A MUSICAL PLAYPEN FOR PORTLAND: THE DUO

A square keyboard enclosure stands next to a drum set like an awkward couple at a dance. I suspect they're both wondering if the other's holding a hotel room key, but neither seems shy, and though I'm not often inclined toward voyeurism I know little in the ways of drum and keys relations and am rather excited to witness this union. The intimate venue, open stage, soft lighting, and friendly vibe of the GoodFoot Lounge, packed this evening, is a great setting for the Benevento/Russo Duo.


The Duo by Nick Fitanides
Two musicians, Joe Russo on the drums and Marco Benevento on the keys, weave music with chaos and improvisation. Smiling like Sufis throwing rocks from behind boulders, they are merry tricksters, daring one another like kids to make a bigger and better game with each beat. "I can't believe you did that!" "Yeah I did that." "Well how about this?" The only immutable thing is that they're always creating something new.

Joe Russo starts the night with loose drumsticks following their own bounces from drum to drum. As the night progresses his wrists tighten and pound powerful, fast, intentional sounds from the same expansive ranges of his loose counterparts--he is an amusement park ride, a distorted hybrid of the Tilt-A-Whirl, Roller Coaster, and Merry-Go-Round. I watch the high hat in attempts to hold onto some level of consistency, solid ground, reliable reality. There is none; they erase handholds.


Marco Benevento by Nick Fitanides
Marco Benevento twiddles the keys like pigs being slaughtered. I've heard that the initial screenings of A Clockwork Orange had clips of pigs being slaughtered every tenth frame or so. It happened so briefly that no one could really make out what was going on, but people were throwing up in the aisles and generally going crazy. Marco plays music on these in-between planes--there's a lot going on. I hear chords on the Wurlitzer and the drum pounding rhythms of a tornado, pulling my body like stretched taffy in a broken machine with clockworks moving in at least three different tempos and pulling at various angles, but the Hammond organ remains mute to my ears though Marco's fingers wriggle over its keys. He balances patience and enthusiasm, tweaking sounds while diving into passionate grooves. Technical sounds resonate in deep echoes as he surrounds himself with music--sometimes resembling keys, other times guitars and bass and squealing pigs.

The room transforms and turns inside out to expose the scene of their choosing, and they choose many. It's always alive because of the pure creation involved, but there are points of slow eerie interludes, throwing hangers in the grinding wheels that churn the assembly belt. Actually, I don't think they're associated with industry at all, they snuck in with a load of hangers, crow bars, chewing gum, and yellow happy face stickers to derail the system, leaving a wake unbound by manual guides. There is no formula here, no approved outlet, no rules, and no expectations. This is fun. We're exposed to a moment where all that exists is creation. Fully immersed, they are the music.

Guttural spurts from Brett Johnson's sax, their guest for a song or two, close the night in awkward bursts that Joe and Marco fill gently, before busting into Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," a final cover of the night. I fear the first person to leave the confines of this room, finding they're still in Portland, will have a mutated Wizard of Oz moment where they realize we've been here all along, but weren't trying to get back. This is the version where Dorothy fixes up the Wicked Witch's castle, sets herself up a nice room, and employs the flying monkeys to do her bidding across the land. It will be hard to believe the show ever happened once outside. Though I'm willing to stand up and say that I saw it. I witnessed their easy flow with chaos, playing with music like a large pit bull foaming at the mouth and egging it on. They dove in and explored as if it were a fun exciting journey, and because of that, it was, which is why it easily falls into folklore, but it happened, and I was there, and so were you, and you, and...

Reanna Feinberg
JamBase | Oregon
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[Published on: 3/10/04]

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