Brain Darts: The Benvento/Russo Duo Meets Wayne Krantz
“ Wayne seemed to take Joe and I into another realm of music. We both sort of looked at each other like 'do you feel that? Marco Benevento ”
Since their weekly runs up and down I-95 began a few weeks back the crowds have been getting bigger, the music getting hotter, and the suspense thicker, because whatever they tell you before the show is only half the truth. Their first NYC gig featured a set of Zeppelin with agile axe-man Scott Metzger culminating with a classic rock radio ambush of Misty Mountain Hop > The Wizard featuring the one and only Warren Haynes. Their final Tribeca gig marking the end of their tri-city conquest comes this Friday when Saxomasochist Skerik joins to beat on genre, and even you never know who might get tagged into the ring. But a couple of Fridays back it was the presence of one of this modern world’s greatest guitar players that brought to life this author’s most anticipated collaboration. Two years and many subway rides in the making, Wayne Krantz has joined the Duo.
My imagination was first set in motion during the early months of 2002, just as the wings of New York City’s social butterflies began catching the wind again after an extremely painful fall. Right about then Marco and Joe began their Thursday throw-downs at the Knitting Factory Tap Bar that would become the cornerstone of the duo’s growth that is featured on their self-titled, debut album. On each of those very same Thursdays about a quarter-mile uptown, Wayne Krantz and his legendary trio of Tim Lefebvre and Keith Carlock were establishing new forms in instrumentalism every half-hour or so at the 55-Bar. Those sessions were so hot that the Wayne turned them into his own release, aptly titled Your Basic Live. The harmony continues – in both cases the rooms were sometimes so full you could hardly move, but other nights you had the whole place to yourself. Some nights they were on fire and other were just cool. But both bands were driving upon similar compositional parallels – constant experimentation challenging shape and sound to unearth radically new interpretations making the most challenging decision of that year: Where do I go on Thursday night?
So now on one Friday night in 2004 it all came together through the visions of some old friends and a fax machine.
“Yeah it was pretty much me scratching out some charts and faxing them over about 2 hours before soundcheck,“ tells Marco. “It was cool, actually, after I'd fax them over I would call Wayne and we'd both have the charts in our hands and so I'd sing it to him and he'd be singing it with me...First time reading it for him and he's nailing it over the phone. I knew we'd be cool when that happened because he's FREAKIN’ GREAT!”
A night like this was quite different than what Wayne is used to. In fact, he is not particularly keen on sitting in because of difficulties with sound and feels “it can be weird trying to plug into something that has been doing just fine without you. But I'd been hearing about Marco and Joe for a while and it felt like something I could get into. Those guys truly made it feel great from the start and I had much more fun than I expected to.”
From the first notes of the second set Wayne brought out the best in everyone, taking the stage to a rousing ovation and changing entire atmosphere of the room from perplexity to flexibility. Things got right off on a heavy groove with Wayne chilling right in the pocket, staying vocal but laying back. Marco gave a little wave of the left hand, which we have now come to know is the international sign for “I need a bassist”, because as you blinked, the omnipotent Mike Gordon was onstage rocking some B-3 basslines. Leap frogging back and forth with Gordon from Wurlitzer to organ, Marco gave Wayne the nod to get down, and get down he did, getting all-blue-and-funky and sending the place into a gigantic uproar with every ascending note. But Gordon’s wish to play with Krantz bewildered the Benevento family for a while.
“My dad asked me after the show, ‘Who was that woman that sat in with you? Did you know she was going to do that?" It was the joke of the week for the Benevento’s.”
The next, exceedingly complex arrangement penned by saxophonist Chris Potter entitled High Noon bore freedom, fire and passion from the three as each turn was met with resounding skill with Krantz taking the lead, traveling galaxies through open space and into the moment of climax the would be the strongest, most explosive and transcendental moments I have witnessed during the Duo’s primed existence.
“Wayne seemed to take Joe and I into another realm of music. We both sort of looked at each other like 'do you feel that?’ Because of his positivity, warmth and skills with a couple of heavily involved charts, he made us feel like we had a third member as opposed to a special guest ‘sitting in’. There was a heavy ethereal vibe that Wayne really brought out in us.”
Selections taken from the annals of Skynyrd riffing and Steely Dan changing wove through jazz passages as Krantz and Russo linked in rhythmic essence to support Marco as he stoked the B-3 flame to enter into Abduction Pose which featured an appearance by yet another special guest, altoist Cheme Gastuema whose smooth edges and vibrant tones added yet another sensation. A punk rock assault ensued during Darts leading the way toward and obvious yet unexpected Smells Like Teen Spirit. Not only did Marco and Joe get Wayne Krantz down to play but they him down to play Cobain.
As they came together for one monumental evening of extra-terrestrial expressionism they will now return to their respective homes and continue their work. Hopefully soon they will once again unite if the sands of time permit. After the Duo finishes up their mini-tour this Friday with Skerik in NYC, they will turn their focus on their newest material and setting plans to record in the near future. In March they are making their debut at Austin’s legendary showcase, the South by Southwest Festival where I’m sure they will need to call in some bulldozers to haul off all that rock that will be dropped during their set.
“The monster that we've created is really starting to take some gigantic steps in regard to originality and diversity with the ever-growing interpretation of the tunes we always play and the constant morphing of those into new ones. Both Joe and I feel especially connected to our new compositions and are looking forward to their growth and looking forward to the new record! Ya' know I'm the freakin' optimist but if you ask Joe I'm sure he's got something else to say, that cynic.”
As for Wayne Krantz, he is always working with new projects. He debuted his latest incarnation of standard assassination featuring Birth/Actual Proof/Dub Trio drummer Joe Tomino and bassist Paul Sacalow the night before the Duo gig, taking time to step back and highlight the rhythm section and engaged the audience with some of his more beautiful chordal melodies. He continues his Gherig-esque Thursday night residency at the 55-Bar and plans record and tour once these new projects feel good.