Even talented and accomplished stars have idols. That's the theme of David Benoit's newest release on the Peak Records label, Heroes; and in addition to paying tribute to those artists, he also continues a pattern of stretching himself musically. Benoit has a string of best-selling albums that have consistently hit the contemporary jazz charts for the last two decades, but with this release he's continuing to move into different arenas.
He did the same with his last album, 2006's Standards, which featured the popular pianist dipping his toe into traditional jazz waters. Here he's presenting us with a collection of songs made famous by some legendary stars, but although there are again some fine jazz pieces, he's also included some pop tunes.
For example, he's included his cover of one of the most familiar classic rock anthems, the Doors' "Light My Fire," and it's a surprise appearance — but it is nicely done. His solid keyboard play, backed by some good support from drummer Jamey Tate and percussionist Brad Dutz, provide a new imagining for an old song.
Those guys are both part of Benoit's regular touring group, as is bassist David Hughes, and they're joined on selected pieces by saxophonist Andy Suzuki. One of those is the Brubeck classic, "Blue Rondo a la Turk," and Suzuki wisely doesn't try to emulate the original Paul Desmond sound, but he still leaves us a little unfulfilled.
A few other jazz legends are well-covered, with tracks devoted to Bill Evans' classic "Waltz For Debbie," and Oscar Peterson's "You Look Good To Me," along with Horace Silver's "Song For My Father." Benoit also doesn't forget to include a little something from the world of contemporary jazz, most notably Dave Grusin's "Mountain Dance," and not surprisingly turns in a fine job on it.
Benoit even includes songs made famous by Elton John and the Beatles, but a favorite for me was one of his own compositions. It's a lively tune called "A Twisted Little Etude," and he wrote it as a tribute to Brubeck. It features some nice solos by Suzuki on his sax, and Benoit is at his best here.
Ultimately, tribute albums are either valued for the right reasons – a talented pro paying homage to his heroes – or shrugged off as something less than the real thing. You can follow the link for some sound samples and decide that for yourself, but as for me I'd say that this is a nice collection that's worth a listen — and it might open some new doors for Benoit's regular fans.