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Music Review: Bennett Paster – Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful

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On his official website, pianist Bennett Paster describes the music on his new album Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful as integrating “swing with Latin and Brazilian rhythms to forge a contemporary, accessible style.” Accessible is the key word here. Beautiful is in the ear of the listener, and whatever you might think the “beautiful” Paster is pursuing might be, there is little doubt that his music aims at mainstream modern. There is little in this album that explores the farthest regions. So if you like your jazz in the traditional modern, you’re going to like this collection of nine original Paster compositions arranged for quintet and sextet.

“’The Beautiful’ to which the title refers,” he explains on his site, “isn’t traditional aesthetic beauty, rather it’s honest musical expression from within. This expression forms the core of my sound. It incorporates a wide spectrum of emotions using sonic textures and colors which create a picture of life through music.” He goes on to reject the excessive complexity of much of modern music, in favor of something simpler—music that looks for the shortest distance between “inspiration and its expression.” If that’s what he is pursuing, he’s found it.

He is joined on the album by tenor sax players Joel Frahm and Tim Armacost (who also plays soprano) and trumpeter Alex Pope Norris. They contribute some fine solo work right from the opening track, the swinging “A Penny for Kenny,” to the last, “Bash Into Spring.” This closing number is both the longest tune on the album, and one of the best.

Frahm does some killer lines on “Scraper,” another gem, followed by some sweet piano in tandem with the horns, and then a featured drum solo from Willard B. Dyson, Jr. before it’s over. It is an elegant sound. These are musicians who have bought into Paster’s vision, and their playing—simple, clean, and above all, beautiful—shows it.

Paster himself does some very nice work on the mellow “Homecoming” and “Harmonia Mundi,” which opens with a minute and a half of solo piano before the horns kick in for awhile, and then he takes over again for some solo work with the rhythm section. The quirky “Suspicious Fishes and Quiches” justifies its title, and the Latin and Brazilian influences he talks about come out clearly in “Lewinparie.”

“Once Astray” opens with some mellow sax from Armacost, joined then by Norris and then some subdued bass from Gregory Ryan before Paster takes over. Talk about beautiful. This is it.

“Endgame,” the shortest piece on the album, moves closest to the more experimental voice. If anything, it shows these guys can be as much at home with the new sound as they are with the more traditional.

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