Marco Benevento Trio: Straying from the norm

On Thursday night, Marco Benevento brought his adventurous jazz/indie dance pop/electronic jam band/whatever you want to call it trio to the Capital Ale House Downtown Music Hall. Identify it as you will, energy was high and improvisation was acute.

Marco Benevento Trio
Capital Ale House Downtown Music Hall, Richmond, VA
Thursday, February 11, 2010

I feel a certain amount of obligation, a need to clarify or defend, that goes along with reviewing Marco Benevento Trio’s show at Capital Ale House on Thursday night. See, two videos from the show taken on my phone are going to be included with this review. The average reader is going to read the words, watch the videos, and wonder why this is relevant to a website with jazz in the title.

Hence my feeling of obligation.

I shouldn’t feel obligated to defend my reasoning to include this dance pop, heavy on the kick drum and bass, electronic-ish jam band. We jazz folk are an inclusive crowd, despite what they say. We’re good at picking up strays from the norm and sensing when musicians are doing something creative, even when it’s not on our “home turf” of music that’s clearly jazz-influenced. Our ears perk up when improvisation is involved in any capacity. And, believe it or not, we do enjoy having fun.

If you can get past the fact that this is not jazz, you may learn something.

Pianist Marco Benevento comes from a jazz background, having launched himself into New York’s experimental jazz scene after graduating from Berklee College of Music in 1999. He seems to keep one foot in the jam rock scene by playing with people like Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon as well as his own duo with drummer Joe Russo.


His overall awareness is incredible, as evidenced on Friday night: awareness of his sound, which is a combination of acoustic piano and loads of effects and cued samples; awareness of energy and what it takes to connect with an audience; awareness of form and when it’s time to move on.

Benevento’s piano playing itself is not flashy. Instead, it’s driving and relevant to the music at all times. He often reaches one hand toward the effect pedals and knobs on the top of his piano (a 1927 small upright red-keyed piano named Joanna) while hammering out octaves in the upper register of the instrument with the other. His chromaticism almost implies a sensibility from the ragtime days of yore, and Joanna’s bright saloon tone helps propel that image. At one point, he seemed to solo with his baroque hat on, letting phrases go and go with the sense that he’s worked on his share of Bach.

With drummer Andrew Barr and electric bassist Dave Dreiwitz, Benevento created heavy grooves more on the rock end of things (Barr’s massive kick drum synced up with Dreiwitz’s propulsive bass equals a very grounded music). Samples — whether of drum beats, white noise, or bird-like whistling, all triggered on the sly by Benevento’s foot to a hidden laptop on stage — underly many of the pieces performed.

There’s a strange sensation involved with seeing and hearing so many effects and samples and seeing only an acoustic piano and a miniature Casio keyboard present. One would expect such electronic noises to be accompanied by some sort of synthesizer or a collection of the electronic keyboards. Instead, their almost total absence (save for the Casio) is a striking feature of the Marco Benevento Trio. Benevento gets so many different sounds out of the lone piano and his effects.


Along with “RISD” (which is “designed to shake your booty,” said Benevento, and made the Casio the star) and other originals, the group played several covers, like a tune by Deerhoof and My Morning Jacket’s “Golden.” The latter brought the gradual move of the audience to the dance floor to an influx.

During another tune, Benevento invited drummer Joe Russo to the stage mid-song. Enjoying a day off between gigs in Charlotte, NC, and Hampton, VA, with band Furthur, Russo just happened to swing by Richmond for the show. And we’re glad he did. He instantly brought a ridiculous and effortless amount of power to the stage, staying for a few tunes and coming back for a couple duo encores with Benevento.

I’m glad I was open minded about catching this one. Even the opener, folk and country-flaired singer-songwriter Nathan Moore, made me appreciate the depth of his lyrics and the value of a good solo performance.

Visit Marco Benevento online

Special thanks to David Tenenholtz for his contributions.

Photo credit: Kevin Calabro

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Dean Christesen

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