Marco Benevento

TigerFace

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Pianist, composer, and arranger Marco Benevento's solo recordings have generally been categorized as jazz -- though they are many other things as well. Benevento possesses the technical acumen of a jazz master: impeccable technique, a seemingly limitless improvisational vocabulary, a rich harmonic language, an original (loopy) sense of swing, and imaginative arranging skills. But he has also embraced funk, rock, avant-classical, blues, and more, with eager curiosity and mischievous glee. TigerFace began life at the historic EastWest Studios with producer Tom Biller (where Pet Sounds was recorded) and finished in Brooklyn with Bryce Goggin. For all its manic sonic and musical adventure, this is Benevento's "pop" record. The set's opening two tracks contain the first vocals to appear on any of his albums. Rubblebucket's Kalmia Traver's bright, supple, wistful, voice adorns "Limbs of a Pine" and "This Is How It Goes." Both are rampant with skillfully written indie pop hooks. On the former, Benevento creates a 21st century version of the Tom Tom Club's aesthetic, with angular cheerful dance music swirling around numerous keyboards with an old drum machine, Stuart Bogie's saxophone, and Matt Chamberlain's big tom-toms rolling over it all. The repetitive chorus is infectious. The latter song (with Nick Kinsey on drums) is less funky, more indie; it alternates between harpsichord-driven Baroque and shimmering, blissful pop. Throughout, Benevento fills spaces with his array of keyboards, a slithering bassline, and loops. "Eagle Rock" is a midtempo ballad that becomes something more transcendent with two different melodies approaching each other in the middle. It touches on Brian Wilson's harmonic terrain with a lovely backing chorus. "Do What She Told You" walks the line between post-bop jazz and fuzzed-out rocking blues -- dig Dave Dreiwitz's distorted bassline. "Escape Horse" is a straight-on rocker with tough, upfront blues and jazz piano flourishes amid the washes of bass and snare breaks. The closing version of "This Is How It Goes" is a dreamy instrumental that works even better than its predecessor. The singing is all in the piano and is expanded by the intricate communication between arrangements, players, and production textures. These cuts have melodies that are focused and reined in -- none hit six minutes. But the layering of instruments, musical genres, and harmonics is as adventurous as it is accessible. TigerFace is an enormous, fun-filled surprise. It fills out his profile beyond the sphere of jam band and jazz genres and reveals the range of Benevento's caliber and ambition.

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