Marco Benevento has built a solid reputation as a world class piano player and an imaginatively creative and dexterous composer. His contribution as one half of the Benevento/Russo Duo has exposed him to many, many fans that found out about the band almost solely through word of mouth. Since releasing his 2008 solo album, Invisible Baby, Benevento has been out on the road with a prized collection of musicians focused primarily around the albums contributors; Tea Leaf Green’s Reed Mathis, Critters Buggin and Tori Amos drummer Matt Chamberlain, and Andrew Barr from The Slip. Other collaborators include Brad Barr and Marc Friedman of The Slip, Phish’s Jon Fishman, Billy Martin of MMW, and many more. Each performance develops its own personality and rides the waves occupied by and laid by Benevento’s beautiful compositions.
Glide’s Joe Adler caught up with Marco the night before his Carnegie Hall debut and discussed the dynamics of his trio format, how the songs supply the vital ingredient to the puzzle and why it is hard to call Marc Friedman a fill-in.
You have been honing your trios over the last couple years. The diversity in the last two of your shows that I saw here in Burlington was inspiring. Even with an always revolving cast of players, the bands seemed like they were more long lived and not hired help. What drives that energy?
Well I like to think that the songs are the most important thing. As someone who puts together a band, who wants to play music, that I’ve written, it’s important for me to play those tunes with different people. The tunes sort of drive the show, and then it becomes a whole two hour performance of high energy songs, mellow songs, covers, earlier songs and new original songs. I think one of the things that drives it, are the song choices. And then from there you just sort of pick those colorful personalities. Like, “Oh wow, imagine Fishman playing this,” and sort of making it happen.
The first person that I had in mind when I first started playing all of this stuff was Matt Chamberlain. That was my first thought of like an awesome drummer dude to play these tunes. And then, obviously, Reed (Mathis) being second. And we did a gig the three of us, along with some other folks, at The Knitting Factory. It was awesome, a really really fun show. So then from there… you know I don’t really like to keep people tied into stuff because I know that musicians want to do what they want to do. I wanna grow the way I wanna grow. And Matt and everybody has their thing that they want to do.
So because of that, there is no, “Dude, are we starting a band or what?” kind of thing, but in the same way, it can be billed under the same name, sort of a similar thing, but everybody adds there own color to it. It’s really cool to see what people’s intuitions are. Fishman’s intuitions to playing certain songs verses Matt’s or Andrew’s, or Marc’s verses Reed’s. And that’s really cool because then I get to accept people’s colors and influence under my own song and not say to myself, “well this song has this here, and has this bass player on it.” I don’t wanna to be too picky like that because I wanna play this music.
There are obviously the folks that are on the record that are the first choices, of course, because they were on the record and they are my friends. They were the first folks who put these songs together. But at the same time playing with Devon Hoff, the bass player who plays with Nels Cline, and Scott Amendola, who also plays with Nels, they’re just bad ass musicians. Playing my songs with them is like equally rewarding and fulfilling. I really like the approach of that. I sort of had to do it because it wasn’t working any other way. Chamberlain is so busy, Reed is so busy, I’m so busy, nobody could rely on anybody for anything except for like a call being like, “Hey do you wanna do some gigs,” and hopefully they’re free. You know what I mean?
I’m actually playing tomorrow at Carnegie Hall and I called up Matt for the gig and I’m like he’s totally going to be free, Matt played for Jaime Cullum, and that’s who we’re opening up for. I called him up and he was so busy, he couldn’t do that amazing gig in New York. So the gigs vary from Carnegie Hall to Castaway’s in Ithaca, New York.
With this being your first time playing Carnegie Hall, how do you feel about playing at such a legendary and prestigious venue?
I’m psyched. Now that it’s tomorrow I’m like totally excited. But I haven’t been thinking about it that much. A lot of other people like my wife, my folks, aunts and uncles, have been like, “Oh my God!” So they have been way more excited about it than I have, until now.
So I wanna ask you about you’re last Vermont performance that I caught, at the Metronome. I heard from a couple folks including Marc Friedman that you guys had an exceptionally great time that night. There was an awesome vibe in the room. The songs were tight, but also very free. Did much rehearsal go into that one?
