Rasmussen on Benjamin : Post-Twardzik
The following is esteemed jazz critic and cultural savant Wayne Rasmussen’s review of Greenleaf friend Adam Benjamin’s newly released Garageband – MIDI – Jazz Standards album It’s a Standard, Standard, Standard, Standard World. For more information or to purchase the album, visit http://www.adambenjamin.net/ or http://www.myspace.com/ejazzqlation.
In the thirty-one years that I have manned the Jazz Desk for the prestigious transatlantic arts and culture rag Unadecbarvito (now the Infobahn – tastemaker unadecbarvito.com), an inexhaustible amount of newly released media has passed under my purview. If jazz is indeed dead then someone should notify Nils in Mailroom / Distribution, as I am still greeted daily by an impressive stack of CDs, LPs, DVDs, books (anecdotal, biographical, ethnomusicological, predidactico-epistemological) and other media.
As such, it is rare for any of this art to leave me with a lasting impression, with odd moments of introspection on the treadmill or longer-than-usual pregnant pauses while selectively plucking and trimming my plentiful moustache hairs, lost in musical thought and recall while I confront my aging countenance in the bathroom mirror. Rarer still is such a result from perhaps the most well-explored territory in the genre, the standards album. Yet this is precisely the effect of the severely dislodging, but ultimately rewarding new effort from L.A.-based pianist and composer Adam Benjamin.
It’s a Standard, Standard, Standard, Standard World transfigures the literature of jazz standards through the lens of Apple’s Garageband 1.0, using exclusively the sound banks and effects of the ubiquitous OS X audio playground for amateurs. But Benjamin goes beyond the gimmick of the original concept here – his work is more Badiou than Merleau-Ponty, more Ledezma than Zumaya. He conjures a fantastic collision of cheap technology and deified source material that in its wake leaves original music barely recognizable as either. It doesn’t take the sampled gong in the last A section of Along Came Betty to remind us that our time has expired on the traditional readings of these songs. There is street cleaning today on that side of Jazz Standards Boulevard and Benjamin leads the charge, in the flappy fluorescent garb of the modern man’s public works employee – cum – cultural critic.
I expound on these themes further in my essay for the liner notes of the album, which I consider my finest since my collaboration with Todd Coolman for the Garbarek, Lundegaard and Beyond: Greats of Scandinavian Sax box set reissue. So I won’t blow my proverbial soli here. Let me just gently, in the name of progress and all that is good, urge you toward this horrible, engaging, enlightening record. Its successes and failures are equally spectacular, and strangely symbiotic. Like the 1963 Hollywood catastrophe that inspired its title, Benjamin’s word signals not the end of an era, but the beginning of a late-capitalist era-less-ness. So the next time you return home from a late night grocery run, and as you place the Cinnamon Life in the cupboard your wife, having seen today’s loathsome atrocity or Congressional sex scandal lead the eleven o’clock news, calls to you from the back room, “What kind of a world is this that we live in?