HGR CD Review: Royal Benson

ROYAL BENSON – DOMINOES & GRAVITY (no label) Royal Benson first arrived on State College area stages four years ago, and quickly spread their tasty brand of jazz-flavored funk and rock to stages throughout the state. On their second longplayer, Dominoes & Gravity, Royal Benson further defines and focuses their sound, while raising the bar on their inventive arrangements and musicianship. Singer/keyboardist Adam Tarin, singer/guitarist Matt Fern, bassist/singer Tim Myers, saxophonist/flutist Michael Fortunato and drummer Jordan Thompson craft inventive melodies with intricate rhythms, intriguing chord progressions and adventurous arrangements. All five musicians constantly play and push off one another, elevating their full-tilt musicianship to the stratosphere; especially Fortunato, whose sax mastery escalates the excitement on each tune. The end result suggests the jazz-pop flourishes of Steely Dan merging with the improvisational theatrics of Phish. The jazz-funk flavor is obvious from the get-go, as Royal Benson opens the disc with the upbeat love song “Hold Me Down.” The title track “Dominoes & Gravity” drives forward into a soaring jazz-rock fusion reminiscent of Phish; and the group also stretches out with the atmospheric jazz-funk of “Time to Time.” Guest Cate Striplin helps with vocals on the beautifully soulful “Bird on a Wire.” “Primrose” creeps along a slinky jazz-funk groove, “Port of Call” bounces gently with a relaxed vibe, “Go Quietly” is playful in tone, and the piano-driven soulful ballad “Every Hour” finishes the disc. Royal Benson demonstrates abundant instrumental chops throughout the disc, and their vocals and harmonies are strong as well. The performances are inspired and uplifting; listeners can sense the excitement these musicians are sensing as they ride these grooves to their ultimate heights. The production is clean and clear, with everything sounding balanced and full. Royal Benson ups the ante with Dominoes & Gravity, a colorful and exhilarating slab of jazz/funk/rock fusion that will keep listeners captivated from start to end. (The CD can be obtained through Royal Benson’s website, www.royalbensonmusic.com.)