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

Doug Collette By

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

Live In NYC: The Sullivan Hall Residency makes an ideal companion piece to the other high point of Marco Benevento's solo career so far, Live At Tonic (Ropeadope, 2007) and it features a similar cast of characters, all of whom contribute to bringing out the best in the keyboardist.

It isn't to slight Marco Benevento to say he is at his best playing the role of a sideman, but the fact of the matter is he first excelled as a partner to the estimable drummer Joe Russo in The Duo. Giving more attention to the acoustic piano during the pair's 2006 tour with Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon of Phishbacher, Benevento ascended another level of creativity which is where he resided upon arrival at Tonic. The elevation of Benevento's career continues at Sullivan Hall, its effect reciprocal among the many musicians who participated in the residency. For instance, Slip guitarist Brad Barr surpasses himself sonically, if not in truly innovative fashion, during "Megafauna." Such action may not reach the epochal peak to which bassist Reed Mathis and the headliner allude in the introductory interview segment, but it is nonetheless riveting to watch improvisational musicians in action in the spirit of the moment, especially as they take some chances, albeit modest ones.

Fusion fans may of course dismiss this as more rock than jazz, particularly with the appearance of the Led Zeppelin cover of "What Is and What Should Never Be," with drummer extraordinaire Stanton Moore and Slip bassist Marc Friedman, and thus less than progressive. The fact of the matter is, however, that Benevento and company aren't overly concerned with technique and play more for the fun of it, rather than to impress each other or their audience. There's little measurable sense of these varied ensembles pushing themselves out of their comfort zone as a consequence of that informality, though the participation from percussionist Billy Martin and horn-man John Ellis belies that sensation.

Those interludes, as well as the segments in which percussionist Calvin Weston appears, are much preferable to the textural riffing that comprises the material like "The Real Morning Party," one of a number of tunes that became part of Benevento's studio CD Invisible Baby (Royal Potato Family, 2008). More exploratory segments are relegated to "bonus material" (including one with Dave Fiuczynski and Kaki King that's a study in contrasts in the art of improvisation), a telling production decision that undermines to a great extent the potential for Marco Benevento to reach beyond his core audience.

Graphical overlays intrude upon footage like that of the early interplay between Benevento on acoustic piano and drummer Previte, both of whom bring their respective instruments to bear as if to prepare themselves for the work to come, not the least of which is the expressive trombone of the brilliant Steve Bernstein and the effects lent by DJ Olive. Nevertheless, the quick cuts of stage action, taken from a variety of angles on the players, supply a true sense of the impromptu. The connection between audience and performer is as tangible as the bond between the musicians, a commonality that is, in fact, one of the most distinctive elements of this presentation.

The aforementioned bonus material extends the atmosphere of comradeship and experimentalism, but the sequencing of interview segments alternating with the actual performance footage undercuts the momentum. Unfortunately the DVD format here, curiously, doesn't lend itself to programming in a different sequence to maintain more of the flow of the respective events over the course of the residency (a thumbnail capsule about which five-night, month long January 2008 stint might well have been inserted in the liner inclusion of credits).

The earth-colored sleeve of Live In NYC might have been better designed to keep the disc more secure within the package, but it does offer ready access to the DVD because it's designed for quick hits, at a moment's notice, repeatedly.

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.

Production Notes: 90 minutes. Recorded January, 2008 at Sullivan Hall, New York City. Extras: interviews; bonus performance footage. Directed by Karina Mackenzie. Presented by The Royal Potato Family and Shine A Light Productions.

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