The Daniel Bennett Group brings jazz to an unlikely place
Donald enjoys a snappy performance by a local jazz group, noting the trio's inventive song names and tendency to keep things short. -- Artblog editors

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The Philadelphia City Institute Library, located in Philadelphia’s peaceful yet chaotic Rittenhouse Square, has been a haven for me since my middle school years at Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School. When I happened to make my semi-annual visit to the library, I was informed of their brand-new summer concert series–the one that hopped off the page of the four concerts being presented through the month of August was the Daniel Bennett Group performance, held on August 10. Since the rise of widespread smartphone and WiFi use, public libraries have had to look for other ways to bring in patrons–and music series are a popular choice.

Versatile sound and cryptic song titles

The Daniel Bennett Group.
The Daniel Bennett Group.

The Daniel Bennett Group is made up of saxophonist Bennett, guitarist Nat Janoff, and percussionist Matthew Feick, although other band members fill in at different times, including guitarists Chris Hersch, Assaf Kehati, and Mark Cocheo; bassists Kevin Hailey, Jason Davis, Blake Newman, Eddy Khaimovich, Mark Lau, and Rick Landwehr; and drummers Brian Adler and Tyson Stubelek. The musicians were in town celebrating the release of their new album, The Mystery at Clown Castle. Bennett also plays a wide range of other instruments, including flute, piccolo, clarinet, bass clarinet, and oboe. He earned his music degrees at Roberts Wesleyan College and the New England Conservatory (mere blocks away from Berklee, where I was educated) before the group assembled in Boston and later in New York City–leading up to the release of their first recording, Live at the Theatre, in 2009.

The group’s music manages to segue from classically informed post-bop (a genre of small-combo jazz that broke out in the early to mid-1960s) to folk rock. I noticed that, like his newest album, Bennett’s tunes had some noticeably quirky titles, from the delicate “Strange Gym and the Zebra” and the mysteriously optimistic “The Spinning Top Stood Still” to the fluid “John Lizard Comes Home”. Another tune entitled “Paint The Fence” could be interpreted as an allusion to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or to a key scene from 1984’s “The Karate Kid”.

“Patience,” which was written 10 years ago with Janoff, evokes nostalgia and patriotism in a turn-of-the-century-America context. The final song of the group’s swift 60-minute set was “Flow,” a tune from their latest album. This song finds Bennett articulately active and direct in his playing, with a bright tone, culminating in a terrific bird-like tremolo.

Compact creativity

Daniel Bennett.
Daniel Bennett.

Noticeably, each song didn’t feel to be longer than four or five minutes at a time. That’s super short for improvised music–this is due to the fact that the solos weren’t as fleshed out as they should have been. Bennett’s album compositions tend to be on the shorter side, but live performances serve as a new opportunity to loosen a song up and explore new musical sentences. They also may have adjusted their performance length to prepare for a library audience that wanted to dip its toes into jazz without fully committing. As a result, each song felt a little too condensed compared to how the group may have performed at say, Chris’ Jazz Café or the Clef Club of Jazz & the Performing Arts.

Near the end of the program, Janoff demonstrated all of his pedals that give his guitar their own specific timbre, much to the enjoyment of the library audience. The Bennett Group also sold CDs following their performance. Bennett joked, “We drove here in a Prius, so we got to get rid of these.”

The Daniel Bennett Group has been picking up steam in the recent years and is definitely a group to watch. They seem to have a love for playing in libraries, as they continue this particular trek with performances at public libraries in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Gross Pointe, and Cleveland in December. Bennett’s music has been embraced on the concert stage, the jazz clubs, and heck, even on NPR, and now libraries are getting in on the action.

For more information on the Daniel Bennett Group, visit their official website at danielbennettgroup.com or follow them on Twitter @dbennettgroup.

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