Jill Benson – Reminiscence

 Jill Benson – Reminiscence

Jill Benson – Reminiscence – Album Review

Personally, I think one of the most incredible things we can ever witness in this lifetime is an artist with a natural connection to music.  You know the kind I’m talking about…those incredible people out there that write songs where you listen, and it’s like you know where each twist & turn will be, or you feel each and every note they play.  Folks like Jill Benson, who were clearly blessed with an extraordinary gift that most of us on Earth don’t quite seem to have…she’s on a different level when it comes to the understanding of her craft and her connection to it.  As a result, you hear the natural fluidity in her songs and the way that she plays…a surefootedness that you don’t find in most artists that’s not so much effortless as it is conclusive; she’s put in the work throughout the years, and now she’s really beginning to discover all the amazing things she can do with the skillset she has.  I’ll tell ya this much for certain, just like I did with her album Dreamscapes back in September – she’s nothing but a joy to listen to for all these reasons I’ve outlined, and more – it’s been awesome to listen to her emergence this year.

I’ve been playing catch-up of course…those that are following along with Jill’s career know I got to her debut record Dreamscapes a bit late as it was originally released in 2021, and I just reviewed it a couple months ago – but much credit to her, she’s kept things moving along ever since that album was released as she prepared for her second, called Reminiscence.  If you’re among the savvy online, you’ll notice that a whole bunch of the songs in the set have been released along the way, including her new title-track, which starts out the album with a dose of humble sweetness & solo piano for you to enjoy.  I love the way she moves throughout this song, and takes you from the beauty of melody into the seriousness of it as well – and for a moment there, around the 1:25 spot, I thought she was even going to take us right into a version of something like “Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” from Spiritualized.  It’s inspiring to hear how much she’s able to include in one experience with just the one instrument – it’s not like she’s got her foot on the gas and roaring through the opening, so much as letting her natural connection to music guide her from part to part as she plays.  With each twist and turn, you feel Jill’s uncanny ability to glide right into another stunningly evocative piece of the puzzle, and before you know it, you’ve absorbed nearly four minutes of a gorgeous instrumental piano song you’ll instantly want to repeat again.  Benson’s got the magic touch on the ivory keys – “Reminiscence” immediately confirms it.

“Chasing The Dream” SOUNDS like she is – and as a result, you can feel the music brighten up as she plays it, giving it a jazzier melody that’s bound to get noticed.  I’m one of those dudes that tends to gravitate more towards the more melancholy vibes in this world, or the evocative & thought-provoking material like we find in the title-track as the album begins – but I ain’t opposed to a tune that’s on the happier side of sound when it’s done right.  “Chasing The Dream” has everything it needs to have, and it opens the door to more lighthearted vibes on Benson’s record if that’s the direction she chooses to take it.  Things only ever seem out of place on any given album when you start switching things up in the later stages of a set-list, but if you establish some versatility early on, your listening audience will readily take the ride through a whole plethora of themes, moods, and methods – so I think it was a great idea to have included a track like “Chasing The Dream” early on in this lineup of songs on Jill’s second album.  It’s got a playful bounce to it that is fun & joyful, builds cleverly as it plays on and gets great chords into the mix of the melody…there’s a lot of light & energy in this cut that I think people will really appreciate.  The way she switches between chords and sparkling single notes for the finale was a great decision too.

Personally I felt like Jill really did a fantastic job all throughout this record really…it’s perhaps even more flawless than Dreamscapes was, which is genuinely saying a lot, because that album was stellar as well.  “Reflections” is a solid example of the way she’s able to communicate through her songs and take her listeners on a journey through a tale told in sound that really travels straight to the soul and back again.  I’m a big fan of how she never seems to be forcing the moment, yet nothing ever ends up being dull either – one of the biggest compliments Benson truly deserves is how her music always seems to have everything it needs without a single ounce of pretentiousness in it.  She doesn’t pander to our ears for attention; her music earns it through generating real sincerity, and an engaging interest that has every person listening truly wanting to hear what comes next.  Like you’ll find on “Reflections” too, Jill’s music can quite often be very soul-soothing and melodically harmonius…she’s got an inherent mastery of knowing when to play & when to use the space to her advantage, which is key in making instrumentals.  I very much love the fact that nothing she plays ever seems to be stuffed with any kind of filler or fluff whatsoever – Benson supplies what’s truly integral to her melodies at all times, which is how she’s able to move us and our emotions so successfully as we listen.  She plays with a controlled calm that’s likely the result of being extremely well-rehearsed and ready for the moment, like the professional she is.

