Visit MaineToday's profile on Pinterest.

About The Author


Steve Feeney

Send an email | Read more from Steve

Posted: November 17, 2014

Benito Gonzalez showed a visual flair that matched his playing during Saturday’s show at Blue

Written by: Steve Feeney
Photo by Steve Feeney

Photo by Steve Feeney

The folks at Blue, the intimate music venue located in downtown Portland, initiated their “BIG NAMES small room” jazz series with the promise of bringing jazz artists with international reputations to their comfortable storefront locale. The series began in August with a pair of well-received performances by a quartet led by Azar Lawrence, a saxophonist noted for having started his long career working with such jazz greats as McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis.

The fire of the Lawrence band was considerable, with pianist Benito Gonzalez often pouring high-octane gas on the flame through his energetic accompaniment and strong moments in the solo spotlight. Gonzalez, reportedly, approached the club later about coming back with his own trio and on Saturday evening he did just that, beginning a run of ticketed performances spread over a two-day span.

As he did with Lawrence, the Venezuela-born Gonzalez manned an electronic keyboard for this visit. The instrument quickly became the focus of his very intense approach to post-bop jazz. Whether bending low over the keys or occasionally standing to straight-arm some powerful chords, the 39-year-old pianist added a visual flair that matched his playing. With him all the way were Edward Perez on upright bass and Jay Sawyer on drums.

Sawyer started things off with a shuffling beat as Perez picked up his bass and Gonzalez took his seat. All joined in to develop a funky rhythm that would periodically shift into a swinging release on top of a walking bass line. The odd rhythmic shifts and march-like underpinnings of this piece would later be verbally explained by Gonzalez as a tribute to both New Orleans and Thelonious Monk.

The Mongo Santamaria classic “Afro-Blue” took things to the next level, highlighted by Perez’ bass work which was nicely up front in the excellent sound mix for the show. As the title implies, the composition mixes African rhythms with the sound of the blues and Gonzalez’ arrangement stayed true to the original while including his own preference for ever-more-expansive variations. The leader, who obviously loves to dig deeply into the harmonic possibilities of a tune, would also sometimes fix on a particular sequence through motivic repetitions, creating moments of relative calm in the eye of the musical storm.

Sawyer, a whirlwind of surging percussion throughout the set, contributed his own solo insights to the nodding and smiling delight of the leader. The attentive and appreciative crowd occasionally chimed in with shouts and applause.

Gonzalez own “The Spirit,” which he announced is dedicated to both Mulgrew Miller and Kenny Garrett, was another lengthy but rewarding exercise for both band and audience (most of the pieces for the show were each at least 15-20 minutes long). The tune’s harmonic lift gave Gonzalez an opening for a lyricism that, after a rich bass solo from Perez, ended in a delicate keyboard cadenza.

Coming near the end of a set of jazz dominated by a hard and fast approach, this lyrical moment furnished an all-too-brief glimpse into another side of Gonzalez’ musical vision, one which perhaps would be more fully explored as the trio’s weekend in Maine continued.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

REVIEW: Benito Gonzalez Trio

WHERE: Blue, 650A Congress St., Portland
REVIEWED: 6 p.m. show November 15

Up Next: