Album Review: Benjamin Samuels – ‘Dissensation’: New name, nu jazz, new thrills – an album set to make an impact.

The Breakdown

The music has a real intuitive energy, everyone pulling in the direction that composer and arranger Samuels imagined.
Bridge The Gap 8.8

Straight after any hugs or handshakes the first thing musicians ask each other when they meet up is ‘Are you busy’? For sax-player, clarinettist and composer Benjamin Samuels the answer for some time now has been a ‘yes’. He’s worked with Californian fusionist Balkan Bump and Brighton’s own global beat pioneer Seb Taylor (aka Kaya Project), plus toured the world in the irrepressible Grouch in Dub’s band. More recently though Samuels has made room for a pause, re-focusing on his own compositions and shaping his solo debut album ‘Dissensation’ (released via Bridge The Gap and streaming in all the usual spots now).

It’s an album which soaks up his musical journey so far, absorbing the eclectic grooves he’s been pursuing in various bands as well as the jazz expanses and classical forms linked to his starting point at Sydney Conservatorium. There’s a sense that the break enforced on his musical travels by two years of pandemic stasis allowed him access to different spaces nearer to home and closer to himself. So maybe its cryptic title ‘Dissensation’ describes his once hectic schedule and the album’s music represents him making sense of the consequences.

That reflective framing is drawn clearly from the album’s post spiritual opening track Dissensation (Part 1), an immersive, subdued introduction of uncoiling trumpet, flute and clarinet melody lines with gentle breaking tides of percussion. It’s like a deep intake of breath anticipating the dynamic action ahead. Once that comes, with first punchy montuno bars of Ambitious Antithesis, the album is, in line with Benjamin Samuels’ groove rider credentials, comfortably on the front foot. Here is a frisky piece of contemporary latin-jazz, clear and confident as early Robert Fonseca statements, which carves a place of its own. Fabian Acuna’s clipped trumpet phrases, pianist Danny G Felix’s rhythmically thrusting piano and Samuels’ own curling clarinet solo are key identifiers.

Crucially the grip tight ensemble that Samuels has gathered for ‘Dissensation’ are more than players drafted in for the occasion. They mostly represent the pulse of thriving Melbourne nu-jazz, with bassist Ralph Marshall and drummer Max Valentine also part of the gigging funk trio Blank Space with the saxophonist. The consequence is that the music has a real intuitive energy, everyone pulling in the direction that composer and arranger Samuels imagined. The bumping funkiness of Crazy DNA captures that collective effort in its piston powered riffs and weighty industrial edge. In places the tune brings to mind the angular shifts of Defunkt at their most frantic. Besides Marshall’s impressively gloopy bass slaps and the squalling impetus that Samuels squeezes from his sax, the other high point on the track is in the final third. Here Crazy DNA pivots into a wild electro hip hop twist courtesy of the sniping clipped rhymes of the illusive MC Blank Space.

Magic Square (Groove 5) is another tune that sees Samuels and buddies stir up serious jazz funk locomotion with some broken-beat staccato, afrobeat percussive urgency and Danny G Felix’s rumbling piano rolls. As the synth waves build Samuels pushes the track to the brink with a slaloming clarinet solo. That choice of instrument is inspired, bringing a lithesome, exotic feel to the cut. Such attention to detail and willingness to dodge expectations is a feature of ‘Dissensation’, one that aligns it with the momentum of the contemporary UK scene. Parabola builds from an agitated bass synth riff punctured by minimal horn lines then hurtles along with an Ezra Collective drum powered dynamism. Alternatively Gb’s Groove uses dub foundations mixed with a rattling almost Slits-like skank and wraps it in swirling organ psychedelia. Both Samuels and Acuna’s cranked up solos reach skyward here, urged on by a suitably scuzzy bass line.

Perhaps New Trap (Hold My Shit) best sums up the genre fluid openness of Samuel’s music on the album, taking its cool horn-led melody patterns, reminiscent of Cassie Kinoshi/Seed Ensemble’s harmonic elegance, and splicing in a smokey vocoder-soaked r n b mid-section. That might sound messy but with Benjamin Samuels astute guidance there’s no wobble. This is definitely an assured and attention getting debut that makes its title seem almost ironic. ‘Dissensation’ might suggest something sleepy or neutral but this set from Samuels and friends makes a real impact with its freshness and personality.

‘Dissensation’ by Benjamin Samuels is streaming now on all major platforms.

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