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…”