When she does introduce a more dramatic element to her sound like you’ll find in the lower notes of a song like “A Midnight Snowfall,” it’s justified within the melody – it’s not melodramatic, you follow me?  She’s able to reach really contemplative & compelling moments in time with her music that don’t take us out of the experience of listening…you might drift off into your own thoughts as you hear her songs, but you’ll keep what you hear as the soundtrack to them, make sense?  Essentially, no matter where you might go in your mind, you’ll always keep an ear on the music, and the music will always find its way into your heart – “A Midnight Snowfall” is an outstanding piece of writing that has mystery within its melody and a whole lot of interesting decisions at the core of its structure that’ll keep you relentless engaged.  Jill is able to bring authentic wisdom into the way she plays…like I was telling you from the get-go in this review, some people out there in this life have music inside them just waiting to get out into the open, and I highly suspect that Benson is one of’em.  Secrets don’t often stay secret for long, and the more she puts herself out there, I’d imagine the more people will be paying attention for the next release to follow, so on & so on…”A Midnight Snowfall” is a wonderful tune to have put out as a single in advance of the record, and quite likely going to be the gateway song that brought many people to Reminiscence.

Sometimes the quaintest moments can resonate easily with the strongest, like “Kintsugi” does on this album.  Sparkling and special, the degree of beauty in this delicate gem is stunning…it’s a gorgeous song and absolutely unforgettable – which is really saying something considering it’s among the shorter cuts on this record and it’s got such a gentle sound overall.  But that’s the truth of the matter folks, it’s 100% memorable, and an essential part of this lineup.  For myself personally, a track like this brings me right back to the first time I discovered the beautiful piano-based music that Aphex Twin was making for the Drukqs record…the stuff well-outside of the digital mayhem and madness he was so well-known for creating.  Instead, we were treated to songs that were humble, quaint, slow, and spectacular – all the things I feel about something like “Kintsugi” as well…moments in time that we never really forget, and surprisingly become a part of the soundtrack to our lives, permanently.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many great tunes on this album and by Jill Benson to be found…but this tune right here is special to me.

When you use space as effective as Jill does on “Drinks In Greenwich Village,” it’s like you’re listening with a heightened sense of awareness.  No different than when you’re out walking in the woods alone, and you hear the slightest snapping of a twig up ahead, or the scatter of an animal in the snow far off in the distance…it creates that feeling of isolation, and that the moment you’re in is unique to you alone.  I enjoy that feeling…and I am a tireless advocate on behalf of musicians like Jill that get how to use space in their music to their advantage…it’s not always about what you play, but how you play it that can make a song go from good to great.  So later on in this very set-list, when she chooses to make different versions of a few tracks, quite often you’ll find that I’m more of a fan of the originals – and that’s largely because she does use the space surrounding her piano so well, like she does on “Drinks In Greenwich Village.”  I love the notes she chooses, I love the demeanor of a song like this, I love the technique that she plays with, and I equally love the restraint she reveals as a professional artist that fully understands how to make a memorable impact, even in the quietest moments.  “Drinks In Greenwich Village” is another audible triumph for Jill’s music on Reminiscence, and at this point it’s clear the album has many.

Like I’d explained when reviewing her album Dreamscapes earlier this year, you always take a bit of a risk when having a song appear twice within one lineup on an album.  I think she was wise to break them up this time instead of featuring those moments back-to-back like she had on the previous record.  Would I still love to have another original tune instead of a song make its way twice into one set-list?  You betcha.  That being said, it’s “A Midnight Snowfall” that gets the orchestral treatment this time around, so I’m not too inclined to complain either.  Do I still think the original is more my jam?  Sure I do – but the majestic sound that is brought out in this more involved variation also has a high level of appeal to it, and I’d be the first to admit that it would also likely appeal to an even broader audience.  I happen to like solo piano compositions quite a bit – but I know I’m not everyone in that regard – so for Jill to open the door even wider for more people to appreciate her writing, songs, and performances – I mean…hey…it’s not a bad decision at all – this can be a really good thing.  In terms of cohesion however, I might push back a little bit…I always felt like the orchestral versions really stood out from the solo piano tunes on this album…and were I to listen to a Jill Benson album full of one or the other, I’d likely enjoy the solidarity in a lineup like that just a bit more.  But again, that’s probably me personally, and not likely everyone.  The bottom line is that, going orchestral certainly doesn’t hurt much if anything at all, and gives a song like “A Midnight Snowfall” a more luscious dimension to its beautiful sound overall.

As for “Autumn Leaves,” I suppose it’s fair to say that I went a little back & forth about this particular cut.  There are spectacular examples on this record of Jill using the space surrounding her to her advantage, and I suppose by comparison, “Autumn Leaves” felt a bit more hesitant in that respect than it did as natural & purposeful like we’ve become accustomed to.  Sometimes that’s the result of a song being a bit newer…sometimes it’s simply a matter of hanging onto a note for a split-second too long, and in truth, it can virtually happen to any musician out there if they even drift for a mere moment in their focus, or don’t know the material as front to back as they might some of their other tunes.  At the end of the day, “Autumn Leaves” still has a beautiful melody and idea to offer your ears…in my opinion, it just still needs a tiny bit of refining is all…something to carefully extract the delicate sweetness at the core of this song without jeopardizing what’s already working well.  As much as I love Jill’s solo piano tunes, certain songs really can benefit from a bit more going on, and this might be the case for “Autumn Leaves” – I’ll let you know when we revisit this track in a couple moments here in its orchestral version.  As it stands now, it’s got that humble sparkle to it, which I like…just needs a bit of polish to it so that it shines like the gem it’s intended to be…some of Benson’s immaculate fluidity is missing a little bit here.

