Benny Benack III

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Benny Benack III

Bemelmans Bar, NYC, August 22, 2018

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Benny Benack III

Pittsburgh native Benny Benack III was born into music. His mother is a vocal teacher and his father is a professional saxophonist. Benack was playing piano at five and cornet (in preparation for trumpet) by the fourth grade. A double major at Manhattan School of Music, he hit the ground running and continues to capitalize on multiple talents. This is my first experience with the artist.

A muted, sophisticated intro leads to “The Lady Is a Tramp” (Richard Rodgers/Larry Hart) with bass and guitar genially thrumming.

Musical embellishment happily never loses sight of melody. (In my book, it’s a misdemeanor when it does.

)  Benack bobs from the waist up. Keyboard fingering is firm, withdrawal, sharp. Adam Moezinia rhythmically pats his guitar (unnecessary and sometimes intrusive). It’s a suave, wind-in-the-hair arrangement with spot-on attitude.

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Cole Porter’s “At Long Last Love” also enters on cat feet but swings past the first eight bars. There’s not a doubt about the lyric in this character’s mind. Piano is giddy, guitar is carbonated. Snippets of other tunes peek through and are absorbed. Benack’s trumpet has a nostalgic tone—it zigzags, dips, twirls and does a modest jitterbug.

A tender piano shepherds Joao Gilberto’s “Estate.

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” A highlight of the set, the song showcases Benack as balladeer: shoulders rise, head tilts, phrasing seductively sways; guitar is languorous. (This is the one number where Moezinia’s “pats” effectively contribute.) Heat and heart reign. We can practically see a couple disappear down the beach, his hand gently on her undulating rear.

The trio’s “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields) captures the era to a jazz age T. The trumpet absolutely gets it. Really, here’s an opportunity for a trumpet-centric arrangement! Fringe goes metaphorically flying. Benack sings several staccato phrases high to low, through a second story window. It’s gleeful.

The performer’s own “I Found You” is also a home run, sheer 1950s. One can easily imagine it performed by Bob Dorough or Blossom Dearie. On the cusp of bebop with its two tone phrasing, the tune switches tracks with tart authenticity. The guitar is Les Paul-ish.

A cottony “Lush Life” (Billy Strayhorn) emerges deep-dish blue. It’s as if dust is settling on an immobilized drunk. Music is soulful and sad; guitar bides its time. Mark Lewandowski’s bass solo is splendid, as if trying to explain.

I wish I believed the vocal more, however. There seems to be little sincerity behind the words. “Old Devil Moon” (Burton Lane/Yip Harburg) and Porter’s fizzy “Love for Sale” arrive up-tempo with a Lain influence. In my opinion, both are too slick for their lyrics.

Benny Benack III is clearly a talented musician and vocalist. Jazz feel is savory, appreciation infectious, but tonight’s results are uneven.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.