Contemporary Jazz

VOICES Notes and news on Contemporary Jazz releases

Diverse Heroes

28 DEC 12 JONATHAN WIDRAN

In the mid- to late-2000s, as the terrestrial smooth jazz format was struggling for survival, "covermania" took over and many of the genre's stalwart artists came up with clever thematic ways to approach the unspoken edict to do new versions of familiar classics-none more brilliantly than five-time Grammy-nominated pianist David Benoit, who fashioned his 2008 set Heroes as an eclectic homage to his influences.

Some of these would be expected from an artist so steeped in both traditional and contemporary jazz: Bill Evans ("Waltz For Debbie"), Dave Grusin ("Mountain Dance"), Oscar Peterson ("You Look Good To Me"), Dave Brubeck ("Blue Rondo A La Turk") and Horace Silver ("Song For My Father"). But Benoit also took the opportunity to remind fans that he grew up in the '60s and '70s, just as excited about pop and rock legends like The Beatles ("She's Leaving Home"), Elton John ("Your Song"), Michael Jackson (the Jackson 5 classic "Never Can Say Goodbye") and The Doors ("Light My Fire").

The pianist's colorful interpretations helps create a fascinating portrait of Benoit's own multi-dimensional artistry. Taking a playful yet intimate approach, he recalls his roots by focusing his piano passions on his Steinway while working with his usual touring ensemble.

Longtime Benoit fans know of his vast resume as a symphony conductor, so it's not surprising that he includes a string quartet featuring members of the Asia American Symphony-which he has conducted for over a decade-on "She's Leaving Home." More than any other masterwork, it was Sgt. Pepper that he credits for changing his musical life.