At first glimpse, pianist David Benoit comes across as your quintessential All-American boy--clean-cut and slim, with the offhanded innocence of a youngish David Steinberg.
The music in his opening-night set Thursday at Concerts by the Sea did nothing to dispel the image. Leaning in toward his electronic grand piano with a kind of cool intensity, rocking back and forth with the funk-drenched beat, Benoit produced music that was bright, frothy, enthusiastic and totally contemporary.
A good portion of the program was devoted to his catalogue of originals--an eclectic pastiche of fusion, bossa nova, romantic ballads and straight-ahead jazz. Among the more typical pieces were "Beach Trails" and "Sunset Island"--the former a catchy but not very substantial pop-jazz item, the latter a characteristically moody line underpinned by a powerful beat.
Curiously, Benoit's strongest playing came in his boppish, very tactile solos on two standards--"Autumn Leaves" and "My Romance." The other high point of the evening was a duet with saxophonist Sam Riney on a beautifully lyrical--and as yet untitled--Benoit original.