It’s never not the season for jazz. That’s the mentality of many-a-jazz-listener, and it’s almost certainly the attitude that British composer Benjamin Croft applies to his work. Croft has an extensive and impressive resume, playing alongside artists of the likes of Leslie Garrett, The Temptations and The Platters and making himself a fixture at several London jazz venues, not to mention featuring on The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent. With credentials like this, it’s only fitting that he works with the best for his latest release, Far and Distant Things; among others the personnel includes Grammy-Award winning trumpeter Randy Brecker, former Miles Davis sideman Barry Finnerty on guitar and drumming standout Chad Wackerman behind the kit.
As far as the substance of this record goes, Croft characterizes it as a fusion of jazz, classical and rock and “a true portrait” of his “musical mind”- or, if you want to simplify it, jazz fusion with some idiosyncratic nuance. It’s a smoothly executed mix, as evidenced in the Finnerty free-for-all on the title track, the delicate flute-laced textures of “Brock” and the spaciness of “SAD (Spatial Awareness Disease)”. “S&R Video” slickly leans into contemporary jazz over the general fusion angle of the album, countered by the frantic twists and turns of “The War Against Loudness” and the brief-but-proggy jam “St. Gandalf’s”. Wackerman gets his kicks and fills in on “Tudor Job Agency”, a cut best described as Styx meets Return To Forever and not just because of the percussive parallels to Todd Sucherman in Wackerman’s solo. Outside of that there’s cuts like “How Not To Win The Nobel Peace Prize” and “Thank You, That’s What I Wanted To Know” that you can recline to or study intently for their dynamic merits, and a slick beginning and ending- the old-school news music intro of “Overture” and the climactic rise and fall of “The Cashectomy” are nice starting and finishing touches.
Far and Distant Things demonstrates the good side of the digitization of the music world. Don’t like what’s out now and don’t think it’s up to your standards? Do a little digging and you can find exactly what you’re looking for and support the artist just the same. Just as there’s no excuse for the artist not to know the ins and outs of the business with all the information that’s available, there’s little reason for a listener to complain about the Billboard Hot 100 when they can find a shining example of sonic craftsmanship like this at the click of a mouse. Croft and his cohorts demonstrate clearly here that a genre like jazz will never wither away, it will only continue to be refined and be taken into new terrain over time. This applies variably to every genre, but if the musicianship in this record were the standard across the board then that would really be something.