Monday, May 25, 2009

Finally, I Can Rave About One of My New Favorite Players

I meant to do this post about five weeks ago--the day I had my accident. Had I come home from that evening unscathed, I would have given a shout-out to a player whose music I had first encountered only a few days before.

But first, an aside: I've been very happy with my eMusic subscription. It may not have anyone from the really big labels (who must not like the sales model), but it's a jazz lover's nirvana, because so many of the indie labels' releases are available there. They also send me emails every month touting new artists, many of whom were unfamiliar to me; some are also featured on the frontpage of their site.

One eMusic recommendation that really hit the mark is Marco Benevento, a keyboardist from Brooklyn (who grew up in Wyckoff, New Jersey, one of my own brief childhood stomping grounds). Benevento is among the new crop of young jazz players who are taking the music in a very cool direction. While it definitely falls within the jazz genre, this music is mostly straight eighths, influenced by rock and electronica. In Benevento's case, he's also a fan of circuit bending, incorporating various toys into the proceedings (as a recent profile in the Boston Globe points out, he may be "he only musician who has to share the tools of his trade with his 2-year-old daughter." In addition to piano, he employs Hammond organ and vintage keyboards such as the Mellotron to achieve his unique sound.

The first Benevento CD that I bought from eMusic is his newest one, Me Not Me, which provides a good representation of his music. When I was first describing it to some friends who were listening in my car, I noted that the music had a sort of Jacob Fred vibe; other parts might be described as Ben Folds Five without vocals; there's even a little bit of Esbjörn Svensson thrown in on the more acoustic numbers. But however you describe it, I think the larger category of "really good music" applies here. Benevento combines a strong melodic sense (influenced he says in the Globe article, by the Neapoltan music loved by his Italian-speaking grandparents) with virtuoso playing, along with, yes, the toys. (I'm not ashamed to admit that, sometimes, I'm a big fan of groups that make cool sounds, and there's a generous helping of them on this CD.)

It should probably be pointed out somewhere that the tunes on Me Not Me are divided between Benevento originals and covers of songs from rock stars like Beck and Led Zeppelin, more obscure (at least to me) bands like My Morning Jacket and Deerhoof, along with the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. And it's probably a tribute to Benevento's stylings that this listener couldn't tell the difference between the originals and the covers without reading the Amazon review first (yes, the only disadvantage of a download service like eMusic is the lack of liner notes, but I figure that someone will solve that problem down the road).

Joining Benevento on this effort are the bassist Reed Mathis (who recently left the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey in part so that he could have more time to tour with Benevento; the Jacob Fred vibe described above makes total sense now) and drummers Andrew Barr and UNT-ex Matt Chamberlain. Me Not Me is also the first effort released on Benevento's own label, the Royal Potato Family (there must be a good story behind that!).

Also of note in the keyboardist's discography is a three-disc set recorded over a month of Wednesdays at the NYC club Tonic, featuring a slew of guest artists (and the inevitable circuit-bent toys). Benevento's other CD as a leader, Invisible Baby, is also worth checking out. And for another side of this musician's talent, the Benevento Russo Duo, pairing Marco with drummer and childhood pal Joe Russo, explores the experimental side of things while still employing strong melodies.

This new style of jazz, which wears its rock influences proudly on its sleeve, is not completely new (think Chris Potter Underground, or Nobody's Business for a more local example), but a lot of people are aboard this particular train at the moment, and, as I said, it's taking the music in a very enjoyable direction. I'll try to do a post in the next week or so about some of the other musicians in this style whom I've been enjoying lately.

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