Marco Benevento Trio, Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River, MA- 11/14
When I attended the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival in August, they called him Marc. It was a definitive tip of the hat to have Marco Benevento close out the third stage and tease out a few tunes with the venerable saxophonist Chris Potter, however you would think that the introduction could have been a little more polished. Or correct. The mistake did little more than solicit a few giggles from the inventive pianist, yet this slight blunder highlighted Marco’s seemingly new acceptance and entry into the world of jazz aficionados. It also highlights how his music straddles the line of jazz and current indie rock, creating a combustible fusion between the two worlds.
In his most recent nine date mini tour throughout the northeast, Marco Benevento’s introduction at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Massachusetts had shrunk even smaller. In fact, there was no introduction at all as he approached the stage from the back of the large open aired arts space. The crowd was small and the intimacy lent itself to the unidentified solo number Marco slid across the keys to start off his set. He was quickly joined by bassist Marc Friedman (The Slip) and drummer Josh Raymer (Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey), along with visual artist Jay Cooper. The group wandered through a number of Marco originals that can be found on his albums Live at Tonic and Invisible Baby, as well as several covers that will be found on his forthcoming record, Me Not Me. The crowd was hyper focused on the group as they explored the boundaries of each song, with Marco’s piano effects forcing the melody to dissolve into nothingness, bounce playfully in dub-like echo, distort violently in a harsh sting of noisiness, and take on the vintage sound of a Jelly Roll Morton record.
Halfway through the already short tour, Benevento switched musical conspirators (Reed Mathis and Jon Fishman accompanied him on the first 4 dates), so it was not surprising to see Friedman utilizing musical notation. Even so, Friedman felt free to stretch his bass lines, creating playful new low end variations as well as the occasional running along side of Marco’s melody. Josh Raymer was solid on the drum kit throughout the night, maintaining a consistent and constrained performance with which the other two musicians could work from.
The most unexpected and welcome addition to the show was Jay Cooper. During the set, Cooper stood to the left of the stage with a computer and several pieces of electronic equipment, which he used to create visual displays behind the band. The pictures varied from song to song; at one point I was able to discern an antiquated, over pixilated video of ballroom dancing, and at another point it was a mesmerizing film of a woman diving into water, her body somersaulting and spinning. Probably the best video from the night was filmed by Cooder during the performance. As Benevento ripped into the keys of his piano, Cooder filmed his fingers working from directly over his shoulder, sending the captured image onto the screen using an effect that resembled infrared technology. Marco’s music visibly and audibly blazed in the venue, and the crowd was appreciative for such a fun, personable performance.
I was surprised that more people didn't turn out for the performance in Fall River. Perhaps it was because Marco had played in Boston on Wednesday and Northampton on Thursday. Or perhaps it had to do with the rainy night and the not too impressive surrounding nightlife in Lizzie Borden’s hometown. Undoubtedly, it also probably had to do with the fact that Marco Benevento is riding on a musical wave between two genres, and this inevitably confuses some listeners and turns others off. He is rapidly gaining momentum though, and this can be seen through the albums he is putting out, the musicians he is sharing the stage with, the venues he is booking and the press he is receiving. Both his solo and duo work is clamoring for the public’s attention, and rightfully so. He just might be one of the few who can successfully push the art form of jazz to its next musical phrase.