Jazz pianist and composer Benny Green claims ownership to seemingly endless musical credentials and recognitions. A classically trained pianist from his youth, Green eventually became infatuated with jazz, thanks to the influence of his father, a saxophonist. Green has performed and recorded with legendary jazz musicians, including Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Freddie Hubbard, and Ray Brown. Additionally, he has released numerous recordings as the featured artist via Criss Cross, Blue Note and Telarc, dating back from 1988. Most recent effort Magic Beans (released via Sunnyside), is produced, composed and arranged in its entirety by Green. Peter Washington and Kenny Washington join him, on bass and drums respectively.
“Benny’s Crib” starts the effort strongly, notable for its memorable head, harmonic scheme, and respective quirks. Green shows off his rhythmic-mindedness in both compositional and improvisatory senses, channeling classic trumpet-sax quintet sounds in a trio format. On “Kenny Drew”, Green paints a stellar musical portrait of the legendary jazz pianist. Embodying the style of his idol, Green’s playing is bluesy and firmly entrenched within the 1950s hard-bop idiom. Green doesn’t ‘hog’ all the spotlight with his own riffs and elaborate runs – Peter Washington also delivers a compelling bass solo.
“Flying Saucer”, influenced by a combination of ‘50s science fiction and hard-bop pianists Tadd Dameron and Elmo Hope, proves to be as unique as its title suggests. The cut is distinguished by its angularity and Green’s pianistic eccentricities, opening with a ‘bang’ at onset. Kenny Washington complements Green’s idiosyncrasies well with thoughtful rhythmic punches on the drums. On “Jackie McLean”, Green pays ode to the legendary hard-bop saxophonist of the same name, delving into distinctly Latin cues throughout. Like aforementioned cuts, Green exhibits a wealth of music ideas, capped off here by his lower register piano runs.
“Vanished”, a crowning achievement for Magic Beans, is described by its moodiness and slower tempo. Although a stark contrast to the multitude, Green continues to show affinity for his left hand (lower piano register) and still manages to express a sense of unpredictability of sorts. Nebulous at times, the eventual entrance of bass provides stabilization by anchoring the groove. “Harold Land” swings hard, depicting the iconic west coast saxophonist. Green’s improvisations tend to be ‘heavy-handed’, continuing to show his extraordinary musical gifts and perhaps represent Land’s rich tenor sax playing.
On title track “Magic Beans”, Green’s inspiration is both saxist Tina Brooks and the childhood fairytale of Jack and the Beanstalk – clever, right? Oscillation between Latin and swinging styles give “Magic Beans” its distinct character. The Latin portions in particular, remind one of Dizzy Gillespie’s Latin-influenced compositions, “Manteca” or a “Night in Tunisia” in particular.
“Paraphrase” references Ellington rhythmically, filled with exploratory improvisations, chordal punches, and angularity. The head, like much of Magic Beans, is incredibly appealing, ‘quirks’ and all. “La Portuguesa”, an even better number, possesses an ‘exotic’ nature. Dabbling in Latin influences and expressing a sensualness about it, “La Portuguesa” is described as a mini suite including portraits revolving around lust and romance. Green closes solidly with the seven minute “Further Away”, yet another testament to exceptional musicianship.
Overall, Magic Beans serves as a magical addition to any jazz collection. Green’s narrative-driven compositions easily draw the listener in. While much of the effort is influenced by 1950s jazz, Green freely incorporates the progressiveness of the ‘60s and beyond, keeping things interesting. No misses worthy of scrutinization, Magic Beans adds another moment of excellence to Green’s ridiculously-deep musical resumé.