By: Ron Hart
Few musicians have defined the state of piano jazz in the 21st century quite like Marco Benevento.
alongside longtime partner drummer Joe
Russo as the Benevento/Russo
Duo, as the leader of his own trio with bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Andrew Barr or playing in such groups as Garage A Trois or,
most recently, as the
new member of The Slip spinoff Surprise
Me Mr. Davis, this 32-year-old native of North Jersey enjoys an ample playing field by
which to manipulate is
uncanny arsenal of analog and digital keyboards.
Between The Needles and Nightfall is Benevento's third solo album in three
years, and stands tall
as the finest work he has created under his own name to date. Recorded at Trout Recording
in the artist's adopted
home of Brooklyn, NY, Between The Needles was helmed by an ad-hoc crew of prominent
studio wizards -
Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Swans, Ramones, Luna), Mell Dettmer (Sunn O))),
Jesse Lauter (Low Anthem, Elvis Perkins) and Vid Cousins (Amon Tobin, Kid
Koala) - each of
whom helped Benevento to successfully envision his fusion of electro-enhanced major-chord
jazz for baby grand
piano treated by a cornucopia of guitar pick-ups, effects pedals and found toys.
Currently Benevento is in the midst of a whirlwind summer tour that includes dates with
Surprise Me Mr. Davis in the
Pacific Northwest, a pair of NY area gigs with Garage A Trois (as well as an appearance at
this year's Outside Lands
Festival), and two exciting shows for the Celebrate Brooklyn! Concert Series in Prospect
Park, including playing a key
role in the performance of Miles Davis' 1969 voodoo classic Bitches Brew alongside
such city jazz greats as
James Blood Ulmer, DJ Logic, Lonnie Plaxico, Cindy Blackman and the Mike Stern Band in
late June and an August
date that finds his trio performing a live score to Roger Corman's 1960 horror classic
The House of Usher.
However, Mr. B was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk with
JamBase about the
making of Between The Needles and Nightfall, joining Surprise Me, covering Amy
skateboarding to Men At Work.
JamBase: How does it feel to be one-fifth of a traditional rock band like Surprise Me
Mr. Davis as opposed to
being the leader of your own group like your trio?
Marco Benevento: It's great. I love playing the role of being just the keyboardist in a
band, trying to come up with
just cool, simple parts for a song. Not having to be the leader definitely is a pretty
JamBase: How democratic is SMMD in terms of creating the music?
Marco Benevento: Everyone pitches in and has their voices heard, but primarily Nathan
[Moore] and Brad [Barr] do
most of the writing.
How long have you known the guys in The Slip?
Man, I've known those guys and jammed with them since '95.
Do you have a favorite memory of jamming with the Barrs prior to joining Surprise Me
One time we were out on tour and we got stuck in a snowstorm in Flagstaff, Arizona. We
got snowed in at our friend
Brooke's place and we just played music in this A-frame house until the sun came up. That
was in February or
March of 2000. It was really fun.
Between The Needles and Nightfall is a very big-sounding record, with a lot of
major chords and huge
pop melodies, particularly for the baby grand piano. What inspired you to go in this
I think just years of figuring it out; years of playing and touring and finally opening up
the bottle that's been shaken
up. I've always wanted to play with a bass player and a drummer, and I always wanted to
sit behind the piano and try
to do more piano stuff. Over the last three years and over the last three records, I've
been getting a lot better at
ProTools, working in the studio in my house, and composing, of course. It all cumulated
to this point of a healthy
blend of rock and jazz and big beats and quieter songs. Even Reed Mathis, the bass
player, said that this was his
favorite trio record that we've made.
by Mike DiDonna|
What albums were you listening to at the time of recording Between The Needles and
I was listening to this record called Flow Motion by the group Can. That record I
was really digging a lot.
