Ya gotta love The Duo! Marco Benevento and Joe Russo obviously relish taking the stage and playing with each other for any audience that will come to see them. This early fall/late summer show, billed as a "Back to School concert was the largest audience the Duo have gotten at HG, and the late night finish, in part a result of two opening acts, was stretched by the appearance of guests that Benevento and Russo welcomed to the stage enthusiastically, altering their own distinctive approach in a subtle way that suggests how versatile these two young jazzmen really are.
In fact, as Benevento and Russo demonstrated this evening in Vermont, hey have as much to do with rock and roll as jazz. Much of Marco's keyboard work (apart from his main axe the organ)is heavily influenced by the guitar-rock he admires, while Joe is as adept at the four-four hammerdown as the fatback beat. Before this long evening was over, past 2am closing time, The Duo had played the choice cuts from their recently released Best Reason to Buy the Sun album on Ropeadope, Yet they had made only passing reference to it as Marco introduced the titlesong, effectively making no concerted attempt to sell it. And as with their previous appearances at the South Burlington club this year, the duo included new as yet untitled material mixed with the familiar likes of "Becky' that has come to elicit roars of recognition from their fans.
Introduction of such tunes invariably gives way to Marco['s head bobbing, seemingly as a means of exhorting the fans to get into the music with him: there may come a time, and in not to distant a future, when this ply becomes self-conscious and meaningless, but right now it has the desired effect: the crowd goes wild(Russo's body English comes into play later in the evening when he's gully warmed up). In the meantime, The Duo play new material as well, seemingly as a means of stretching their muscles physical and mental to get ready for the long stretch of their show.
So it is that here in early September, this first set is comparatively short, but not without its surprises. "We'd like to welcome a friend.." brings ex-Phish bassist Mike Gordon out to play as he has done so formally and informally for about a year. and it's a measure of familiarity as well as Benevento and Russo's accommodating nature that he fits in so well to form a trio. The keyboardist and drummer move themselves apart to allow the bassist to fit in between them,which is how they are positioned on stage, and his loping bass tightens and loosens in that space, never losing touch with The Duo as they play.
Marco and Joe began their second set, after a much lengthier than ten-minutes break with another unnamed instrumental before joined onstage mid-song by local saxman Dave Grippo (long-time sideman to Phish in their Giant Country Horns, as well as a member of Trey Anastasio's big band). Though positioned stage right, and seemingly at a distance from Benevento and Russo, Grippo got right in the middle of things, indiscernibly taking the lead in what morphed into an old-school jazz jam, almost but not quite a blues, but definitely a spirited exchange of ideas.
The intensity of the interplay escalated tremendously when Gordon strolled out. His ensuing basswork bounded the other three musicians as if on a trampoline, the four-man band communicating at lightning speed as the tempo increased, the inherent drama of their improvisation deepened before a grand crescendo acted as statement on the part of the group, and The Duo in particular: these guys are not novices but experienced players teeming with knowledge of jazz roots as well as their own musical personalities (Benevento and Russo have known each other since middle school and have played together as a team since 2001)
It's a measure of The Duo's savvy they made no attempt to top their final number of their set, but instead chose a quiet tine from Buy The Sun to close the evening. And the delicacy with which they rendered the lullaby-like song allowed the remaining listeners to bask in its soft melody while the impact of what was played just before sank in. This respect for their roots and their peers not to mention the beauty of the moment is indicative of how experienced Marco Benevento and Joe Russo are in the ways of jazz old and new.