Both new names to me. Askren, the son of a church organist/piano teacher. Saxophone and piano played a part in his early musical development but it was hearing George Benson and Pat Martino which inspired him to switch to the guitar. Study at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston followed, where he later became a tutor. Jeff Benedict is a saxophonist who lives by the maxim ‘less is more’. He truly tells a story with his horn. He turned professional at the age of 14 and his credentials include working with Dave Brubeck, Phil Woods and Gary Burton. Benedict is equally at home playing jazz or classical music. In addition, he is Professor of Music at California State, Los Angeles.
For this date, Askren and Benedict are joined by Paul Romaine at the drums and Joe Bagg on Hammond B3 organ. Contrary to what one might expect from the album title, this isn’t a Lennon and McCartney tribute album.
The opening track ‘Cheese Grits’ is firmly in the Blue Note Records mould. Think of the likes of Jimmy Smith and you will get the idea. Whilst the saxophonist plays alto on this piece, I’m put in mind of the tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. This is a powerful and yet gracefully swinging piece of music. ‘Come Together’ gets a suitably original makeover and works well. Played in 7/8. ‘Nardis’ follows and the familiar theme is transformed into a funky outing for the group. After disposing of the theme statement, the band alternates between swing and funk passages to great effect. ‘Moments Notice’ opens with a beguiling drum pattern before the tune appears. Recast imaginatively differently from what John Coltrane came up with all those years ago. ‘Hear This’ is more funky fun. In places I’m reminded of the work of fellow guitarist John Scofield. ‘Pineapple Head’ is a calypso-style piece and is great fun. ‘Willow Weep For Me’ allows the organist to break out with a powerful performance and somehow seems to inspire the saxophonist to even greater things. I imagine it is difficult to do anything other than pay respect to this familiar ballad and the group do it total justice.
Gospel rears it’s head on a tune from the repertoire of the great Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and ‘Groove Merchant’ is the ideal vehicle for this combo. Simply more funky blues from masters of the genre with Benedict on tenor saxophone. An up-tempo blues ‘Deed I Bu’ brings a thoroughly enjoyable set to a satisfying conclusion and the added bonus is to hear Benedict on soprano saxophone.
If you are looking for a contemporary reference point for this group check out the recent releases of Dave Stryker reviewed elsewhere on this site.