Not that he doesn’t blaze on his own solos in “8.31” and “Powerplay.” That volume pedal might have you expecting rock-guitar-god wankery, but he doesn’t just pour on the licks — the variety of dynamics, his tricky rhythmic attack, and his sense of development always draw you in and keep his improvisations fresh.
A big inspiration in that regard was one of his teachers, New Yorker Ben Monder. “Every once in a while, Ben will do this all-out rock thing. He’s coming from such a 20th-century polytonal approach. And he never loses the sophistication when he stomps on that pedal.” When other players try the same thing, Sargent cautions, “they maybe get into that old-school rock-guitar mind where they’re not listening to the band anymore. You lose the sense of interaction, and it’s licks instead of motivic development.”
Another inspiration was Brian Blade, whose Fellowship Band showed Sargent the way to the kind of subtle rock-beat writing where improvised solos can be subordinated to the melodic theme. But no one will mistake A New Day for anything but a jazz album — or what Sargent calls “creative improvised music.”
Bennett — who’s celebrating the release of Live at the Theatre, his third disc on his own Bennett Alliance label, at Ryles on June 15 — is unambivalent about the drawbacks of his chosen genre. “Too often in jazz, we’re vomiting on people with notes. I’m the first to admit that I’ve done that — we’ve all done that! You’ve got this instrument, and it’s your sense of power: ‘I’m going to show everybody that I can play all these notes, and it won’t really mean anything, but it will be monstrous!’ ”
To counteract jazz excess while still delving into deep improvisations, Bennett draws on the inspiration of folk music and the classic American minimalism of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley. The Daniel Bennett Group these days is a quartet that includes bass and drums, but acoustic guitar and Bennett’s own alto saxophone and flute are at the core of its sound. The Theatre disc — with guitarist Brant Grieshaber, bassist Jason Davis, and drummer Rick Landwehr — was recorded in December 2008 at the Cambridge YMCA, and it has all the Bennett hallmarks: deceptively simple melodies over tricky mixed meters and an overall floaty, airy sound, informed by Bennett’s Paul-Desmond-and-Lee-Konitz-inspired alto.
At New England Conservatory, Bennett earned a master’s degree in classical-saxophone performance — the idea, he says, was to complement his jazz skills by honing his sound. So he studied with jazz heavies like Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, and Bob Moses, but also with classical-saxophonist Ken Radnofsky.
He favors the repetitiveness he finds both in minimalism and in rock. “I think jazz changes too much, it’s too fluid, it’s changing all the time — it’s too chromatic, shifting key centers. I always wish that jazz could trance out a little more.”
The Theatre opener, “Ghost,” is typical: a short repeated melody line over simple chords as a basis for improvisation. But instead of harmonic changes, it’s the rhythm that keeps shifting from bar to bar — 5/8, 7/8, 6/8. With mixed meters, says Bennett, “I feel like I can float more. Plus, I think folk progressions might sound a little cheesy if they’re always in 3/4 or 4/4.” So he’s happy to invent a melody line and let that dictate the meters. “Everything for me starts with the melody. Everything else comes after.”