Dennis Wells Benjamin

Reflextions in Jazz

Multilayered studio projects, especially those where only one or two artists create all the colors, can sometimes come across as well-conceived and well-executed, but equally a little cold, a tad sterile. Without live interaction amongst a group of players, music can be too clean, too perfect. Sometimes the best music has a few warts to remind us that what we’re hearing is still human.
Dennis Wells Benjamin

Dennis Wells Benjamin

Which makes Dennis Wells Benjamin’s multi-tracked Dark Matter so refreshing. Benjamin, who composed all but one piece, is primarily a guitarist, while musical partner David J. White, who composed the album’s dark-hued closer, “Desolation,” lists saxophone as his main axe. But both contribute a wealth of other sounds, including bass, synthesizer/keyboards, bass and rhythm programming and, in White’s case, EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument, a sax-like controller that allows reed players to trigger sampled or synthesized textures). There may be no apparent imperfections on Dark Matter, but even with its programmed beats it still manages to feel organic, the product of two musicians who know their way around technology well enough to prevent this studio concoction from sounding anything but natural.

Benjamin’s as comfortable with acoustic guitar as he is a more overdriven electric. He’s also as capable of delivering the goods with one lone instrument on the classical guitar opener, “Prelude #1,” as he is more densely layered tracks like the eleven-minute “So Deep in Her Eyes.” The former is a miniature with some precedence in the solo guitar work of Ralph Towner; the latter a more propulsive piece that might have been incorrectly labeled as New Age a couple of decades ago if it weren’t for the fact that, as undeniably accessible as it is, Benjamin’s electric playing has the kind of teeth that New Age’s wallpaper music never did. Still, it’s deeply lyrical, unfolding with the kind of singable melodies and cinematic scope that make it, and the rest of Dark Matter, a soundtrack for the imagination.

In addition to being a fine, thematically focused guitarist, Benjamin has an equally keen ear for creating appealing audioscapes that mix acoustic and electric timbres. His ability to layer multiple guitars on the rubato intro to “Nightfall” without losing the natural interpretive flow is remarkable. White’s mellifluous soprano sax and Benjamin’s satiny smooth electric guitar share dominance once the song moves into its quasi-Latin rhythm, with the two ultimately trading off as it draws to a close.

The balance of Dark Matter is a combination of solo guitar pieces and richly layered, episodic tracks, with a hint of progressive rock surfacing on “Spectral Visitations,” where Benjamin is at his most energetic There was a time when covering this much stylistic ground would be considered unfocused, but nowadays it’s simply reflective of broader and more eclectic tastes, with Benjamin and White’s intrinsic melodism the thread that links these ten appealing compositions together into a unified whole.

Written for ABLX by: John Kelman

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