That record has a lot of songs that are built from loops. I was also listening to a lot
of relentless, groove-oriented
songs where it starts and you immediately like it and it has a nice tempo and you're
bouncing with it and barely
noticing what's going by. That was what I felt I did on a couple of the tracks on this
new album. I just got into this
[mindset of] "let the music play" and don't worry about a studio cut or worry about making
it sound tight, just play it.
There were a lot of free-for-alls on this record. There are a lot of newer bands like
Grizzly Bear that I've been
digging lately. I'm still very much tried and true with The Beatles as well. You always
notice something new with The
Beatles every year it seems. I'm a big fan of The Black Keys; I like Dan Auerbach, the
guitarist, a lot. And the guys
and me, we've been listening to a lot of Men At Work lately as well. I grew up in that
timeframe. I was born in 1977,
so I did a lot of skateboarding and listening to Men At Work on my Walkman while I skated.
And Herbie Hancock as
well; "Rockit" [with] that Linn drum sound always did it for me. I've also been listening
to more electronic bands
lately as well, like this band called Chromeo. They're pretty cool. I like LCD
Soundsystem a bit. Squarepusher blows
me away, but that's sort of a given I guess. He's a big name around everybody. But I
could still afford to be turned
onto more electronic music, though.
Following up on your 2009 LP of covers, Me Not Me, you chose to take on only one
someone else's work for Between The Needles and Nightfall. What made you go with
Amy Winehouse's "You
Know I'm No Good"?
I just love the tune, man; I love the soul of it. I'm a big fan of a lot of the Motown
stuff and Ray Charles and Wilson
Pickett and Little Richard, and I feel like the song stems from that trajectory. Amy's
got a great voice. I really like her
voice a lot, and it lends itself to the piano really fantastically. It's really easy to
play; it almost sounds like a Duke
Ellington/Medeski, Martin and Wood kind of hybrid. Playing it live is a real treat, too.
People really get into it.
Of all the covers you have done over the years, which one was the most difficult one to
Well, you know, they all make me work to get it right - from the simplest ones to the
hardest ones. But I'd say one of
the more involved covers that we play is "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" by Leonard Cohen.
There's a lot of changes
and there's a lot of chords in it. And we play it in more of a jazz type feel where I
improvise over the changes and
stuff. That's the one that is still hard to this day even though we've been playing it
for like ten years.
How did you come up with the idea of rigging your baby grand with guitar pickups?
I just had one in my house from a tour, and they sorta sucked for guitars so we never used
them onstage. I had one
lying around and was planning for a piano trio tour and thinking, "Oh good, I could just
fly and play pianos and that's
it." And I thought about how all these demos that I had been making had reverb and
effects on the piano and was
wondering how I was going to do that for the stage. So, I stuck that guitar pickup on the
inside of the piano and ran
it into the amp that I have and it was that simple. Then I was like, "Okay, I can put
distortion pedals and all these
things in between before it gets to the amp." For the last three years I've been trying
to dial that in. It's a hard thing
to do. It's an acoustic instrument and it's pretty wild with loud drums right next to it.
But at the same time, it's a
really attractive thing. What's really nice is running the piano through tremolo,
especially on this amp that I have. It's
this really nice old amp that has a tremolo on it that's like buttah.
|Benevento by Rob Chapman|
You are going to be scoring a screening of House of Usher at the Prospect Park
bandshell in Brooklyn
later this summer. How are you going to go about it?
I'm going to go wherever the film takes me. I'm also going to see if there are any
original songs that I've already
written that could work in there and maybe even use Between The Needles and
Nightfall as a soundtrack to
the movie if I could. It would be pretty fun to try to dial some of that stuff into it.
I've also been writing new music
for it and setting up sound effects and whatnot.
You just performed Bitches Brew with that phenomenal supergroup in Prospect Park
recently. Did you
play the role of Joe Zawinul or Chick Corea?
I actually tried to do both. There was only one keyboardist so I had to make it sound
like two or three. Nevertheless,
to be amongst those incredible musicians was a true honor.
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