Jazz it ain't...
Cantor Bruce Benson & Kenny G's The Jazz Service was released back in 1986 and is the first of four albums by Cantor Bruce Benson to be reviewed here. The Jazz Service was originally commissioned by The Fine Arts Foundation of Temple Sinai, Oakland, California, as part of its annual Fine Arts Festival of Jewish Music and was premiered on 10th February, 1984. It is Cantor Benson's attempt to bring contemporary music to Jewish liturgy, specifically, the Erev Shabbat service.
Before going any further, I feel duty-bound to point out to those without any kind of knowledge of jazz and the contemporary jazz scene that to use the word "jazz" and the name "Kenny G" in the same sentence is something of an oxymoron, nay, an almost criminal act. Kenny G is a technically fine saxophone player who has made an art of copying the voice of the late great Grover Washington Jr., aka The G-Man, to near perfection, and if the sincerest form of flattery is imitation then indeed Kenny G has been paying huge compliments. However, Kenny G's brand of music is perhaps best described as easy listening lounge and elevator music, beloved of middle-aged housewives (and a certain radio DJ of British origin in Trinidad during the 1980s/90s - and who knows, maybe even now - who could bore the pants off just about anybody else and who shall remain nameless). Now there's nothing inherently wrong with that if this kind of blandness appeals to you, and it certainly has been very successful commercially. But... Jazz it ain't. No way, no how, no where. A jazz musician of any kind Kenny G is not, whatever else he may be. Therefore, the title of this album has to be a misnomer for a start.
Consequently, when Cantor Bruce Benson & Kenny G's The Jazz Service landed in my hands, I have to confess to the thought of having to review this clearly mis-titled album filling me, as a life-long jazz nut, with almost a certain kind of dread.
However, ignore the title and the fact it's Kenny G, and it really isn't too bad. Overall, the music is more easy listening rock in character with Kenny G's often plaintive sax thrown in. OK, I've heard worse. Cantor Bruce Benson has a very appealing voice and sings with conviction and spiritual engagement. The Candle Blessing is actually almost conventional and certainly enjoyable.
Personally, I tend to prefer my liturgical music more conventional and this kind of "popularising" of liturgy is not going to be everybody's cup of tea. However, if it helps in putting more bottoms on seats in synagogue then that can't be a bad thing surely, and in that case, all strength to Chazan Benson and his contemporary approach to chazanut.
Two of the separately listed tracks incidentally are actually segued, V'Shamru and Yism'Chu, so don't panic when you see your CD player only listing seven instead of eight tracks.
Cantor Bruce Benson & Kenny G's The Jazz Service certainly should find a place in your collection if contemporary/modern chazanut (or liturgical music) is you kind of thing. Just do not expect jazz.
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