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Published: 2003/06/26
by Brian Ferdman

Darts – Joe Russo and Marco Benevento

self-released

The art of listening is the keystone to quality improvisational music.
Without listening, there is no true communication between musicians, and
without communication, there is no growth within the improvisation.
Naturally, listening becomes difficult when bands employ large numbers of
musicians. However, when a band is whittled down to only two members, the
art of listening becomes even more important. Two musicians must be
perfectly in sync to develop a solid groove and basis to build the
improvisation. This is the challenge that faces the organ and drums duo of
Marco Benevento and Joe Russo on their live album, Darts.

Thankfully, Benevento and Russo share the same musical brain, as they
consistently remain synchronized throughout their vast sonic explorations.
Effortlessly shifting grooves, the give-and-take between these two musicians
is rather extraordinary. Frequently, they'll engage in a Mexican standoff
of sorts, each waiting for his combatant to propel the jam to loftier
heights. The listener is caught in the crossfire until either Benevento or
Russo shows mercy on the innocent, breaking the tension in a thunderous
release. The results are quite stimulating.

Benevento's organ skills are on fine display here. While dancing across the
keys, he lays down moving bass lines in impressive examples of counterpoint.
Stylistically, he's capable of drilling the harsh staccato of acid jazz,
relishing the mellow textures of ambient music, and even reveling in the
hypnotic figures of a baroque fugue on the enchanting "Marizpan."

Russo's intense drumming hinges completely on his partner. Drawing
inspiration from Benevento's leads and bass lines, Russo nicely complements
with rhythms that push the music toward a massive climax. Along the way, he
is somehow able to squeeze extra beats into measures, driving the music
toward the brink of orgasmic explosion.

Benevento and Russo's forte is the tension and release jam, and nowhere is
this more evident than on the second track, "Big Whopper." After teasing
the audience with a long series of clipped and crisp figures, Benevento
moves into a jazzier solo riff. Suddenly, Russo joins in with a couple of
quick hits on the hi-hat. Benevento begins to speed up his riffs until an
agonized girl in the audience actually screams, "Cmon, give it to me!"
With a rapid snare fill and a bevy of cymbal crashes, Russo obliges, and the
duo launch into a speedy groove that straddles the line between acid jazz
and techno. Just as things are starting to cook, Russo breaks it down into
a more obtuse series of beats while Benevento again builds a warped
arpeggiated riff.

Once more, the audience screams, and the duo quickly release the tension in
another visit to the cymbal-laden chorus. With Russo taking ample time to
beat the hell out of his kit in frenetic fills, Benevento travels across the
keys with agility and precision. Suddenly, Russo keeps the intensity raging
but pulls into a quieter dynamic while Benevento continues to race over top.
Without warning, the two make a gliding shift into a eased-back swing
movement, but just as the audience begins to enjoy this development, the duo
shift back into a chaos jam. Again, they peak perfectly with Russo hitting
the fill just when Benevento runs out of keys at the top of his register.
One last breakdown occurs before they climax in double-time. By the end of
this tension-filled groove-shifting song, it's not too far-fetched to
imagine some tortured dancing audience members needing hip-replacement
surgery.

As if the five songs exploring multiple crevasses of jazz aren't enough, the
listener is treated to a special bonus track. I don't want to ruin the
surprise, but needless to say, this familiar number has the tiny band
rocking with the full force of a Viking army.

Darts runs the gamut of musical styles, all the while maintaining a
very large and full sound, especially for a band comprised of only two guys.
With their psychic communication skills and stunning musical dexterity,
Benevento and Russo easily debunk the old adage of "strength in numbers."

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