By: Sarah Moore
The highlights of Marco Benevento's November 2006 month-long residency at now-deceased Tonic find their way to this breathtaking three-disc set on Ropeadope Records. One half of the The Duo with partner in crime Joe Russo, Benevento got a chance to put his playing in the limelight alongside several mentors, contemporaries and just great buddies. His relaxed flair comes through his keyboards as he interprets songs by jazz greats (Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk), cultural icons (Pink Floyd, Carly Simon, Leonard Cohen) and his own original material in conjunction with some usual suspects (Matt Chamberlain, Reed Mathis).
He performs some songs solo, but those pieces take a backseat to the "extravaganza de Benevento," a mashing of his favorite pieces and performers. The Berklee College of Music graduate handpicked some of his most illustrative comrades with whom he has worked in the past including Mike Gordon, the aforementioned Chamberlain and Mathis, Bobby Previte, Scott Metzger (RANA, American Babies), Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) and Joe Russo.
This set serves as a later day homage to one of New York City jazz scene's former staples, a venue that started careers and provided the hip and eclectic a place to play and create history-making performances. "Clouds" begins Disc One with guttural bass and low piano. The song comes from the band Quasi, a husband-wife team with Janet Weiss, the drummer for Sleater-Kinney and Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks. The song's foreboding mood comes through with textured electronics and sound-bending effects. Various electronic kids toys begin Benevento's first solo piece, "The Arrival of Greatness," a smorgasbord of tones and blips and Barney-like encouraging playtime phrases that fade into the background as he finesses his way around a smooth, quiet piano with swinging blues interludes. This is not before he infuses an eerie "Alphabet Song" into his inklings. Duo fans and Brad Mehldau listeners will appreciate "Sabbath," a Disc One highlight. The piece, co-written by Chamberlain, from Mehldau's smashing Largo is often performed by The Duo and combines a heavy metal banging piano with dense drumming. Mathis and Chamberlain perform the piece with Benevento here (i.e. "The Trio"), and Mathis maintains the catchy, low-end hook. Benevento solos, shredding through the keys like a guitarist, fast-paced and frenzied but still utterly controlled.
Benevento ends each disc with a selection from his duo with Mike Gordon. Two selections are by Benny Goodman and one is "Elmer's Tune" by Elmer Albrecht, Sammy Gallop and Dick Jurgens. Each is a stripped down pleasure with loads of throwback lightheartedness. "Elmer" involves the only straight vocals (courtesy of Gordon) in the set. Disc Two explodes with an original tune by "The Quartet" of Benevento, Dreiwitz, Steven Bernstein (Sex Mob) and Claude Coleman (Ween) called "Peppermint Hippo." Bernstein's slide trumpet exudes wavering mastery on top of subdued percussion and thin, high piano notes which increase as the tune progresses. Benevento's effects enter, sometimes with machine gun quality, sometimes mimicking a horn. The trio returns on "We're Using Time for Fun," a hip, funky, frenetic piece named after the t-shirt appearing in Benevento's clothing line Tubasunshine.
Disc Three brings the "Drum Night" with Russo, Previte and Mike Dillon (Les Claypool, Hairy Apes BMX) on several selections. Dillon's Flintstones xylophone begins "The Weathermen," a piece written by the four musicians. The various ticks come together with a pinpoint, pulsating single repeated piano note (think Animal Collective's "Peacebone"'s resolving). The piece becomes slow, tribal beat-driven and ambient with Benevento's finger-running patterns fleshing it out. "Diego Garcia" is a cavalcade of smashing, banging and tinkering after it builds to the ending. "Drum Night" covers Steve Winwood's "Gimme Some Lovin'" for a non-ambient change with the crowd getting involved on the chorus. Benevento closes the disc with Gordon on "Sing Sing Sing." Before thinking that this album is merely one name-drop after another, realize that this 3-CD collection celebrates the illustrious Marco Benevento, a man of dynamic musical and compositional talents whose abilities bridge the gaps between genres and bring a slew of entertainment to hungry ears.
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