Marco Benevento & Friends: Live In NYC: The Sullivan Hall Residency

Chris May By

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Marco Benevento & Friends
Live In NYC: The Sullivan Hall Residency
The Royal Potato Family

In January 2008, coinciding with the release of his monumental gumbo of retro-modern jazz, rock, pop and funk, Invisible Baby (Hyena, 2008), pianist Marco Benevento took over New York's then brand new Greenwich Village music venue, Sullivan Hall, for a series of five Thursday night gigs. Each night featured a different roster of musicians: some were regular collaborators, others occasional ones, and a few were players Benevento had heard and admired but never actually played with before. The DVD, Live In NYC: The Sullivan Hall Residency, is a partial history of the gigs. And it is the mother of all stone delights.

Along with regular band members bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Andrew Barr, Benevento brought along a dozen or so like-minded genre-benders—including saxophonists Skerik and John Ellis, turntablist DJ Olive, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, guitarists Brad Barr and David Fiuczynski, and bass guitarists Jonas Hellborg and Marc Friedman. Drummers are key to Benevento's voodoo and he brought six of the best to Sullivan Hall—Barr, Billy Martin, Bobby Previte, Calvin Weston, Joe Russo and Stanton Moore—sometimes, for good measure, having two or even three of them onstage together.

The line-ups are loose and shape-shifting and reflect the extraordinary mix of eras and styles which make up Benevento's music. There are updated takes on trumpeter Miles Davis' electric musings ("Two Thousand And Eight And Three Days From Home," "Techniques Of High Magic"), in which Bernstein and Previte loom large; high energy space-outs featuring, in various combinations, Mathis, the Barrs and Russo ("Megafauna," "Bus Ride," "Space Shuttle Blues" and "Nobody Does It Better"); and mixed up but far from confused jazz/rock/funk amalgams in which Skerik and Ellis bounce off Weston and Martin ("Big Daddy Ears," "The Frenchman Street Tussle" and "Man Go," the last bringing some mutated mambo to the party). Benevento mainly plays his own acoustic baby grand piano (transported from his Brooklyn apartment for the gigs), but periodically gets busy with his trademark, bent circuit toys, producing customized effects which sound simultaneously familiar (echoes of producer Joe Meek and the Tornadoes' 1962 hit "Telstar" among other historical resonances) and novel. The apotheosis of this strand comes with "The Real Morning Party," from Invisible Baby, and "Twin Killers," later to be featured on Me Not Me (The Royal Potato Family, 2009).

As Brad Barr remarks in one of the brief backstage interviews between tunes, "There is a Zen about Marco...but it also operates at a high frequency," and as Reed Mathis observes in another, "He writes hooks," and the music on Live In NYC: The Sullivan Hall Residency is shamanistic, cathartic, feral, risk-taking, inventive...and fiendishly catchy. Is it jazz? Or is it rock? Both of the above? Who cares?

Including the bonus material, the DVD runs to a generous 2 hours 35 minutes playing time. The camerawork, under director Karina Mackenzie, is imaginative but not clever-clever, and is wonderfully atmospheric; while the sound, mixed and mastered by Bill Mulvey, and remastered by Benevento, hits the spot every time.

At the start of the disc, Benevento remarks, "This is not just a gig, it's a movement." It sure enough is, and Live In NYC: The Sullivan Hall Residency makes you feel like you were there and part of it. A real trip.

Tracks: Welcome To My House; Two Thousand And Eight (And Three Days) From Home; Marco Benevento and Brad Barr interview; Megafauna; Stanton Moore interview; Twin Killers; Billy Martin and Calvin Weston interview; Big Daddy Ears; Reed Mathis interview; Bus Ride/The Real Morning Party; Marco Benevento interview; Space Shuttle Blues; Kaki King interview; Man Go; Baptiste Ibar and Billy Martin interview; Nobody Does It Better; All Of My Friends. Bonus material: Techniques Of High Magic; The Frenchman Street Tussle; Crowd Control; What Is And What Should Never Be; Mental Floss; Nothing Just Works; Fearless.

Personnel: Marco Benevento: acoustic piano, electric keyboards, bent circuit toys; Skerik: tenor saxophone; John Ellis: tenor saxophone; Steven Bernstein: trumpet, pocket trombone; Brad Barr: guitar; David Fiuczynski: guitar; Kaki King: Hawaian steel guitar; DJ Olive: turntables; Reed Mathis: bass guitar; Jonas Hellborg: bass guitar; Marc Friedman: bass guitar; Andrew Barr: drums; Billy Martin: drums; Bobby Previte: drums; G. Calvin Weston: drums; Joe Russo: drums; Stanton Moore: drums.

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