Michel Benita, Looking At Sounds Review
by Nolan DeBuke
Michel Benita is an Algeria-born bassist and a big part of the French jazz scene since the early 1980s. The bassist honed his skills in the clubs and concert halls of Paris. He was the original bassist in France’s Orchestre National de Jazz. Benita made his ECM debut as a member of Andy Sheppard’s Trio Libero, in 2011, also appearing on Sheppard’s Surrounded by Sea (2014) and Romaria (2017). His first disc as a leader for the label was River Silver, recorded in 2015, with his group Ethics. Benita is now releasing a new project on the ECM label called, Looking At Sounds. His quartet comprises Swiss flugelhornist Matthieu Michel, French drummer Philippe Garcia, and Belgian keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin.
The quartet explores many emotions, feels, and textures using both acoustic and electronic means of expression. “Looking at Sounds” is a prime example of their ability to combine acoustic and electronic sounds into an organic flow that is jazz-based, but still pushes the boundaries of exploration. The song’s opening features floating sounds and colors; the quartet builds the mode over Benita’s buoyant bass line. The evocative melody is beautifully played, and the mellow tone of the flugelhorn is perfect for the mood. The textures Dumoulin gets on the Fender Rhodes is impressive. Benita encourages his musicians to build upon the melodic implications of the musical flow and to “melt into a total, global sound.”
Jazz fans will be impressed with the quartet’s version of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Inutil Paisagem.” The ensemble floats around the harmonic framework of the piece and imaginatively delivers the melody. The collective creativity encourages concentrated listening to inspire a new perspective. Benita’s bass sound is rich, sonically focused, and woody. His harmonic support is grounding while he still interacts and colors.
The lyrical instinct the quartet makes Looking At Sounds an enjoyable listen. For the most part, it is a mellow date that can become one dimensional. However, the album is perfect for those low-key moments where introspection is desired more than over-stimulation.