The Straight Tonic with Marco Benevento

By: Josh Potter

Marco Benevento By Greg Aiello
Anyone fortunate enough to have stumbled into NYC's legendary Tonic on a Wednesday night in November 2006 not only bore witness to some of the late venue's final, elegiac performances, but to five nights of keyboard renegade Marco Benevento in his most fertile creative habitat. For those of us that didn't get the memo, there is Marco Benevento – Live at Tonic (released August 7 on Ropeadope), a three disc collection of choice solo, duo, trio and quartet tracks handpicked for the benefit of our auditory nerves.

Fresh off of a busy touring schedule with G.R.A.B., Bobby Previte's Coalition of the Willing, Bustle In Your Hedgerow and the Benevento/Russo Duo, Benevento hunkered down for the month-long residency while Ropeadope's Andy Hurwitz hovered nearby with a hungry musical specimen jar. Modeled on Christian McBride's set of a similar name, Live at Tonic captures Benevento behind an acoustic piano, as opposed to his standard organ and arsenal of circuit-bending toys.

The results are raw and fiercely creative. With help from Mike Gordon, Reed Mathis, Matt Chamberlain, Bobby Previte, Joe Russo, Mike Dillon, Steven Bernstein and the rhythm section from Ween, Benevento mines lesser-known gems by the likes of Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen and Carly Simon for their molten core. With a handful of brand new originals thrown in, the discs shift from tender to reckless at a moment's notice. A jazz musician rocking out, a rocker jamming, a jammer at the helm of a one-man orchestra, he'll have you know it's all just folk music – the most natural thing in the world.

JamBase: Tell us a little bit about how Live at Tonic came about.

Marco Benevento: How the fuck did it come about? I have no idea. Oh, you know how it came about, it was sort of The Duo's manager's idea, actually, Marc Allan. I had an offer to go on the road with Bobby Previte...

JamBase: With the Coalition of the Willing?

Benevento by Jay Blakesberg
Marco Benevento: Yeah. I did an awesome West Coast tour with them, and then they wanted to do a Fall tour and I was like, "Sure." But, my manager made the obvious apparent and said, "You know, if you keep on touring you're just going to get sort of tired," because being away from home and touring all the time is definitely exhausting.

JamBase: Right, and you were still touring with The Duo last Fall, too.

Marco Benevento: Right. So he's like, "Why don't you stay around and do a residency, instead." And I thought, "Sure." It was a brilliant idea. That way I wouldn't get too burned out and get the opportunity to play with other folks, which is a huge requirement, as a musician. So, it was his idea as far as the residency goes, and then the personnel were my idea. So, I've got five Wednesdays [and] every Wednesday I was, like, "How am I going to make this interesting?"

Was it a new kind of stress pulling together different bands for each night, or were the others pretty psyched and available?

I was so psyched every day before that residency because it was my chance to put on my own show. I was thinking, man, we could do one night with, like, three drummers, because I'd always wanted to do something with just piano and all drums – you know, just bring all of the drums and percussion I have at my house. So, that's one night right there with Joe [Russo], Bobby Previte and Mike Dillon. And I wanted to get Mike Gordon on board because I just love him. He's a really sweet guy and a very creative dude. When I asked him about it, it was his idea to play the music of Benny Goodman.

Yeah, I was going to ask about that. It seems pretty out of left field, but works so well.

The Duo by Kevin Quinn
Yeah, it worked out well. We [The Duo] were really touring a lot right before then, so we only had about a couple hours before the gig to throw it all together. So, it was a little lackluster, but it made it on the album. We've got three songs. Each disc ends with a little duet of Mike and I playing a Benny Goodman tune. The engineer sort of "lo-fi-ed" it out, so it sounds like it's coming out of an old record player or something.

One of my favorite moments is in the middle of "Moonglow" when the entire room of however many people starts whistling along.

Oh, man, I'll tell you, that was the greatest thing about Tonic. Everybody that was there was totally psyched to be there. They were happy it was a small venue. Tonic is known as a sort of avant, experimental venue and everybody was free to be as freaky as they wanted to be. On "Sing, Sing, Sing" they were pounding beer bottles on the tables. It was just nice to play some jazz with Mike, and in a different setting. So, of course, there was going to be a solo night. Andy Hurwitz at Ropeadope was like, "At least one night has to be solo." And I was glad to hear that. It was fun. I got to bring my whole basement into the room and ran around like a monkey playing everything. Then the last night was with Reed [Mathis] and Matt Chamberlain. We did a tour in 2004 or 2005 – I don't remember [which]. It was the Ropeadope New Music Seminar tour, and Matt was on board with Skerik and Bobby Previte. That's where we met. We had a night off on that run and I threw together a gig with Matt. Reed was in town so he joined us and it was explosive. I was like, "Oh my God." I knew three years ago that I wanted to have that rhythm section with me on stage again. So, it was always in the back of my mind that I'd do a trio with those two guys, and Matt was free so we flew him in. That was one of my favorite nights for sure. We played some new original tunes.

You've got some more dates scheduled in the near future with that same lineup, right?

Exactly. We're doing three nights at Yoshi's [in Oakland, August 9 – 11] and the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz [occurred August 8]. I'm totally looking forward to that.

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