Michael Benedict’s Bopitude – whose mission is to expose the public to the hard bop style of jazz that dominated the late ’50s and early ’60s – expanded their audience and reach with their debut at the new Bridge Street Theatrein Catskill, a former factory that is still under renovation. The concert was held in the Speakeasy, which will eventually become the lobby of the main performance space when renovations are completed.
It proved to be an intimate space that was absolutely appropriate for the music. The full house was treated to a rousing performance of the music of the underrated trumpeter Kenny Dorham, well-known and respected as a sideman of Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk, in addition to leading his own bands. Perhaps he was known best for his partnership with the late saxophonist Joe Henderson.
I have a problem, which I share with many of my friends in the jazz world: I worry about young musicians that catch my eye. Having continued success in this genre is about as easy as walking a tightrope over a swimming pool filled with piranha (while you’re on fire), so when one of them disappears from my line of sight for an extended period, it’s hard not to think, “Well, the Bear got another one!” Happily, any fears I’ve had about altoist Sharel Cassity were squashed when she appeared with Greater Nippertown’s Sultans of Bop, Michael Benedict & Bopitude.
You may remember Cassity from her searing opening Sunday set at Jazz @ the Lake in 2010. She had recently released her debut recording Relentless, and some truly nasty musicians (including trombonist Michael Dease, who’s become a mini-industry all his own since then) helped Cassity blow away the crowd. But then – aside from a couple of guest shots on other people’s recordings – I lost sight of her. I shouldn’t have worried, though; nobody this good and this dedicated simply disappears. In addition to playing with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars and the all-female big band Diva, Cassity just released a set of standards called Manhattan Romance on the Japanese label Venus. While standards may not be Cassity’s primary focus – she’s an accomplished composer, with more new stuff waiting to be recorded – her latest recording made her a perfect fit for Bopitude’s unerring musical direction.
What’s more, Cassity’s appearance was more evidence of Benedict’s dedication to expanding the sound of his pet project: Just as bari-sax legend Gary Smulyan gave Bopitude undeniable resonance, Cassity’s alto brought a wonderfully different harmonic (and not a little sass) to the band’s killer front line as the group launched into the opener, “Monk’s Dream.” Cassity caught the opening solo, which went leaping and bounding around Troy’s Daily Grind. (Benedict grabbed the opportunity to play the unconventional space when the show’s original venue, Proctors, fell through.) Cassity gave a quick nod to Monk’s atonality before taking full, undeniable ownership of the house; she had range, chops and some fiendish ideas, and both tenorman Brian Patneaude and trumpeter Chris Pasin had to pump it up to keep up with her.
The Greater Nippertown area indeed has been blessed with a wealth of talented musicians. And a goodly number of them were certainly displayed on Saturday, February 1, when Michael Benedict hosted a quartet of guest drummer-percussionists backed by his band Bopitude in concert at The Egg in Albany.
Modeled after the famous jazz drum battles in the 1950s and ’60s at Birdland, the concert featured Mark Foster, Pete Sweeney and Bob Halek on trap drum kits, as well as percussionist Brian Melick.
And while there’s been no official word yet from the folks at The Egg, Michael Benedict & Bopitude have announced that they’ll be hosting a Drum Battle Concert at The Egg on Saturday, February 1, similiar to the one they hosted at Van Dyck back in October. Five different powerhouse percussionists – Michael Benedict, Pete Sweeney, Bob Haleck, Mark Foster and Brian Melick – square off in pairs to fuel the big beat behind Bopitude, wrapping up the night with a drum-a-palooza five-way battle. Ticket prices and on-sale date TBA.
Jazz vibraphone master Gary Burton celebrated his 70th birthday back in January, and he brought his year-long birthday tour to Nippertown for not one, but two stellar concerts with his New Gary Burton Quartet. They headlined Day One of Lake George Arts Project’s annual Jazz at the Lake Festival in Shepard Park on Saturday, September 14, and then less than two weeks later returned for a simply sparkling concert at the College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center in Albany.
Age certainly hasn’t slowed Burton down. If anything, he seems busier than ever. In addition to his touring schedule, the seven-time Grammy Award-winner also just written his autobiography, “Learning to Listen,” and released a new album with his quartet, Guided Tour, both of which were released in August.
With his remarkable four-mallet technique, Burton opened the Massry Center concert with an unaccompanied intro to “Late Night Sunrise” from the band’s 2011 debut album, Common Ground, utilizing his remarkable four-mallet technique to deftly blend single notes and chords within the same phrase.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
A JazzApril story
Given a choice, I’ll take new jazz over old jazz. To my mind, anything that moves the music forward should get all the love it can. But last Saturday night, I needed to get back to the basics, to the roots, and get a big juicy cleansing shot of the pure. For me, that’s hard bop, which added nice sharp teeth to a sub-genre that reflected this country’s energized post-World War II mentality. Thankfully, Michael Benedict & Bopitude are dedicated to not only showcasing this music, but also making it as electrifying as it was back in the day.
Besides my need to flush out the avant-garde rubbish that had clogged up my soul the night before, there were two other reasons for checking out Bopitude’s latest appearance. First, this group sounds big at festivals and concert halls; in a small venue like the Van Dyck’s upstairs concert space, they’re absolutely massive – and that was before they added the second reason for seeing this band: Baritone sax master Gary Smulyan, who’s got a sound that shakes whatever floor he’s standing on. Benedict’s sextet has a weapons-grade front line, and I had a front row seat. What’s more, when I came in off the street, people who’d attended the first set were buying tickets for the second set, so I knew this was going to be a sweet time.
Drummer-bandleader Michael Benedict leads Bopitude – featuring baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, trumpeter Chris Pasin, tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude, pianist Bruce Barth and bassist Mike Lawrence – through Bobby Timmons’ classic “Moanin'” during their recent concert at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady’s Whisperdome.
And at 7:30pm on Saturday (November 10), an expanded, 16-piece, big band variation of Bopitude – featuring special guest saxophonist Ralph Lalama and pianist Bruce Barth – plays the music of Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Bill Holman and Gary McFarland in concert at the Greenville High School Auditorium in Greenville. Tix are $15 and can be reserved by phoning 518.966.5070.
Michael Benedict conducting the Greenville Middle School Jazz Ensemble.
Review and photographs by J Hunter
School should be all about education, and that’s what was happening at the drop party for Michael Benedict & Bopitude’s second Planet Arts release in two years, “Five and One.” The proceeds from the evening – after expenses – were to go to the Greenville Educational Foundation, and thanks to underwriting from a local insurance agency, those expenses were completely taken care of. (While revealing this, drummer/Greenville HS music czar Michael Benedict threw a smile at baritone saxman Gary Smulyan, who’d broken his ankle stepping off a bus the previous month, and cracked, “You need insurance, man!”) The real education happened when Bopitude showed Greenville Central Schools’ students what master musicians look and sound like when they’re plying their craft.
Anyone who saw Bopitude at the Albany Riverfront Jazz Fest last fall knows they hit hard in concert, but the power with which they launched Sonny Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle” really snapped heads back. Teaming Smulyan up with tenorman Brian Patneaude and trumpeter Chris Pasin straps a supercharger onto an already-hot front line, not to mention expanding the harmonies tenfold. As a result, Bopitude in full cry is – in a word – massive! Smulyan may have limped onstage with the help of a cane, but he leapt on his solo spot like a famished wolverine and simply tore it to shreds, inspiring Patneaude and Pasin to do exactly the same. Benedict was dropping bombs from the back, and really brought the noise before the group nailed the last chorus. After the applause, Benedict deadpanned, “We like to start the evening with a ballad…”
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