Do you have a pretty good sense of humor? I mean, the kind of humor that sees the hilarity in somebody completely failing and making a total ass of themselves in a thoroughly predictable and planned way? Then “Well I Should Have,” a jazz album by comedian and voice over artist H. Jon Benjamin is likely right up your alley.
However, if you’re a jazz fan, you best stay away because Benjamin quite literally attacks the genre with his Monkian bursts of staccato piano noise, flurries of uncertain melodies, and bad, bad humor in what has to be the weirdest jazz released in quite some time.
What is so weird about this album? A few things. One: Benjamin is primarily a comedian and not really well known for his musical ability. Two: he actually doesn’t know how to play the piano. So he spent about three hours learning what you have to assume were the absolute PRIMITIVE BASICS of jazz piano and sat in with a bass, sax, and drum trio.
Hilarity ensures…mostly. Maybe he’s funnier than this album makes him out to be, but his sketches are mostly absolutely free of any humor. The first track starts with Benjamin trying to sell his soul to the devil to learn how to play piano…so that he can record the album the next day.
The sketch starts out okay: the idea that he is desperately trying to learn piano is cute. Also, the idea that he can literally just call the devil and meet him is clever. But he shoots himself in the foot with some bad puns (he meets the devil at the “Crossroads Female Boutique,” ugh) and lame sex jokes (the devil ask him to “suck my dick”) that fall flat.
Thankfully, things take an upswing when the band starts playing on the next tune, “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt 1.” Here an accomplished, it not particularly adventurous, jazz ensemble sets down a pretty reasonable groove…around which Benjamin weaves his…
It’s time to describe what Benjamin actually does on this album. At times, he tries to follow along to the melodies by playing rhythmically similar flurries of notes. But his cluelessness regarding the basics of music of music mean that it’s essentially dissonant with the backing band. It’s hard to even describe what he’s doing because it just goes against the grain of all concepts of jazz music.
Does it work? Musically, of course not. But comically, yes, it does. The funniest parts are when he almost (and assuredly by accident) coincides with the band and simply sounds like a weird, but adventurous, jazz pianist. The fact that any of it sounds even remotely similar to jazz makes his satirical point (if, indeed, he is trying to make one) well: jazz often sounds clueless and directionless to the average listener.
This type of playing can be classified his “ensemble” work. Here, he is simply playing a support role to the band behind him. Occasionally, he drops down to playing simple “vamps” of one or two chords. Other times, he slams the piano with 10-finger chords that overwhelm the rest of the band in a shocking manner.
His solos are even funnier. Without backing band members to play off (or against}, he punishes the piano by abusing it in multiple ways, including:
- Playing the same couple of notes over and over
- Running his fingers randomly up the keyboard
- Bashing out lumps of notes in unlistenable chord clusters
- Softly playing off rhythm
It’s not all just bad piano work, though. There are more sketches, such as “Soft Jazzercise” and these don’t work for me. More dick jokes and improvised nonsense like “let gravity take over…like the movie Gravity” just make it seem like he’s not trying very hard. Maybe his fans will find these moments hilarious, but I doubt it.
And I was especially disappointed by the last song, a rap/funk/metal parody song that mostly talks about gross ways of having anal sex. Not only is this stupid, but it ruins the whole concept of the album! The first time I heard it, I thought I accidentally bought a particularly bad Limp Bizkit song by mistake.
Which is a shame, because the guy obviously has a sense of humor and his approach to playing piano is often bafflingly funny: there’s one point where he just bashes on one note for about 15 seconds.
The best parts though might come from the backing members. The saxophone player sometimes actually tries to mimic Benjamin’s chaos. And occasionally Benjamin exhorts the band, like “you can do better!” The best of these moments comes after a particularly awful series of chords. He rewards himself by shouting “can’t do that!”
Rather, you SHOULDN’T do that.
So was this album worth the $8 I spent on it? Oh sure. I laughed pretty regularly and was reminded of my early days of playing keyboard. I imagine I would have played in exactly the same way, but somehow thought I was doing a great job.
But, in the end, it’s really hard to see much of a point to the album. The sketches are hit-or-miss and the one-note joke of his terrible piano playing is forced to carry most of the humor. And while I was busting a gut every time he played (especially when he actually tried to mimic the rest of the band), it is a one-play kind of thing.
Recommended to: people with a good sense of humor or those who hate jazz
Should be avoided by: anyone who loves jazz or music in general, people who don’t like doodie jokes
That was fun! I hope to start making posts more frequently…it’s been way too long.