Let me first start out by saying that, save for a few different things, I’m not the biggest fan of fusions of different styles of music. While I love In A Silent Way and Jack Johnson, (and the first Headhunters album) I get off the bus at On The Corner and don’t really feel like I need a transfer. I have some Weather Report albums for good measure, but don’t listen to them much unless they find their way onto my iPod when I have selected AutoFill. So, having seen a couple of descriptions of Ben Henriques’, The Responsibility Club, I was a bit apprehensive, but found myself pleasantly surprised by the stellar compositions and the thoughtful interactions on this album.
My first thought upon hearing the opening notes of the album was, “Man, this dude loves Stan Getz.” However, it lasted only a moment and I soon learned that these players have a style all their own (in the same way that Stan and Chet did). The tenor and alto saxophones dance around each other, coaxing sounds from one another until they end up like a two headed snake wrapped around the rod of Asclepius. Well, it’s probably not as pretentious as that, actually. However, the first track, entitled “Going South,” lays out their jazz roots and lets us know that they’re revving up to head elsewhere.
The second track, “Don’t Even Go There,” (and yet, they did!) is a slightly more avant-garde composition that is a clever mixture of soft tones and abstractions. It jumps from linear imaging to Jackson Pollock-esque splatters as easily as a chick in a short skirt moves from table to table at a nightclub on the prowl for drinks. The guitar player meanders from table to table while the rest of the band coaxes him on from the sidelines and makes sure he doesn’t run out of shots. From slightly dissonant to alarmingly good-natured and subtle, I found myself actually laughing out loud at a couple of points in appreciation of the delicate transitions.
My favorite composition on the album is “A City Map For Mermaids,” a track that gives the impression of being a heartbreakingly beautiful love song that simply demands your attention. And not by grabbing you by the neck and shaking you, but by kissing you softly on the ear and then gently working its way down and politely asking you if you wouldn’t mind very much if it put its hand down your pants.
“Sad Name For A Fish” is the perfect track for pleasantly melancholic moods and, like it or not, you will find yourself closing your eyes and floating along with the perfectly harmonized interactions between the two saxophones as they coax you into an opium like dream. The bass line saunters along like a fisherman deftly jumping from rock to rock at the shore while the drummer crashes waves against the rocks as on a perfect, if only slightly overcast, Sunday afternoon in Tofino. But the part where there are no hippies.
The only sour point for me on this record was a song called “Great Wakering” that I couldn’t quite seem to wrap my head around and might more aptly be called “Great Wankering” (sorry, boys). However, the track was over soon enough and I was played out of my confusion with “You Are A Protocol Droid, Are You Not?” While, for many, a yes or no answer would have sufficed, I was pleased with the outcome of this track and was glad to be back on what had, by now, become familiar territory.
It’s not as though there is a large range of musical styles on this album. Instead, the effect is more that the musicians have managed to recite their pedigree in a way that is both respectful and slightly brash. Quite simply, they have expressed their love of all music and managed to convey that to the listener in way that is not offensive or overt, as most fusion is wont to be. They are not given to thievery, but rather, having traveled down several paths, they are now able to strike out in directions that are theirs and theirs alone. Think of it as the Jeet Kune Do of Jazz music: free of all the conventions and useless forms of Traditional Jazz and leaving only the most effective aspects of the music: the most effective weapon aimed at the closest striking point.
There is also a sense of friendship on each of the recordings. There is a trust that each of these musicians places in each other as they travel along and there is not one note that is left unanswered or, if it were to fall out of the air, would not be picked up by another sound that would complement the outburst and allow it to continue on gracefully, having been acknowledged. Instead of fighting for space, these five musicians have found a way to interact that is seldom found in modern music. The Responsibility Club, courtesy of Ben Henriques will be on very heavy rotation in my playlist for some time to come and I highly recommend it to anyone that appreciates jazz music at its very finest.