Nothing like a great surprise to make the days more exciting.
Hidden surprises give you reasons to smile and break up the
usual predictability of mundane life. Like running into an old friend you haven't seen
in ages and finding out they've just moved to town, or getting a Dutch postcard
from someone you were just thinking about--these are the things you can't put in
your datebook, they just happen. These are the moments
that get us out of bed in the morning and out into the world, because fate is not a
product of complacency. Activity makes for positivity.
Michael Polans knows all about being active. A year ago he had some great things
for him – his production company Portabella Music was bringing great artists to
play and great fans to listen down at the Conduit in Trenton, New Jersey,
breathing life into a city that only knows poverty and struggle. Mike was building a
community in a city that cannot build homes for its residents, but his success was
gone almost as soon as it came. The Conduit closed its doors this past
summer and that new life was put to rest.
Always selfless and unrelenting, Michael was not about to give up. He took one
good look down the Delaware and found a new home in an old one: Philadelphia,
the City of
Brotherly Love. Now some say Philly has an attitude problem, but I
say it just has attitude. It's not the kind of place that changes for anyone or
anything, and although first impressions may be a bit gruff, there's a lot of truth
and honor underneath the city's coarse exterior, especially when it comes to
music. The city's passion and loyalty have built it to be a launching pad for many
national tours for many true artists, but those who might be
faking it then aren't gonna to make it in this town. Mike doesn't front by any means,
flaunts it (well not really). After last Sunday's star-studded Benevento/Russo Duo gig at his new South
Street home the Tritone, where Mike Gordon, Future Man
and Jeff Coffin were hanging out, listening and cavorting with Philly's finest fans, he
might as well flaunt it because he's all over it.
When Marco Benevento and Joe Russo first walked into the
immediately fell in love.
"We felt like it was the perfect kind of venue for us – low stage, about a 100-150
person room, nice lush lighting and colors in the room, chairs and tables to sit and
absorb the music," said Benevento. "It reminded me of Trilogy in Boulder, which is
a favorite among
Joe and I. We've always been into the kind of 'downtown-esque' smaller rooms, it
makes us aware of the different dynamic 'duo' possibilities, and plus I feel like I
can connect to the audience more."
The connection was made early on as the Duo embarked on an evening focused
more on their own dynamically intuitive compositions than the medleys of
covers that have become some of the Duo's trademark material.
"The novelty of medleys of other people's tunes are great for an immediate
connection with most people in the audience, and of course it's fun for Joe and I,"
Benevento explained. "But I think that we really get our vibe across when we play
our own tunes. We'll
always bust out some covers here and there, and hopefully we'll find others that
will work with the Duo, but the main focus now, after doing that for so long, is
composing new songs."
Along with the out-of-body originals "Darts," "Abduction Pose," and "Marzipan," the
treated the attentive audience to one of their newest compositions entitled "Inner
Mouth," a look toward the more traditional, classic B-3 jazz flavor reminiscent of
Philly native daughter Shirley Scott, but not without a trademark change heavy
enough to shake the foundation of the smoky South Street scene. And although
the Duo is concentrating more on their own songs they had to bust out some
Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Radiohead for fun. You just can't keep them away from
It was the Duo's first gig in Philly and the beginning of Portabella's October lineup,
which features a double-shot dynamo with the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
joined by legendary Philly saxman Elliot Levin for a gig on Monday the 20th, and a
party for Sex Mob
a>'s latest RopeADope
release Dime Grind Palace on Tuesday the
21st. The warm reception was somewhat uncharacteristic of a tough town where
usually rock reigns supreme, but the change of pace was good for a city
trying to remake itself through its cultural offerings. And it always
helps when some of the leaders of biz come on down to support.
"We didn't expect to see more than 40 or so people come out, and it turned out to
about 100, so that was a pleasant surprise, especially when all of these fantastic
musicians walked in the room. I felt like we were in good hands," Marco said, and
when asked if he was at all nervous playing in front those heavy hitters, his
response was as cool as could be:
"I didn't feel nervous at all. In fact, I felt inspired and wound up getting more into
whatever it was that I was focusing on. It made me search for something new in a
song or whatever improv Joe and I we're working. We didn't do anything special
knowing that they were there, but the night had such a great vibe. After the show,
we wound up hanging out in Mike's hotel room with the rest of his band and
recording some out shit on his portable 4-track. We were all singing and banging
on wine bottles and pizza boxes – the album should be in stores by the end of the
Along with his new pizza and wine project, Marco has been stepping outside the
Duo a bit to touch on greater elements of possibility, joining forces with the Master
of the Boom-Bap, drummer Adam Deitch, and the Doctor of Style, Slip bassist Marc
Friedman, on adventures in creativity that will allow each musician to broaden their
"Everyone brings something new to my tunes or a spontaneous improvisation...
I'm not in a 'band' with Deitch or Marc, so there are no set ways to approach
something," Marco continued. "There are no tunes that we play all the time and I
don't know really
what they are going to do. I'm still finding out what taste and style Deitch, and the
other drummers I play with are, and we'll both do something totally new on an old
tune, which is so important. For the gig on Friday (the 17th at the Knitting Factory
Tap Room in NYC) with John Ellis, Terreon Gully and Marc Friedman, I'll be playing
piano and Rhodes so in a way I'll be doing more of the accompaniment than the
By stepping back, both Marco and Mike have been able to see their personal
timelines in a different light, how they got to where they are presently, and what they
must do to progress and build. Their pursuits have been founded on
improvisation, on taking what the moment brings to them, embracing the moment
it no matter how unpredictable the road might be. They know that without putting
themselves out there and taking those chances, their lives would not be filled with
the surprises that have inspired them, growing their pursuits into the magnificent
sonatas they have become.
Stay on the Base and www.organanddrums.com for all the skinny on what's to
Words by: Rob Krevolin
Images by: Jaci Downs
JamBase | East Coast
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