Due out March 17, 2023 via Tapestry Records, Denver Sessions features a thrilling sax-guitar-vibes frontline with vibist Ted Piltzecker along with bassist Patrick McDevitt and drummer Paul Romaine
“The vast scope of moods that Askren and Benedict are able to capture is astounding.” – Betsy Bell, Jazz Journal
“Askren and Benedict offer the listener a unique experience of groove-based compositions… that will excite and engage the listening experience, even for the most discerning jazz aficionado.” – Geannine Reid, All About Jazz
Denver Sessions was sparked by Dave Askren and Jeff Benedict wanting to record with New York-based vibraphonist Ted Piltzecker. “Dave and I are always looking for the next project,” says Benedict. That search is borne out by their shared discography. Each of their collaborative releases has featured a different line-up and setting, allowing them to stretch their well-honed chemistry into new terrain, from the celebration of rhythm on 2013’s It’s All About the Groove to the organ-group outing Come Together in 2017 and the 2020 Wayne Shorter tribute Paraphernalia.
The move to Denver was encouraged by Paul Romaine, a first-call drummer for touring jazz greats like Eddie Harris, Benny Golson and James Moody – as well as a childhood friend of Benedict’s who last joined the pair on Come Together. It was a homecoming for Benedict, who earned his master’s in composition from the University of Denver and spent ten years on the scene there before relocating to the West Coast. At first the notion seemed absurd – why would a frontline split between the jazz meccas of L.A. and NYC converge in Colorado, of all places? – but Askren and Benedict soon warmed to the idea. Romaine had a close relationship with Mighty Fine Productions, a stellar studio, and with bassist Patrick McDevitt, who completed the quintet. He also arranged for the band to conduct master classes and play local concerts and radio appearances while in town.
“It turned from a recording date into a week-long hang, with a series of gigs culminating in the session,” Askren points out. “Instead of just staying home and heading off to the studio every morning, we were off on a trip.”
Beyond being a virtuoso of the vibraphone, Piltzecker is also the ideal companion for such an excursion. His switch to the vibes after earning a degree in trumpet at Eastman School of Music is just one example of his eccentric talents. “Ted’s always a great hang,” Benedict says with a laugh. “He juggles, he rides a unicycle, he’s a pilot – and he just happens to play vibes really well. He’s a great person to collaborate on music with because he’s got big ears and listens to all kinds of music.”
The sax-guitar-vibes frontline led Askren and Benedict to delve into that unique formation’s history for inspiration as they conceived new music for the date. Perhaps the most famous example, the Benny Goodman Sextet with guitarist Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton, led to the inclusion of the album’s sole cover, a dynamic rendition of the classic “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” The gravitational pull of the mid-sixties Golden Age proved irresistible, boasting such legendary figures as Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson
Jackie McLean recorded with a sax, vibes, and trombone or trumpet line-up featuring Hutcherson on several Blue Note dates. Askren was intrigued by the bass intro to McLean’s “Hootnan” from 1967’s Action, taking a similar approach for his own “Jackie’s Idea,” which opens the album. Action, along with countless other jazz classics, was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s famed studio in New Jersey, and Askren tips his hat to the site and its legacy on the briskly swinging “Englewood Cliffs.” The guitarist’s airy ballad “Memories” is dedicated in part by the late guitar great Pat Martino. Askren revels in the lyrical and spacious atmosphere of the tune, ceding solo space to Piltzecker and Benedict (on keening alto).
Benedict’s stately, elegant “Marie Adele” is an ode to his late mother, while the pendulum swings to the far extreme for the blistering “Orange Express.” The rollicking “Ennui Anyone?” takes its title from illustrator Edward Gorey’s macabre ABC book The Gashlycrumb Tinies, where N stands for “Neville, who died from ennui.” There’s little chance of that affliction during this tune, whose loping tempo is never less than engaging. Piltzecker takes the album in a Latin direction with his three contributions. The Cuban-inspired “Rhumba Liam” pays tribute to a beloved family pet, while “Poised” is a sinuous samba. The gently buoyant “Resilience” remembers the unsung heroes who guided the country through the recent pandemic.
Whether it was the sonic blend of their instruments with Piltzecker’s vibes, the camaraderie shared by the members of the quintet, or the change of scenery, Askren and Benedict were thrilled by the Denver Sessions and the chemistry they quickly forged with this unique quintet. “On the surface there are several different jazz genres thrown together here,” Askren says. “What’s cool is it’s all the same guys with our own styles, so by the end it really sounds like a band. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened anywhere else.”
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Photo by Diane Alancraig
Guitarist Dave Askren has performed with a variety of artists in both jazz and Latin music, including Bobby Shew, Bob Moses, Antonio Hart, Delfeayo Marsalis, Hendrik Muerkins, David King & Reid Anderson of The Bad Plus, Stuart Hamm, and Kevin Eubanks, as well as pop artists including Marilyn McCoo, Latoya Jackson, The Coasters, The Platters, The Drifters, The Marvelletes, and Brenton Wood. Dave attended and taught guitar at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and also studied privately with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, pianist Charlie Banacos, guitarist Mick Goodrick and drummers Bob Moses and Bob Gullotti.
Saxophonist Jeff Benedict has been playing professionally since the age of 14. He has performed with such artists as Phil Woods, Harold Danko, Marvin Stamm, Gary Burton, Randy Brecker, Eddie Daniels, Jimmy Heath, Bob Mintzer and Dave Brubeck, among others. For nearly a decade he was the lead alto saxophonist in the Aspen Jazz Ensemble and has been a renowned performer and educator in Los Angeles since 1989. Benedict is also an accomplished classical musician, having performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the Denver Symphony, among other ensembles.
Dave Askren / Jeff Benedict – Denver Sessions
Tapestry Records – Tapestry 76033 – Recorded March 5-6, 2021
Release date March 17, 2023