David Benoit: Conversation

David Benoit's Conversation has become my new lowest reference point for genre pieces.

David Benoit


Label: Heads Up
US Release Date: 2012-05-29
UK Release Date: 2012-05-29
Label website
Artist website

Over the years I've spent playing and reviewing music, I've come to learn to broaden my scopes and be more accepting of genres I initially dismissed for too heavily relying on bands uncomfortably similar to each other to act as that genre's poster-child. Whether it was death metal, country, or gangsta rap. I learned to differentiate between the small factors and my tastes gradually expanded to included more than I thought possible. However, there were two genres that even after what's now approaching decades of intense immersion; smooth jazz and new age. David Benoit's Conversation is a combination of both.

Now, I'm not saying there's not room for creativity in either genre, it's just that no one to play either has ever presented something that's struck me as unique, engaging, or original. All of the elements I look for to qualify which music I fall in love with are missing, most notably that the music is heartfelt and genuine. Every piece seems overtly calculated and atrociously safe. There's no experimentation, there's no danger, there's no real heart. It's all just a contrived mixture of things that are bland, safe, and emotionless. There's virtually no redemptive point for me apart from skilled musicianship. Even then, there's hardly any honesty in the musicianship, it all seems computer-generated and immensely impersonal.

While it becomes abundantly clear after Conversation's opening half, that Benoit understands composition and is a very talented piano player, the only moment that gripped me was the beautiful opening classical guitar-and-string section of "Kerri's Song Redux" which gives way to a disappointingly generic piano sequence before overlapping the two and bringing to mind the break-music for PBS Telethons. When Benoit cuts away and focuses on one instrument, the song succeeds, when he overlaps them, it devolves into something atrociously sterile. On the ensuing track "Sunrise Mansion Row", a similar pattern emerges. This time, the song once again is engaging with its opening piano runs but once more instruments are brought in, immediately flounders. It's intensely disappointing and even more intensely disappointing when the only original music that appears after that is relegated to mere seconds of any of the remaining songs.

Those seconds are the opening notes of "Q's Motif" which suggest that Conversation took take a plausible left turn towards straight or free jazz but almost immediately kills that promise by once again taking a step towards something that wouldn't feel too out of place playing while you wait, irritated, to be taken off of hold by a bank representative- or to get out of the elevator you're in just so you can escape the music.

Then, finally, at the tail end of Conversation we're treated to the title track which was an existing piece from Music for Two Trios, which flits back and forth between an absolutely gorgeous piano piece and a beautiful orchestral piece. It's a grandiose moment that feels overwhelmingly out of place on such a tacky release and only highlights the complete disappointment of its preceding tracks. It's the only track worth listening to and aptly demonstrates how much talent Benoit actually has immediately after eight pieces that aptly show how easily he can waste it. On "Conversation" there's heart, there's invention, there's music that feels real instead of just calculated precision. While the funk bass and organ parts do still go a touch too far, surrounded by such spectacular work it's easily forgivable. However, the song alone doesn't forgive the album that was named for it. Without that lone track, this record would be the single worst I've listened to this year. Unless you're a composition major and looking to dissect infuriatingly tacky pieces, I'd advise you to stay away from this one.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.