Benny Reid

Escaping Shadows

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Young alto saxophonist Benny Reid offers a peculiar mix of contemporary jazz flavored by throwback fusion elements on this, his second major-label effort. Synthesizers and unbalanced dynamics overwhelm or underscore his otherwise pleasant and literate horn, while this batch of originals pays no small homage to the late-'70s music of Pat Metheny. Singsong melodies, the wordless vocals of Jeff Taylor on five tracks (sounding very much like Mark Ledford or Mark Winkler), plus the acoustic and electric guitar of Richard Padron distracts from what otherwise could be catchy music. There's little need to sweeten the pot with accompaniment that is unnecessary at best, and unappealing at worst. Perhaps producer Chris Dunn can be directly blamed for the music choices and accompaniment Reid was coerced into.

The opening number, strangely, is "The Final Chapter," but alludes to the rest of the album's added-on layers that take away from Reid's tuneful playing. "New Days" provides a firmer lyricism, with Metheny's "Always & Forever" sporting a better balance in lower mezzo piano volume levels, while the straight funk of "Five Years Later" more certainly echoes the skyscraper approach of Metheny. Padron's electric guitar is simply too loud, rubbing the music the wrong way as he clashes against the softer tones of "Firelight" until it eventually speeds up to a fast road song mode. The clashing of snaky lines versus a tapped-out rhythm during "Sleeping Beauty" simply does not work well, while the plodding rhythms of "Cutting" mismatches retro fusion and current-day values, but not in a good way. "New Days" is a pensive waltz, but sounds dated, and hardly updated or fresh, while swelling oceanic waves of sound dominate the title track, enjoyable but copped. To its credit, thank goodness, this music does not resort to the so-called "smooth jazz" wallpaper-cotton-candy formulaic tripe. It seems Reid is standing directly in the shadows of his predecessors rather than emerging from them. This is a disappointing recording, with only hints of an urban or urbane style, from a clearly talented artist who should make future inroads as he comes of age.

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