Marco Benevento

Live at Tonic

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What is presented in this quite reasonably priced, three-plus hour triple-disc collection by keyboard wild man Marco Benevento (of the Benevento/Russo Duo with percussionist drummer Joe Russo), are the highlights of his month-long residency at the now defunct music Mecca known as Tonic in New York. Benevento played two sets every Wednesday night for a month and invited some of his best musician pals to show up and see what happened. One evening he played solo, and those highlights are here. Both participants and musical fireworks were plentiful. Some of the cats jumping in on one night are Bobby Previte and a group of other percussionists who include session kit boss Matt Chamberlain and Russo; there are trios with Reed Mathis (Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) and Chamberlain, duos with Mike Gordon (Phish), and a quartet with Steven Bernstein, Dave Dreiwitz, and Claude Coleman (the latter two from Ween). This stuff is all over the place musically, aesthetically, and not necessarily chronologically ordered. Benevento plays numerous keyboards at once, and some of his solo performances sound like duets or trios even. Elsewhere, with Gordon on Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing," (with beer bottle percussion) they sound like a full band. Covers of pop tunes are here, like the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'," with Scott Metzger from Particle, and full audience participation on vocals. It is impossible to capture the wonderful spirit Ropeadope did on this set, which indeed was the spirit of Tonic itself.

Benevento is an outrageously talented musician; he's equally comfortable playing jazz, vanguard or classical music as well as popular tunes -- along with the classic tunes, check the covers of songs by Combustible Edison and Leonard Cohen. The spirit of adventure is all over Live at Tonic, but so is the discipline and precision of Benevento as a pianist. He studied with the best and what's on offer here is his best. The beautiful trio performance "Clouds (Quasi)" with Chamberlain and Mathis becomes an outlaw jam in its nine-minute length. But it gives way to a lilting Benevento tune called "Record Book" to bring it all back down again, only to go into the cosmos with a worthy jazz cover of Pink Floyd's "Fearless," and the Chamberlain-Brad Mehldau tune "Sabbath," that reflects the early metal band powerfully -- though the original band could never have played more than the opening riff of this tune. Disc two offers a view of the quartet sides with the completely freaky wonderful "Peppermint Hippo," but eventually becomes a solo for Leonard Cohen's "Seems So Long Ago Nancy" and a trio for "Nobody Does It Better," by Carly Simon before it comes back to a duo with Gordon for a fine reading of the nugget "Elmer's Tune" to close it out -- but there is much more in between! The third disc opens with a playful solo cover of Thelonious Monk's "Bye Ya," and is followed b y Benevento with Previte, Russo and Mike Dillon for "Weatherman." The problem is in separating the highlights because the sequencing is seamless and aesthetically flawless. The live feeling of the room, the absolutely inspired performances, and the sheer joy in the music -- as well as the technical mastery of the material and improvisational killer instinct -- makes this one of the great surprises of 2007 as well as one of its most necessary purchases whether it's jazz, rock, soul or funk; this one meets all needs. It cannot be recommended highly enough.

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