Tuesday 9 April 2024

5 Songs About: Casey Benjamin

The news of Casey Benjamin's passing was nothing short of a horrible blow.  An immeasurably talented and creative artist, multi-instrumentalist and composer, it was Benjamin's work as a saxophonist and vocoderist that really brought him to prominence and creating timeless music alongside some exceptional collaborators.

Forever shunning the tag of a "jazz" artist, the New York native's progressive and open-minded perspective on music cemented him as an in-demand collaborator alongside some of today's leading lights including Brandee Younger, A Tribe Called Quest, Gizmo, Ghost-Note and Leona Berlin amongst so many others.

An artist who had long made an indelible impact on Blue-in-Green:RADIO, his music, spirit and person will be soarly missed.  In our bid to honour him and his legacy, we've pulled together a special edition of our 5 Songs About... series to present some songs that may have passed you by but we thought you should check out...

1. 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' by Robert Glasper Experiment [Blue Note, 2012]

One of the many collaborations that would go on to define Benjamin was his invaluable contributions to Robert Glasper's jazz-fusion quartet, Robert Glasper Experiment.  Their first official release saw the foursome take the decided step towards a grander notoriety and through collabs with an A-list selection of vocalists, 'Black Radio' would garner the collective their first Grammy win at the 55th Annual Awards for Best R&B Album.  Something of a contemporary masterpiece, the album showcased a selection of original recordings and some choice covers with their take on the Nirvana classic drawing the most praise.  In truth, you'd be forgiven for assuming a jazz-fusion take of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' would be a car crash with few perhaps anticipating the absolute treasure that the song became.  With Benjamin helming vocoder duties along with sax, as he does throughout the album, the track boasts the added distinction of additional vocals from Lalah Hathaway.

2. 'Tanktified' by Stefon Harris & Blackout [Concord Jazz, 2009]

Another of Benjamin's collaborations that marked some of his most notable successes was his contribution to the legandary Stefon Harris and his Blackout ensemble.  With releases on Motéma, Concord and Blue Note, Harris' ensemble featured Benjamin on sax, drummer Terreon Gully, keyboardist Marc Cary and bassist Ben Williams.  Having unveiled three albums to their name, Benjamin's invaluable contributions helped spawn some wonderful music but after sifting through the Blackout catalogues we could only really leave you with this one track which was housed on their sophomore album and worth its inclusion for the final 90 seconds alone.

3. 'No Greater Love' by Vivian Sessoms [Ropeadope, 2018]

Having initially established herself as one-half of R&B duo Albright along with producer Chris Park, Vivian Sessoms released her solo record 'Life' through Ropeadope Records after somewhat of a lengthy absence.  An album crammed with high-profile artists and musicians including Donny McCaslin, Amp Fiddler and Keyon Harrold who contribute to tracks including covers of Nina Simone's 'See Line Woman' and The Stylistics' 'People Make The World Go Round', it's Casey Benjamin's exceptional presence on vocoder for the vibrant, soulful house-esque album opener, 'No Greater Love' that delivers the album's strongest number.

4. 'Drift' by Kris Bowers [Concord Jazz, 2014]

Pianist Kris Bowers released his one & only solo album to date with the fantastic 'Heroes + Misfits'.  Unveiled through Concord in 2014, Bowers' exceptional catalogue to date had seen him as a collaborator for José James, Takuya Kuroda and Nate Smith before venturing off into the world of scoring TV and film with credits including Bridgerton and Green Book.  'Heroes + Misfits' however boasted some exceptional tracks from an all-star ensemble that featured Benjamin on four of the album's ten tracks.  A spectacular - and dare I say, overlooked - record, Bowers and Benjamin are typically excellent throughout but if it isn't Benjamin's vocoder work on '#TheProtester' that grabs you then it'll definitely be his sax on 'Drift'.

5. 'mylittlesong' by HEAVy [BBE, 2007]

Describing themselves on their Bandcamp page as "a mind boggling mix of rock, soul and pop chock full of quirk and irony", the duo comprised of Benjamin on production alongside vocalist Nicky Guiland and saw them release their versatile and eclectic debut back in 2007 through BBE Records.  A second full-length would follow in 2009 with 'First Sessons' and following a lengthy hiatus, the duo would reunite for the EP 'Hand in Hand' in 2021.  Having amassed something of a cult following, helped in part by remixes courtesy of Jazzanova and DJ Spinna, HEAVy were very much travelling their own path and were able to create music that captured their natural quirky chemistry and energy.

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