The latest from percussionist/pianist/improviser/composer Joseph Benzola showcases his varied world of Jazz/Classical/Electronica/Kosmiche/Experimental compositions. Though an accomplished pianist, Benzola considers himself a drummer first and indeed Tuareg is a percussion heavy set. Five of the eight tracks continue Benzola’s on-going Portraits Of The Dead series, with three of them focusing on religious figure/writers and two paying tribute to late Jazz greats.
D.T. Suzuki is a drums, percussion, cymbals, bells, blocks, rattles and recorder/flute/horn piece that is alternately sparse and quietly busy. Thomas Merton consists of smoothly flowing Free-Jazz drumming that is so polished and tranquil that it’s easy to not notice that Benzola is really rocking out. Ditto for Benzola’s tributes to fellow drummer Rashied Ali and priest/mystic Padre Pio, though the energy level is amped up considerably. And Don Cherry is a frenetically grooving and ethnic/tribal percussion and flute/recorder workout with a meditatively ambient quality.
The title track is, not surprisingly, African inspired, with tribal Jazz percussion and a whizzing horn melody which together makes for a cool jazzy ethnic groove. But at 3 minutes its way too short, disappointingly cutting out just as its cranking up. I would have liked to hear this one fleshed out more. The hilariously titled Drunken Hipster Pygmy Squaredance Trance in Bushwick goes completely into left field, being a good fun avant-electro/Hip-Hop/mash-up that’s like an urban dance party for the android crowd. And wrapping up the set is Three Short Pieces, which consists of three brief piano musings. The first part is a beautiful solo piano piece that makes me want to run to the nearest smoky Jazz lounge and order a Manhattan. When it shifts gears it becomes an intensely kinetic piano romp that feels like an avant-garde film noir chase scene. And winding down the set is a melodic electric piano coda.
As always Benzola has provided me with music that is enjoyably challenging to listen to, ponder and write about. I’ve probably said this before but this guy should get a cover profile in Wire magazine.
Stream and download Tuareg and other Joseph Benzola albums at his Bandcamp site: http://josephbenzola.bandcamp.com
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz