If you were awaiting the release of pianist Benito Gonzalez’ first album with the anticipation that it would be a great feast of musicality, you certainly have a treat in store for you.
The CD, "Starting Point," does provides its share of tastiness and spice. You just might want a few more main courses to satisfy your hunger.Gonzalez, the Venezuelan native who now lives and plays in the Washington, D.C., area as his home base, has wowed many between D.C. and New York and beyond with his live performances. He often displays a two-fisted Latino jazz sound that may one day have some comparing him to the likes of Hilton Ruiz or Danilo Perez. Gonzalez has a gritty originality in his approach that keeps you listening.
On "Starting Point" Gonzalez has surrounded himself with five-star players, in bassist Christian McBride, saxophonists Rene McLean and Ron Blake, and drummer Antonio Sanchez. It was recorded in March 2004 and released later in 2004 on Gonzalez’ Multi Dimensional Music label.
As producer (with wife Ashley Elise as co-producer), bandleader, and composer of all but one track ("Round Midnight") Gonzalez orchestrated a commendable effort -- but for purist jazz piano fans scrutinizing his work to see if he is a candidate for the pantheon of masters one day, there may be a little too much orchestration and not enough Benito pianissimo.
One compositional gem is "Plaza Bolivar," a pleasantly meandering stroll full of Gonzalez’ vibrant colors and sound pictures and melodic story telling as well as Blake and McLean’s accenting work on horns. It delivers bite and form. Another original, "Taking Roads," a bright rocker, is highlighted by Blake’s haunting solo, and some of Gonzalez’ best riffs throughout. "Multidimensional II," a too-short teaser, has its moments as a blend of McBride and Sanchez doing the funk thing underneath and Gonzalez rippling over the top on piano.
The other tracks, however, show off Blake, McLean, McBride and Sanchez and all their worthy gifts as first-rate musicians, but have too many passages of repetitive chord figures and not enough daring and imagination. Much of the music is catchy, and might be commercially successful, which is fine. It’s just that, Gonzalez, who says his influences are the Latin masters along with legends Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and McCoy Tyner, among others, seems capable of much more demanding music.
Hopefully his next recording will show a little more seasoning, feature a little less sharing of the spotlight, and be a more sumptuous feast for all of us to savor.