When it comes to long careers in this business, David Benoit is at the top of the heap. For over 30 years, this pianist has put out so much music, it’s almost impossible to listen to a radio station and not hear something of his every hour. His music has run the gamut from smooth jazz, fusion, and pop to orchestral, Charlie Brown, and now a tribute to the music and artists that most influenced David throughout his life. The end result is Heroes, an eleven track CD, with one original track,that offers up innovative, almost totally acoustic, approaches to songs that we all have known and loved for years. David brings this all to life with his regular touring band: Jamey Tate (drums), David Hughes (bass), Brad Dutz (percussion), and special guest, Andy Suzuki (sax).
The CD kicks in with “Mountain Dance,” a Dave Grusin classic tune. David strokes the keys with his usual passion, accompanied by the drumming of Jamey Tate. The acoustic feel of this tune takes you to the beauty of its melody. The first single off the CD, Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” is brought to life in true Benoit fashion…full-bodied yet pure. It retains all of the original tune, but has more life through the strength in David’s piano. “Your Song” by Elton John is pure piano. You start off thinking how can one extraordinary pianist be played by another. David adds his own flair and his signature sound to make this fresh. Though a simple melody, it becomes a bold statement when put into David's hands.
David stripped down the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and made it jazzier. With David Hughes on bass providing the bottom, David stays with the melody but creates a head bopping rendition of the original. “Never Can Say Goodbye” by Clifton Davis and made famous by the Jackson 5, is a tune that David played in R&B bands when he started out. Again, this classic gets a jazz overhaul. With the beat provided by Jamey Tate, David keeps the song flowing with emotional piano playing. It’s definitely a toe-tapper. Next up is the beautiful Lennon-McCartney tune, “She’s Leaving Home.” David brings in a string quartet from the Asia America Symphony to complete the almost surreal feeling on this track. His piano is quiet but powerful. This is a perfect tribute to the duo that brought us so many tremendous hits.
David pays homage to Horace Silver with “A Song For My Father,” the first jazz tune he learned to play by ear. To me, this is classic David Benoit. It has his signature sound and tempo, while retaining all of the original qualities. “You Look Good To Me” is dedicated to another champion pianist, Oscar Peterson. This is “real” jazz; a little looser and improvised. It’s great to see David reach beyond just the smooth jazz arena on this song and the entire CD. For Bill Evans, David brings his own touch to “Waltz for Debbie.” This old-time jazz tune is reminiscent of smokey clubs with a trio setting the mood. David’s playing is as smooth as glass.
David’s original song, “A Twisted Little Etude,” which is a tribute to Dave Brubeck, brings Andy Suzuki in on sax, while David continues to pull the melody along. They trade off on the lead, with the sax taking over at unexpected times. It’s a great blend of Brubeck moments. Closing out the CD is the Dave Brubeck tune, “Blue Rondo A La Turk.” This is a perfect ending to a terrific tribute CD. It’s an amazing blend of piano, sax, hard-driving drums and nothing but jazz!
So, before you begin thinking, “No, not another cover CD,” give this a listen. Not only are these tunes classic and recognizable, they are not your run-of-the-mill covered songs. David has taken the life-altering songs he grew up on or was influenced by, and breathed new life into them. It’s pure Benoit all the way.