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JAZZ REVIEW : Lending an Ear to Songwriter Benard Ighner

Sometimes there’s just no winning.

At Marla’s Memory Lane on Friday night, Benard Ighner, the singer-songwriter, had in mind to premiere a few of his newest songs with a six-piece band that could swing as heartily as it could get down and boogie.

The crowd, familiar with Ighner’s classic composition, “Everything Must Change,” and his stylish rendition of “My Funny Valentine"--ballads both--was all ears. Well, almost.

“I don’t know, man,” Ighner said after his opening set, shaking his head at the mystery of it all. “You’ve got to play loud to get their attention, because when you play soft, the back row talks right through it.”

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Such was precisely what happened. The volume of his new material was too loud. During the two familiar ballads, the volume of the audience was too loud. In both situations, the effectiveness of Ighner’s handsome writing and mannered singing was lessened.

The sound system at the venerable King Boulevard nightclub didn’t help matters. Ighner’s rich baritone voice was so muddled and distorted that the lyrics through his five new songs were barely discernible. Lost in the din also were the harmonic textures from keyboardist Larry Nash, the more subtle lines of guitarist Kiyotsugu Amano and the tasty percussion of Ray Armando. Surviving were the plaintiff wails of alto saxophonist Michael Paola, the heavy-handed plunking of bassist Smitty Smith and the funk-based rhythms pounded out by drummer Harold Mason.

Victimized by volume, Ighner’s new material--funk-ladened, its tempos varying only slightly--survived only rhythmically. That is a shame, as Ighner’s talent as both a singer and a songwriter deserves a better showcase than the one afforded him Friday night.


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