded the original tracks, and the surround is nicely understated, leaving the stage clear for Benoit’s sparkling piano, although in one case it seems unusually distant, as if recorded with the orchestra.
The overall effect is dramatic, often exciting and excellently performed and, as the only Benoit album I am aware of in 5.1, it will be worth owning if you’re a fan, even though in my estimation it is not his best work, albeit an unusually varied one.