It can be nice when a title somewhat echoes the sound we hear, or mirrors a theme in some way, and especially when we’re talking about instrumental tunes, which are forever mired in the murk of our curiosity as to what any given song would be about, in general.  With a song like “Footsteps” and the way the back & forth of the low-end keys and high-end melody works, it actually kind of feels like the music is actually walking around…and that’s a neat effect.  Chances are, that’s drawn to our mind – or my mind – from the inference of the title of course, but hey, we’re here now, and that’s how I’m feeling about what I’m hearing, so there you have it.  I’m probably not gonna say “Footsteps” is one of my real favorites on this record…it’s another good song, and I’d clearly listen to Jill play her own version of the phonebook at this point – I think we all get that by now…but it’s tougher to say whether or not it quite lives up to the strength of the material in the first half of Reminiscence.  To me, it’s a good tune, and I really like the warmth at the center of this song in terms of its melody – I also like that we go through some distinctly colder moments too, where a track like “Footsteps” feels a lot more contemplative.  It’s got a solid mix of contrasting emotions at the core of it, which I like…playing/performance-wise, I feel a little similar to this tune as I did about “Autumn Leaves,” but perhaps not quite as strongly in that regard – as you can tell, I’ve once again circled around in my thoughts about “Footsteps,” and though it might not be my favorite of the bunch either, it’s still a decent tune by any measure.  Any of these songs really are at the end of the day…it’s only by comparison to what Benson’s already shown us on Reminiscence that any song might pale a bit through our own personal taste, interpretation, and what we tend to like.

I’ll tell ya this much y’all…I’d definitely take a record filled with songs like “The Spider’s Dream” without a moment’s hesitation.  While there is still piano involved here, the mesmerizing web of sound is woven from different instruments than we’ve heard on this record so far…flutes & whatnot…and it’s captivating stuff to listen to, full stop.  The magic of repetition plays a significant role here, but overall, it’s much more of a song that’s focused in the direction you’d find soundscapes and ambient tunes…and honestly, I think you’re all gonna love this just as much as I did.  In the context of this album, it’s wonderfully unique, and a real breath of fresh air that I feel like Reminiscence needed right at this particular time in the set-list.  “The Spider’s Dream” is innovative, ambitious, creative, and compelling…and all at once – you can even see from the length of the song that you’re in for something different, with this cut reaching nearly seven minutes, and there only being one other song that even tops over four.  I really love this track though, no doubt about it…I feel like Benson put a ton of thought into making this song a genuinely hypnotic experience that we can’t take our ears off of, and mission accomplished m’lady.  From the nature-sounds in the background, to the sparkle of the piano and melody in the distance – this whole track is a huge win for Jill’s creativity and the artistic side of her sound.  Every time I cycled around to this part of the album, I always felt myself craving a bit more of this whole vibe earlier on as a result…and that’s the real power of uniqueness when it shows up this strongly – we naturally want MORE of it.  “The Spider’s Dream” is brilliantly mesmerizing in all the right ways…I couldn’t get enough of it if I tried…I happily put this song on repeat at least a couple times and let myself drift into its mysterious melody, happily lost in one of Benson’s most creative compositions that I’ve heard so far.

Finishing Reminiscence off with an orchestral version of “Autumn Leaves” was a good idea that gave a second chance to this track making perhaps a stronger impression than it did on that first go around.  I’m more than comfortable saying that it needs a bump or two in volume compared to the rest of the entire album, but that’s an easy fix…so no real worries there.  Once you give this track an extra crank or two on the dial, you’ll hear that it has been filled in with a bit more life in its veins and the right ideas to surround the main melody…and yeah, I’ll admit, though I’m usually more partial to Jill’s solo piano tunes more than anything else, I felt like the orchestral treatment was the right way to go for this particular song.  Eventually, it does find its volume…somewhere around the fourth minute or so…and to be entirely honest with ya, even though I knew that was coming, it was still a factor.  Moments like this are incredibly hard to balance out…if we’re listening at the same volume as the rest of the record, you’ll nearly wonder where those first four minutes even are…it’s quite low – but if you’re not prepared for the jump in volume that takes place for the finale of this tune, believe me, you’ll spill your freakin’ popcorn.  Consider yourselves warned!  I still feel like “Autumn Leaves” is going to need some tinkering underneath the hood before the mechanics of this idea are running as smoothly as Jill would probably like in either version, though I do like how this whole song is supported better in this final version, 100%.

All-in-all, I’m highly satisfied.  Jill Benson has an undeniable passion for the art of making music and it’s an extreme pleasure to listen to, especially if you dig your instrumental tunes.  Everything I’ve heard on Reminiscence reinforces how much I like her music, and absolutely has me looking forward to what she might come up with on the following album & the next time I get a chance to listen to her play again.

And P.S. – thank you so much to Jill for including a quote from me right in the liner-notes of her brand-new record!  I’m truly honored – thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Find out more about Jill Benson from her official website at:  https://www.jbmusicconnection.com

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