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Music Review: Marco Benevento – Live At Tonic

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30 year old Marco Benevento, one half of the Benevento/Russo Duo, has released a 3-CD set Live At Tonic. This collection of tracks comes from live performances — some solo and most with special guests — over a couple of Wednesdays at Tonic in New York City. The CD was put out under the Ropeadope Records imprint.

The Brooklyn, New York native has become a staple in experimental jazz as well as the jam band and indie rock scene. He deserves it though. Starting out playing piano at a young age, Marco Benevento has studied and played along with many famous musicians over the years including Mike Gordon and Trey Anastasio of Phish, and Charlie Hunter.

He has performed at various festivals including Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza for many welcoming fans. His accomplishments are plenty, especially for someone who has only been alive for three decades.

The CD is full of about three hours worth of highlights from the live performances that occurred at Tonic throughout the month of November. Some songs were solo, while others were performances with friends. The songs were re-mastered, mixed, and spread about on the 3 disc set in no particular order. The performance seems a bit more intimate, rather than a full out live show with minimal cheers occurring after songs.

The song “Clouds” has a slow start, but half way through it picks up and becomes a little more interesting. This instrumental has a deep psychedelic and experimental feel to it, done by the trio of Benevento, Reed Mathis, and famous session drummer Matt Chamberlain.

The trio also tackles a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” reminding me of something I might hear in an elevator. The trio also performed “Sabbath,” a Phish sounding jam. I am not too into the whole jam scene, but I am sure a lot of folk out there would get a real kick out of this track.

“We’re Using Time For Fun” was the perfect title for the trio as they were having fun playing this song. This is exactly the music I would expect Schroeder from Peanuts (Charlie Brown) to be playing as an adolescent. The song was insane at first with so much going on, but later seemed to drag on in a more typical jam band live performance. Not a bad song if you into the jam-band scene, which I’m really not.

The quartet of Benevento, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, and members of Ween, Claude Coleman and Dave Dreiwitz performed together on one evening captured here. “Prestidigitation” was one of the songs and it was very jam-experimental. Certain sections of this piece would easily appeal to folk who like the Legendary Pink Dots. This song is experimental one minute and then fine jazz the next. I can really hear the Ween influence in this song and for that I really got a kick out of it.

Another track the quartet played was “Peppermint Hippo.” I sensed a Charlie “Bird” Parker like feel to this song. The guitar seemed to drag a little long for me but then again this is an experimental jazz group. I did not feel hip enough to listen to the track.

Macro Benevento had a couple of solo performances on this collection including “Seems So Long Ago Nancy” by Leonard Cohen. This was an interesting cover and I enjoyed listening to the distortion over the piano. I am thinking this was one of those live songs where people stood around in silence totally engulfed in the sounds.

A couple of other tracks that caught my attention were the Carly Simon cover “Nobody Does It Better” and a song called “Elmer’s Tune.” “Elmer’s Tune” had a vocal style that reminds me of something that Ben Folds may have done. The song was simple but upon listening to it you think you have heard over a million times before.

Pianists like Marco Benevento make jazz music entertaining to folk who usually do not listen to the genre. He has experimented, and yet has played music that can be appreciated even by a novice (such as myself). I know very little about this genre, yet I really did enjoy listening to the performances here — even if I felt a bit out of the loop during some songs.

I am sure that any jazz fan or jam band fan will appreciate this live performace a lot.

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