Words by: Alex Borsody | Images by: Robert Chapman
Marco Benevento Trio :: 03.07.09 :: The Bell House :: Brooklyn, NY
Every time I get discouraged with music I soon discover something new that gives me hope. Buried beneath the cool kids, clawing over each other to get to the top, there sometimes emerges true musicians, who end up getting recognized on their merit.
The NYC CD release party for Marco Benevento's new album Me Not Me (JamBase review), was held at The Bell House. The venue is off a side street in a residential neighborhood. Standing alone next to industrial garages and apartments are the lights and fancy glass windows of a concert venue. Inside is a full size bar and toward the back of the room is a door that leads into an expansive concert hall. The room reminded me of a farmhouse with beautiful timber frame construction and wooden beams that stretch across the ceiling.
This show marked the return of Benevento to the East Coast after a residency at
Yoshi's in Oakland, California. He performed almost his entire new album with the aid of two thirds of The Slip, namely drummer Andrew Barr and bassist Marc Friedman. Opening the show was The Slip's guitarist-vocalist Brad Barr, who also sat in with the trio for a couple songs. Joe Russo also made an appearance, jumping on and off stage for a surprise drum collaboration with Andrew Barr.
Brad Barr played songs off his new instrumental guitar album, The Fall Apartment, performing solo with the aid of a looping pedal. He pulled on a string attached to his guitar and interesting sounds came out, something I had never seen before. He also took out a harmonica and sang.
Benevento is classically trained and a patron saint of New York City's experimental jazz movement. He cites rock as his true inspiration and this was apparent in the many covers he played. Most of the set came from Me Not Me, including versions of Deerhoof's "Twin Killers," George Harrison's "Run of the Mill" and My Morning Jacket's "Golden."
The show fell on the same weekend as the Phish reunion, yet no one seemed to notice. In true, egotistical New Yorker fashion, this evening was the center of the world for those in attendance. The Trio opened with the new unrecorded song "Greenpoint," then went into "Mephisto," one of the three originals off Me Not Me. Next came "Heartbeats" by electronic band The Knife. This was one of my favorites and an example of where Benevento's unique keyboard sound shined. The song was transformed from avant-garde, European electronica to more of an anthemic, head-banger, without changing the melody or time signature of the song at all.
The trio then went into a tune that my friend and I called "The Happy Song." I now know it by its true name, "The Real Morning Party." This tune reminded me of what indie rock made by a self-involved hipster on a Casio should sound like, but usually lacks similar depth. The combination of Benevento's custom, circuit bent effects and his jazz piano playing was very effective. He had so many different gadgets on top of his Wurlitzer piano that there was a chord hanging down over his keys, which his fingers had to maneuver around as he went up and down the scales.
| Marco Benevento Trio w/ B. Barr :: 03.07 :: Brooklyn|
Maybe it's the fact that Benevento has lived among the artsy types in Brooklyn and at the same time toured with festival headliners that he is able to bring what is best of the two camps together. Benevento is capable of playing contemporary sounding indie rock, minus the self-qualification, which he combines with quality improvisation, minus the excessive jamming. By sticking to the jazz route of composed and skillful improvisation he successfully avoids the bad neighborhoods associated with boring jams.
A recurring highlight of the night was when Joe Russo would jump onstage and start banging on a set of large bongos, at one point trading places with Andrew Barr on the kit. Russo would come out with a huge smile on his face that energized the room. Drummers have always seemed to be those kids from school who wouldn't sit still and they tend to be dynamic, inspiring people – the steady, earthy force, behind a band. Russo, to me, embodies this archetype. Both Russo and Brad Barr came out at the end of the night for an untitled song informally called "RISD" and an extended boogie version of Deerhoof's "Twin Killers." At times, Brad Barr played with a metal slide, though the guitar did not seem to be in any open tuning. He truly shined when he used his alternate picking style for lightning fast runs. Friedman stayed funky throughout the evening, moving toward complexity at times.
I have not heard many of the artists covered by Benevento and his friends, particularly the contemporary ones, but his unique take on these songs makes me want to explore them further. The tradition of the piano-jazz cover took these songs to a new level. It is a blessing to have this kind of local music shining through the clutter of the saturated Brooklyn art scene.
Check our recent exclusive feature/interview on Marco here.
The Marco Benevento Trio is on tour now, dates available here.
Continue reading for more pics of the Benevento Trio in Brooklyn...