Ah, yes. That Benoit boy from Bakersfield (CA.) Only now, he’s that mature, suave-cum-hyperkinetic keyboard impresario who takes his fans on vibrant musical journeys that leave them laughing and cheering – a few in tears for having had the “live” experience, and none in disbelief of his prowess as a music-maker and entertainer.
Me? Just breathless and wanting more, and ready to swear that the man must have 12 fingers on each hand. I count myself among the more than a few attendees in the second show (1/23) who had that confirmed look: “I have been in the presence of jazz royalty.”
It’s rather common knowledge that Benoit is a passionate musical innovator; Mr. “Smooth Jazz” Ambassador. 23 recordings . . . 25 years . . . five Grammy nominations. But up close and in person, the white hair, the red shirt, the blue sports coat, the confident, knowing smile, he looks like he could be just as jaunty in a classic MG sports car as he is bouncing between the Steinway piano and the electronic keyboard on top of it.
And One World Theatre (OWT), whether you partake in the two-course meal in the piazza or in the Celebration Café, is a first rate venue. O.K., parking’s sometimes difficult. But the theatre has the feel of a large drawing room (on steroids maybe), packed with like-minded lovers of contemporary jazz. I wish they’d lose the video of other performances that run before the show. The buzz, the many conversations and the pure anticipation of the live act are adequate, thank you.
Benoit and pals — Jeff Kashiwa on sax, David Hughes on bass and Jamie Tate on drums – delivered 90 minutes of excitement and energy, sharing the stage with Cuban artist Rolando Diaz, who created a canvas reflecting each show. The first painting, “Let the Piano Speak,” was my favorite, and all of the performers signed the painting which was auctioned (silent) to benefit OWT.
The group jammed on tunes from some of the jazz masters, like Brubeck, et al, which Benoit called “a journey of his musical heroes,” and “Heroes” was the name of his ’08 CD. Some of the standards were rendered in non-standard fashion, as expected. And he admitted to “playing some of my old stuff,” (theme to “Charlie Brown,”) as well as several new cuts from his upcoming April album, “Earth Glow,” a name that David settled on barely a week ago.
“Second sets are the funnest,” Benoit conceded, and all four musicians took feature turns, with Tate’s drum solo igniting audience appreciation. Finally, Benoit noting that he had come “straight from the Elephant Room in Boston and that he’d just celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary in Paris (France, of course), played a wonderful composition: “Lulu’s”
When the applause finally died down, he grinned broadly and declared: “I’m having so much fun!” (So was the audience.)
Admonition coming: If you are content to stay downtown or east of Loop 360 for your live music, then you don’t know what you are missing. Check out this mature venue, OneWorldTheatre.org. Before the bluebonnets make a showing, OWT has Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Jerry Jeff Walker, Al Di Meola, Shawn Colvin, Dave Mason, Stephen Bishop, Richie Havens and Keiko Matsui in the wings. Yeah! Up close and personal.