Album Review of
The Joy of Playing

Written by Joe Ross
November 25, 2021 - 12:06pm EST
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Studying music in his native Chile, Washington D.C. and New York, guitarist Benjamin Schnake presents his Latin jazz with hints of Andean flavor. Several of his compositions were written for nonet with alto sax, tenor sax, trumpet, trombone, bass trombone, guitar, piano, bass and drums. “Marisol,” “The Joy of Playing,” “She’s Gone” and a cover of Charlie Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” are full-bodied arrangements that are tight and tastefully presented. Three tracks on Schnake’s album have leaner arrangements for quartet or quintet.  “Fragment,” played with delicacy and restraint features Schanke’s nylon-strung guitar with Santiego Leibson (piano), Sunhyun Yoo (alto sax) and Paul Shaw (drums).

A couple unique tracks are “Aju” and “Lakitas” that stem from the jazz guitarist’s earliest musical background in folk music of the Andes. A folk melody played by Lakitas (groups from northern Chile), “Aju” is offered in an up-tempo style that also has the dance rhythm of cumbia. Finally, to close the album with an apparent tip of his hat to the importance and respect he holds for music tradition, Schnake plays a self-penned huayno, called “Lakitas,” that is a spirited, infectious musical song and dance form that stems back to pre-conquest times in Peru. Rather than guitar, Schnake plays mandolin, and along with Ammon Swinbank (flute), Santiago Leibson (piano) and Paul Shaw (drums), this cut was my favorite because its structure is not only harmonically static, but its light, buoyant swinging rhythm seems to convey a message that breaks down barriers while also fusing joy and optimism with other emotions such as passion, nostalgia and sorrow. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)