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Paul de Benedictis: Quintets (Mnemonic)

You never know who you might be passing at the AES show. That rep in a booth talking about cables all day might be a Jimi Hendrix-caliber guitarist in the privacy of his own home, or play in a lounge jazz band on weekends. Paul de Benedictis has worked in a number of different capacities in the audio business through the years, repping for various manufacturers and projects—all the while writing his own music on the side. Quintets is an ambitious and very well-achieved CD of instrumental compositions rooted in classical music, but also containing jazz and pop ideas: There are flowing, lyrical pieces that have the vibe of some of the best early Windham Hill artists (Will Ackerman, Liz Story, Shadowfax), while other moments bring to mind some of my favorite musicians from the first years of ECM records. The title Quintets is slightly misleading, because in each case the pieces feature the (Russian) Arlekin String Quartet, one of four different pianists, and then a soloist of some sort on top of the quintet, sometimes multitracked—these include sax player Branford Marsalis, Oregon’s Paul McCandless on oboe, David Grisman Quintet flautist Matt Eakle, trumpeter George Shaw, and vocalists Sussan Deyhim and Claudia Villela.

The eight compositions on the CD are mostly impressionistic flights that combine some sort of formal structure with room for improvisation from the soloists. Bright melodies and assertive rhythms cross each other in an elegant dance, weaving a rich and colorful sonic tapestry. There is beauty and joy and tenderness in this music, but also uncertainty, reflection and just enough hints of darkness to lend a bit of edge to the proceedings. I like the way “Returning,” for example, moves in one sonorous direction for its first half, and then takes an unusual turn mid-piece. That “song,” featuring the wonderful, layered, Enya-like vocal musings of Claudia Villela, is perhaps my favorite, though I also really like the tonal chiaroscuro and Branford Marsalis’ inventions on “Incantations,” and the always-spirited Paul McCandless on “Distance.” But it’s all good stuff—deeper and more challenging than it might at first appear from its inarguably pretty surface.

The two-disc set also includes a DVD surround version of the same music, which I have not heard.

I should also note that an album of piano solos de Benedictis made 20 years ago called The Power of One has just been re-released on Mnemonic Records, as well.

PLAY: Must Play

PLAY: Must Play

Producer: Paul de Benedictis. String quartet recorded by Tom Carr. Marsalis recorded by Robert Hunter. Mixed by Michael Romanowski. Mastered by Paul Stubblebine.