Marc, Andrew and I had played just outside of Philadelphia three days before the Burlington Discover Jazz Fest. We opened up for Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooton, a sort of bass summit thing. And prior to that we played the Bell House in Brooklyn and when Reed cannot do a gig, Marc will sort of fill in, I guess you could say. But it’s hard to say fill in because there are no… I guess there are consistent members for sure… It’s hard to call Marc a second bass player! Even Reed said, “God, I’ve never been in a band where Deitch is third call!” After I said (about a gig), “Andrew and Matt can’t do it, I’ll call Adam Deitch.”
All of these musicians that I’ve been around are incredible. They’re awesome and they’re so good. We’re all around the same age, we’re all creating a bunch of shit and it’s cool to be surrounded by all of that. But back to the Metronome gig, so Marc has frequently played with Andrew and I and has learned those tunes before. For the last year Marc has been doing that. He’s got talent and, obviously, he plays with Andrew a lot (in The Slip). So them as a rhythm section is a natural thing. So yeah, the vibe was great. The audience was incredible. The flow was good. The whole night there weren’t a lot of pauses, just like keeping the party going. It’s midnight, it’s Burlington, it’s crazy. Sort of like a weird time in Burlington in June, nobody’s around. And then this cool little event, the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, a small festival comparatively, with this cool small town energy going on. So I think that helped as well with the vibe. It was super fun. And like I said, going back to the music, a lot of those songs that I’m working on or that I’ve been playing for the last two or three years, people are a little more familiar with them now. Last time we came to Burlington was with Fishman. There is this little ripple effect going on with the trio, with an exciting feel. All of those aspects contributed to the fun factor of that gig.
And I would say the Metronome was very much a different type of show than that Flynnspace show with Fishman. That show was much more cerebral, this one was more dance party.
It goes into just the environment of the venues. The Flynnspace is like this weird venue downstairs from a really nice theater, and the bar’s in the back. It was an earlier gig. And Fishman is more of this incredible Energizer bunny, so deep in his drumming, in his grooves and in his pocket, interlocking parts and what not. I could see how his more forward motion sort of approach, just driving a truck approach to the drums, could lend itself more to a Holy… like an audience that is staring more than dancing, just like, “whoooo!” He and Reed locking up, it sounding like more than the sum of its parts.
And along those same lines, Reed has a very melodic approach.
Yeah. Andrew and Marc are more, contrastingly, busy, I guess you could say. And not in any kind of stupid distracting way, just in a very interactive way. And Andrew’s more like an animal, Fishman’s more like an animal on Ritalin.
I like the Fishman truck analogy, contrast with, to me, Andrew being like the guy running and jumping off the cliff.
Right. Exactly. And it’s fun to get into that with Andrew. To really get into that exciting complex rhythmic world within the dance tunes. I really appreciate that balance with Reed sort of laying down that low end it has this energy of this is a solid band with everybody sort of doing their parts. It’s sort of like, if everybody’s doing their parts, the music’s going to come out good.
Upcoming Marc Benevento Tour Dates:
August 1 / The Gothic Theater / Denver, CO (w/ Karl Denson)
September 2 / Bennie’s Boom Boom Room / Hattiesburg, MS
September 3 / Chelsea’s / Baton Rouge, LA
September 4 / The Blue Nile / New Orleans, LA (w/ Stanton Moore & Johnny Vidacovich
September 5 / The Blue Nile / New Orleans, LA
September 9 / Boulder Theater / Boulder, CO (w/ The Bad Plus)
September 17 / Castaways / Ithaca, NY
September 18 / River Street Jazz Cafe / Plains, NY
September 19 / Let It Roll Festival / Ghent, NY
September 24 / The State Theater / Falls Church, VA
September 25 / 92Y / New York, NY
September 26 / The Westcott Theater / Syracuse, NY
September 27 / Le Divan Orange / Montreal, Canada
October 24 / Mill Hill Saloon / Trenton, NJ
October 28 / Earshot Jazz Festival / Seattle, WA
October 31 / San Francisco Jazz Festival / San Francisco, CA
For more info and streaming music: www.MarcoBenevento.com