It would have been easy for pianist/keyboardist/producer David Benoit to turn into a formula act. After he'd spent more than a decade on session work and solo albums, his 1987 glossy contemporary jazz release, Freedom at Midnight, soared up the charts. The light jazzy sound was the "in" thing at the moment, and Benoit could have just coasted like so many other players did. But rather than stagnate, Benoit has kept challenging himself, be it in synth-driven contemporary or straight-ahead jazz settings. As a result, his catalog is varied, and if it's inconsistent, no one can accuse him of resting on his laurels.

Benoit's songs are very melodic and filled with hooks. They sometimes build so perfectly they would seem calculated if they weren't so passionately delivered. Benoit's playing has a certain sheen and smoothness to it, but it's not really smooth jazz. With a light touch that has a New Age texture, Benoit adds interesting embellishments to his playing, which owes a strong debt to Bill Evans. While Benoit likes to politely funk things up now and then, he's at his best when he milks a ballad. Forget the brain — his playing will go straight to your heart. (Paul J. MacArthur)

David Benoit performs Sunday, July 25, at Scott Gertner's Skybar, 3400 Montrose Boulevard, tenth floor. Call (713)520-9688.

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