On 2.22.22 (Feb. 22, 2022), I was thinking about duets and some of my favorites. One that immediately came to mind was the first Benoit/Freeman Project. Here’s the review I wrote for a newsletter I wrote and designed for KBIA, the NPR station I worked at this time in 1994:
A few years ago, Russ Freeman was airing some regrets about letting his solo career go in favor of maintaining the Rippingtons, his mighty successful band. How could he explore his artistic side when fans expect the pop sound of the Rippingtons? Freeman has worked on getting his guitar sound to be more of a part of the Rippingtons sound, starting by stripping away lots of the synthesizers and overdubbing that made albums such as Tourist In Paradise and Welcome To The St. James Club such technological treats. And now he really has a chance to strut his stuff, teaming up with longtime friend and contemporary jazz master, David Benoit. The two have collaborated on what will probably be one of the top releases of 1994. The Benoit/Freeman Project.
Benoit and Freeman had played gigs together in Los Angeles in the 1980’s. Freeman was signed to Brainchild Records. which released his debut solo album. Nocturnal Playground. He then was sent to the Passport Jazz label which released the original Rippingtons album, Moonlighting (which also featured other L.A. players such as Kenny G and Dave Koz). Freeman appeared on some of Benoit’s earlier albums as well. But as each became more popular in their own right, their schedules made it difficult to reunite. In late 1992, however, Benoit put in an appearance at a couple of live Rippingtons shows, which were recorded for last year’s Rippingtons release, Live In L.A.
The Benoit/Freeman Project is obviously a labor of love, especially for Freeman who seems to dominate the album. He plays his wide assortment of acoustic, electric, and classical guitars, including a rarely heard Wes Montgomery style. Freeman has a hand in composition of all of the songs except for the remake of Earth Wind and Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone.” Six of the ten tracks are written by the duo. The lead track, the incredibly infectious “Reunion” is a song in the classic Freeman style, with a melody that won’t let you go. Kenny Loggins collaborates with the two on “When She Believed In Me.”
Freeman is obviously anxious to show that he can compose and play other types of music than the funk/rock of the Rippingtons. “Mediterranean Nights” and “That’s All I Could Say” are moody pieces in which Freeman uses his synthesizers to pull out symphonic sweeps. “The End of Our Season” is a bittersweet track full of emotion. Benoit sticks to piano throughout the release, leaving the keyboards to Freeman. He gets to play a little on the upbeat “Swept Away” and his own piece, the pleasant “It’s the Thought That Counts.” “Smartypants” is a fun track with bursts of brass, lots of funk, and some jazz. And the duo pulls out “Mirage” from the Rippingtons’ Moonlighting album for a fresh play.
Despite the stellar power of the duo, they also bring in other big name players such as Nathan East on bass, Phil Perry on vocals, and longtime players with both gentlemen, Tony Morales on drums and Steve Reid on percussion.
The Benoit/Freeman Project was released in early 1994 on the GRP Records label.