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 Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Daniel Bennett: “Peace and Stability Among Bears” (2011, Bennett Alliance) PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Monday, 08 August 2011

ImageThe Boston Herald described Daniel Bennett’s music as “exploratory folk-jazz,” and that’s as good a label as any, should one be needed. The NEC-trained multi-reedman is quickly gaining a reputation as a composer who combines folkloric elements with the minimalist chord progressions of Steven Reich and Philip Glass, yielding music that is fresh, accessible, and just a bit quirky. Peace and Stability Among Bears on his Bennett Alliance label is the third release in the Bear Trilogy, following the acclaimed Nation of Bears (2007) and The Legend of Bear Thompson (2009). All three installments share the same Boston-based quartet (with Bennett on alto sax, flute and clarinet; Chris Hersh on guitar; Jason Davis on bass; and Rick Landwehr on drums) as well as companion cartoons featuring the fictitious character, Bear Thompson. Notes Bennett, “I wanted to add a visual element to the music.  I actually gave music samples to my artist [Timothy Banks] and then let him develop the plot based around what he was hearing… My long term goal is to develop an animated short that would go with the music.” 

All composed by Bennett, the ten track titles reflect the cartoon character and related contexts, e.g., “The Local Sheriff,” “Dogs of Our Time,” “Farmer Joe Was a Bear,” “Bears in a Covered Wagon”; the music typically features the harmonies of reeds and strings, the pulsating, danceable rhythms of an African or Latin flavored percussion, and deceptively simple, trance-inducing melodies filled with folky charms suggesting Americana, Eastern European and African origins. The set opens brightly with “The Local Sheriff,” and the lilting sax/guitar suggest a country meander, harmony and the ever-present drum rhythm as significant (and appealing) as the simple melody. The same elements carry over to “The Lost Treasure of Lunta,” with some additional percussive thrust from Landwehr that adds hints of African ceremonial music. “Arizona” slows the pace, beautifully, Hersh on guitar and Bennett on clarinet adding a layer of bluegrass, even klezmer, to the sounds of rural Africa; basslines from Jason Davis keep the ensemble on a steady course. The first notes of  “Ghost” recall Simon & Garfunkel before moving more toward the vistas of  Metheny and Frisell. 

“The Andrew Variations” build around Bennett’s whirling dervish melody line, his alto sax riding above Davis’s thick bass figures; Hersh’s own variations suggest Middle Eastern or East European tradition. Bennett’s prowess on flute shines on “Dogs of Our Time,” adding a wistful, American folk touch particularly buoyed by Davis’s basslines.  Going off (or “out”) in a new direction, “The Village” pits twisting alto sax against a backdrop of electronic effects and, further along, against a rattletrap percussion outburst from Landwehr. Very Bohemian. The finale, “Bears in a Covered Wagon,” seems to sum the whole, Bennett’s alto sax tracing a somewhat jagged arc, the strings dark and sinewy, Landwehr shaking everyone’s cage. There’s the eerie effects of “The Village” and the spiraling shapes of “The Andrew Variations” -–as if this covered wagon journeys from East to West, past to future, and back again. 

Whether or not this music induces “peace and stability among bears,” this is music that could bring peace and stability among humans, while keeping our ears (and imaginations) on full alert. 

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