Oran Etkin ‘What’s new? Re-imagining Benny Goodman’ (Motéma) 3/5

oran-etkinHow might Benny Goodman have sounded if he was catapulted several decades into the future and to the present day state of jazz? This is the unlikely task that Israeli born, but now long-time US settled clarinettist Oran Etkin set himself and, in truth, this is a very patchy affair which certainly, has its moments, but is fundamentally flawed in its conceptualisation. Take for example the very modern and even experimental sounding ‘Dinah’. Here, the influence of Thelonius Monk seems to have been added, but the result is sadly disjointed. That said, when Etkin ditches the inappropriate modern musings and instead goes back to a more traditional interpretation, the music improves immeasurably as on the uptempo piano plus clarinet duetting on ‘Running Wild’, with vibraphone in attendance. A welcome addition is that of singer Charanee Wade and she contributes with fine vocals alongside supportive piano work from Sullivan Frotner on ‘Why Don’t You Do Right?’ and once more on ‘After You’ve Gone’. The question does need to be asked of whether Etkin wishes to be a traditionalist or a modernist and quite possibly he currently sits uneasily between the two. Perhaps Oran Etkin would have been better served devoting the whole project to a vocal plus clarinet duet recording and separating out his major stylistic elsewhere. A bit of a missed opportunity in general.

Tim Stenhouse