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Published: 2007/08/22
by Brad Farberman

Live at Tonic – Marco Benevento


Combing through three discs of music can be a daunting task, but Marco Benevento’s Live At Tonic was a joy to explore. Each compact disc is a diverse and spontaneous journey unto itself.

A little backstory: in November of last year, Benevento (most famously of the Benevento-Russo Duo) snagged all five Wednesdays at the enormously missed Tonic in New York City. Each night, he hooked up a different musical event, with different players. November 1 saw Benevento in a duo setting with Phish bassist Mike Gordon, performing the music of Benny Goodman. The 8th saw an improvised meeting with the Ween team of Dave Dreiwitz and Claude Coleman (on bass and drums, respectively), plus Sex Mob boss Steven Bernstein on trumpet and slide trumpet. The 15th offered Benevento solo (except with guitarist Scott Metzger jumping up for a little bit), the 22nd featured three percussionists (Bobby Previte, Mike Dillon and Joe Russo), and the 29th saw the first performance of a trio with bassist Reed Mathis (of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) and drummer Matt Chamberlain (of Critters Buggin).

Damn! Anyway, Ropeadope recorded each night and, less than a year later, we have three discs of the stuff. But where to start talking about it all?

For starters, let’s acknowledge that this is a huge accomplishment for Benevento, or anyone, really. The pianist put together five nights of music with five different lineups (featuring five different repertoires) and, for the most part, all of it came off extremely well. But what is most striking to this writer is the incredible range of styles covered by Live At Tonic. Over the course of three discs we are privy to rock, pop, jazz, swing, and avant-garde music, much of it improvised, and all of it, at the very least, interesting.

Disc one opens with a few tracks from the trio with Mathis and Chamberlain, including “Record Book,” a rocking, triumphant tune by Benevento, with the composer exclusively on acoustic piano. The trio really comes together on two covers: a tranquil reading of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” and a heavy take on Brad Mehldau’s “Sabbath” (nerd note: Chamberlain co-wrote the tune with Mehldau).

Benevento’s work with Gordon is less cohesive than the trio’s, but full of heart, and a lot of fun. The best of the three tracks included on Tonic (one cut closes out each disc) is “Moonglow,” which Gordon seems to have the best grasp of. Benevento’s piano work here is crisp and sparkling.

Less sparkling are the quartet tracks with Dreiwitz, Coleman and Bernstein. Their music meanders, despite some stellar slide work from Bernstein, and is far less adventurous than the leader’s quartet with Previte, Dillon and Russo. Improvisations like “Diego Garcia” and “Chalaza,” featuring the percussion trio, really go outside the box, and explore sounds and group interplay in a way that the other quartet only touches upon.

There are more highlights, too, like Benevento’s solo take on Thelonious Monk’s “Bye Ya,” and the Previte/Dillon/Russo/Benevento quartet’s seemingly impromptu cover of Steve Winwood’s “Gimme Some Lovin’,” but you’ll have to pick up the discs and check em out for yourself. Words can only say so much.

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