On Friday night, I was able to head over to Tribeca and catch the Marco Benevento Trio, currently touring with drummer Andrew Barr (from the Slip) and bassist Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey). The trio has been on the road for some time, and it was evident in their playing as they provided a super tight, yet amply loose take on Marco’s latest instrumental creations.
My wife and I got held up at home a bit longer than we planned. Because of that and a little bit of fun with unfamiliar NY subways (hey, we’re newbies), we unfortunately just missed Nathan Moore’s opening set. I was bummed since I was definitely looking forward to hearing more of his well-crafted modern folk. That said, the show’s main event was a stellar Marco Benevento Trio production, a perfect combination of indie/art-rock songwriting, well-practiced jazz chops, and plenty of effects-laden avant-garde noise.
First off, Marco has pulled together a killer combo. Though I’ve always dug Andrew Barr as a member of the Slip, it seems like he is given a lot more space to unleash the drum hounds within the context of Marco’s sonic template. And Reed Mathis is a monster on the bass. He’s able to find a perfect place in the rhythmic pocket yet occasionally lay down Jaco-style fills when they’re warranted. Also, it’s clear these guys are having a blast playing together, which is always a big plus in my opinion; when the band has fun, usually the audience does too. They were all smiles.
In terms of the song selection, they played tracks culled primarily from his recent solo albums, Invisible Baby and Me Not Me. From the former, we heard some of the more bouncy, casio-keyboard laden numbers like “Atari” and “Bus Ride” as well as a rocking version of “The Real Morning Party” that pumped up the audience and got people moving nicely. From Me Not Me, they hit the high notes, nailing some of Marco’s best originals and doing some stretched-out versions of covers like My Morning Jacket’s “Golden,” the Knife’s “Heartbeats,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Friends.” They also treated us to a little A/V presentation, playing “Now They’re Writing Music” timed with the music video for the song, which was displayed as a backdrop on the large screen behind the band (we recently posted that video here). Of course, it wasn’t all album material. They managed to work in a nice cover of an Amy Winehouse tune; the name of the tune escapes me, but hearing it in instrumental form really brought out some soulful and funky textures.
Overall, as a fan of Marco’s solo material and generally of rock-oriented avant-jazz, I don’t see how you would not dig this show. It was a killer combination of well-crafted melodic instrumentals, top-notch musicianship, and creative improvisation. My only complaint was the mixed vibe of the crowd and venue. It was set-up more as a jazz-lounge sit-down affair. But clearly, both the band and a good portion of the crowd wanted space to dance, so all the people sitting in tables and chairs in front of the stage were a bit inhibiting. Marco even noticed it and felt compelled to make a comment at one point, giving the front-row folks a little push to get off their butts. Unfortunately nobody took the cue. Although a little inconvenient for a band and a crowd probably more accustomed to rock clubs, it didn’t stop most of us from getting down and it certainly didn’t put a damper on an overall stellar show.