Charismatic and dynamic saxophonist/bandleader Lakecia Benjamin, who has played with Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots and Macy Gray, takes center stage in her own right with the release of her unconventional soul/funk album, RETOX, on Motéma Music.
While she’s made quite an impact with her impressive sax work on stage and on record, Benjamin opted for a slightly different take on RETOX, allowing her talents as a composer and producer to share the spotlight with her funky sax struts. In fact, several of the CD’s 12 tracks don’t even feature sax. “This album is really a fruition of years of songwriting as much as it is a showcase for my sax playing and horn arrangements,” said Benjamin. On songs like “My Love” and “Share” she’s chosen to let the vocals carry the song. “I was more concerned with doing justice to my compositions than putting a sax solo in every song.”
On RETOX, Benjamin shows off her impeccable, purist jazz resume with a deep, kaleidoscopic and ingeniously arranged mix of original old school soul and funk songs as well as the Stevie Wonder classic, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” An A-list of established and emerging vocalists such as Krystle Warren, Amp Fiddler, Maya Azucena, Chinah Blac and Melanie Charles, join Benjamin on an album that’s as electrifyingly diverse as the cast that plays on it. “I call my band SoulSquad because, even as a kid, I always wanted to play like I was in an army of funky musicians,” says Benjamin.
Though her own music is immersed in the vintage sounds of James Brown, Maceo Parker, Sly and the Family Stone and the Meters as well as classic jazz, Benjamin’s soaring, dance floor-friendly grooves take the classic vibe to a whole new level. The constant throughout it all is Benjamin’s summery, sultry alto saxophone, adding something special on every cut – be it a smoldering late-night ambience, an erudite, forceful jazz intensity or the tight funk multi-horn harmony sections that pepper the proceedings throughout.
Hit producer Ben Kane (D’Angelo, Krystle Warren), who engineered and co-produced the album with Benjamin, gives the tracks a rich, full-bodied analog sound that nods to the great radio hits from the golden age of soul.
In keeping with her eclectic style, the tracks are a mix of vocal and instrumental joints. Along with the blissfully peaceful “Dreams,” there are some serious party jams: the band’s signature, P-Funk flavored opening track, “SoulSquad” – which evolved out of a jam at a concert sound check; “Maceo,” a period-perfect, JB’s-style tribute to funky sax legend Maceo Parker; and the horn-driven groove “Get Down,” which Benjamin describes as, “A go-go feel meets James Brown, just to show that vocalists aren’t the only life of the party!” Benjamin’s unique new contribution to the future of soul and funk is sure to win over fans of acts from Maceo Parker and Sharon Jones to Adele and Erykah Badu.
A streetwise New York City native born and raised in Washington Heights, Lakecia Benjamin has become one of the most highly sought-after players in soul and funk music. She first picked up the saxophone at Fiorello LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, after which she joined the renowned jazz program at New York’s New School University. By that time she was already playing with renowned jazz figures like Clark Terry and Reggie Workman, which led to gigs and tours with a wide array of artists such as Rashied Ali, the David Murray Big Band, Vanessa Rubin and James “Blood” Ulmer. With her deep jazz roots, she was soon in demand as an arranger and horn section leader, landing stints with such acclaimed artists as Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, the Roots, and Anita Baker.
Currently, Benjamin is a featured musician and arranger for comedy star Craig Robinson and the Nasty Delicious. (Robinson, best known for his work on TV’s The Office as well as such popular films as Pineapple Express and Hot Tub Time Machine, tours regularly with the Nasty Delicious band serving as the main foil in his popular comedy act). Benjamin has also had the honor of performing at the White House at President Obama’s inaugural ball. She’s performed on four continents and her extensive recording credits include saxophone and arrangements for Santigold, Maurice Brown, the Clark Terry Big Band, Krystle Warren and Talib Kweli, among others.