Don Bennett | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Pianist Don Bennett moved from Chicago to Amsterdam a little more than a year ago, and--from the evidence of his newly released trio album Solar (Candid)--the tulips and the canals clearly agree with him. Bennett has always played a strong, fleshy brand of piano, and you'll find that throughout the album. On the R & B classic "Since I Fell for You," he still rocks the rhythm with a burly beat that matches his physical stature while tickling the high-note blues lines with flamboyant aplomb. And on hard-bop steamers like "Tune Up" and "A Night in Tunisia" he spins riffy, pulsing solos that push the tempo and punish the meter. But Bennett's playing now has another dimension: an unforced lightness on the feathery John Lewis tune "Afternoon in Paris," and on "Blue Moon" a true sense of romance underlying the sentimental extravagance of his chording. Solar represents Bennett's best work and suggests a new depth in his style, which has previously relied more on surface strengths. Nonetheless, Bennett always reaches a new level of excitement when he works with horns: despite a solid enough concept in the self-contained format of the trio, he really opens up at the helm of a quartet or quintet. This weekend brings the best of both worlds, as Bennett adds the potent saxophone of Ari Brown to the mix. Friday, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552.

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