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BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

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Suits and ties be damned, this is a jazz-playing rock band, man.

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

When is the last time you were in a jazz club but thought you were at a rock concert? Sunday night at The Birdland Theater you would've thought it was a rock and roll show, with all the screaming and hootin' and hollerin' from the audience. It was pandemonium! But, then, of course, the act on the stage was the Benny Benack III Quartet, and there is actually every chance that, on a parallel plane, they could be a rock band. They are all young, handsome, edgy, and oh-so-cool, and they play their instruments like rock and roll musicians - they just happen to be playing jazz. Here are four men - correction, four Guys, four Dudes, four Bros - who were once roommates, which means they have a lot of history, they have a loyalty, they have a shorthand, and it shows on stage. So it really doesn't matter what they wear, what they play, or where they play it, the quality of the music is going to be substantial, which is why members of the audience were screaming on Sunday night.

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater With Benny Benack III on trumpet and vocals, Steven Feifke playing the piano, Mark Lewandowski handling the bass, and Joe Peri behind the drum kit, Sunday's show was a welcome back to the same stage they played just before the lockdown, just weeks after the release of the album A LOT OF LIVIN' TO DO, which was a frequent topic of discussion throughout the show, yet not the source of the setlist, save for the energetic opening number. Bouncing back and forth between compositions of his own creation and tunes tried and true, Benack and co. proved to be as entertaining to watch as they are to listen to, at times the former overtaking the latter in the name of pure excitement. A person could pick up a Benny Benack album and listen to it and it would sound great, but there is an incomparable thrill with being in a room when sounds like this are being made and getting to watch the creators as they bring forth the music into the light. Mr. Feifke is quite fascinating to watch because he plays the piano as though he were participating professionally in a competitive sport... but he never breaks a sweat. At times, from the right vantage point, one might wonder if Feifke was even moving at all; then, out of nowhere, you're watching Jerry Lee Lewis. Before you know it, he is still once more, as the impeccable music issues forth into the night. As for Mr. Lewandowski, while he may not be as still as Steven is while he is working, he remains pretty contained, the fingers flying over the strings of the bass, as his unchanging face takes in everything, like some stealth musical Jason Bourne, quietly checking out all that is happening in the room, but never missing a beat. The beats, by the way, are thrillingly, chillingly provided by Mr. Peri, providing licks on batter heads that conjure an image of a modern-day Gene Krupa. This is a hell of a band that Benack has put together by joining forces with these spiritual brothers.

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater As for Benny himself, he is a thrill to watch and to listen to. As a vocalist, he is a well-trained singer with an indistinctive voice. If you were listening to the radio (is that still a thing?) and a Benny Benack III recording came on, you might say to yourself, "Is that Harry Connick? Or is it Curtis Stigers? Maybe it's Vic Damone..." Much of the time, men who like to sing this kind of music can sound similar, and unless you are a fan of that singer, you might not immediately recognize the voice. You could always spot Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., but if you weren't an avid fan, Jack Jones and Steve Lawrence and Matt Monro might not make it into the specificity of your ear. With a plethora of talented male singers pursuing this music, the chance of mistaking one for another is in the air; it is what each of those singers does with their voice that sets them apart. Benny Benack, perhaps as a natural talent, perhaps because of his trumpet training, has his own way of presenting the songs he sings - intricate phrasings and interesting explorations within the melodies, and personal enjoyments in the storytelling, and that is what makes a Benny Benack III vocal performance stand out. And then you add the horn.

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater Listening to... watching... Benack play his horn is joyful - you can't do it without smiling. The lightning speed of his fingers. The extremity of the backbend. The emotional content of his face. The visible journey he is on. These are all ingredients in a music show audibly and visually thrilling. Particularly enjoyable was his original composition "All Warmed Up" which was an opus filled with surprises, musical twists and turns, and even a few friends, artfully hidden in the arrangement like Easter Eggs. Or the number that featured an epic introduction from Feifke that made you hold your breath, and when he finished you knew what Benny would be singing, all because of the familiar musical phrase Steven was playing that made you want to say, "Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three." And when Benny began to sing, you learned that you were right. It was a well thought-out and executed moment in their program, gratefully received by the audience, but the highlight for this writer was BB3's composition, a beautiful and soulful tribute to (of all things) his dog "Giselle" and though I could've done without the vulgar verbiage leading up to the number, the number itself was a quiet yet visceral emotional experience. Even if you're speaking of a female dog and not a woman, an ugly word is still an ugly word, and though Benny's use of the word was meant to be funny, the joke didn't land. Thank goodness the tribute to the late eighteen-year-old family pet rapidly left the moment behind.

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater Benny Benack III is one heck of an entertainer, and it would be a real boon of some of these compositions made their way onto his next album. Naturally, he will want to sell as many copies of A LOT OF LIVIN' TO DO and his new Holiday EP titled SEASONS SWINGIN' GREETINGS as he can, but the impressive work that the Benny Benack III Quartet is creating must be documented. Until such time as it is, everyone will have to go see these rock & jazz musicians play out in the clubs and, as one might suspect from this rather voluble write-up, that is a blessing not-so-in-disguise.

Benny Benack III Quartet has played their one-night show but more great shows can be found at Birdland HERE.

THIS is the Benny Benack III website.

Benny Benack III gets a four out of five microphones rating for the occasional use of a lyric sheet, tablet, or music stand.

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater
Steven Feifke
BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater
Mark Lewandowski
BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater
Joe Peri

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater

BWW Review: Rowdy Response Erupts For The BENNY BENACK III QUARTET At The Birdland Theater Photos by Stephen Mosher


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