By Vinzenz Benjamin
As an internet advertised 'Music Reviewer' you open yourself up to any number of varied requests. From 60 minute guitar solo albums peeled out of teenager's bedrooms (which are either deliberately Lo-FI, or just poorly produced), to accomplished, touring bands which you can tell from one listen are on the cusp of really making it.
A debut solo album from a London based Jazz-Funk Bass player was not a collection of tunes I was particularly excited about reviewing. Jazz for me has always been the preserve of pretentious big-city bars or art students. However Vinzenz Benjamin's impressive CV alone demands that you listen to him. Having played with the likes of Cheryl Cole, Rod Stewart and Paul Young, Benjamin is guy to be taken seriously. Far beyond his big-name collaborations, the actual quality of his music and this album's production is in danger of changing my opinion of this genre.
This isn't an album of deep seated intelligence or wordsmithery, but it isn't meant to be. This is an album to relax to and enjoy, appreciating each of the instruments being played.
"Solid State" is undoubtedly 'Bass led' (as you would rightly expect, given the creator) for many of its tracks, but it never overwhelms the actual album. In fact it is the variety in his collaborations that makes "Solid State" so easy to listen to. "Happy Hour" kicks off the album, setting the tone with 4 minutes of old school Sax-driven funk. Complex Basslines throughout the track demonstrate an accomplished talent, and a quality song writing ability that has no doubt been gleaned from countless years of touring with some musical greats.
After upping the tempo and racing through second song "88" Benjamin slows it down and gets his smooth on. Sexy Bass and Saxophone (not my favourite instrument in the world by a country mile, but it fits this track like a glove) create a whole new atmosphere, showing another of this album's many layers.
"Solid State" does have its more flaccid moments. "I Feel For You" feels a bit sparse and vacant, especially after some of the preceding numbers and at times ventures towards gameshow music. The album's title track is in danger of losing its way early on along with its listeners, and the instrumental cover of Michael Jackson's "Liberian Girl" that closes the album, is lifted straight from the CD player at your local health spa.
In between these moments however, are tracks of polished genius. "Timo Timo" is an absolute gem, (not least because it contains a guitar solo halfway through, that honestly wouldn't be out of place on your favourite plastic-guitar based computer game). "Only So Much Oil" is one of the few tracks containing vocals and genuinely deserves national airplay. When you listen to this song, you are not only getting a valuable lesson on the dangers of relying on a finite resource, you are also being exposed to modern soul that blows a lot of the more "popular" competition out of the water.
"Solid State" is a highly accomplished, well-produced album by a talented musician, and one that has been a pleasant surprise to this reviewer. I haven't changed my mind about the saxophone just yet, but I may well drop into one or two of those pretentious big city bars.....