Sounds Local: 'Challenging but super fun'
Whatever your notion of piano music — be it music performed by a crooning balladeer or by a stuffy classical musician — be prepared to have it completely shattered when Marco Benevento takes the stage.
Benevento will perform at The Arts Block, 289 Main St., Greenfield, on Friday, March 14, at 8 p.m. (This show was initially scheduled for Saturday, March 15)
Based in New York state, Benevento is a jazz-rock musician in the broadest sense of the term. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, he was schooled in jazz but raised on rock. He knows how to bring the two styles together to create instrumental music that is experimental, yet accessible. An innovative music maker who is always pushing forward to create new and exciting sounds, Benevento is a dynamic performer known for his great improvisational skills.
He first achieved acclaim in the early 2000s working as a duo with drummer Joe Russo. The pair’s free-flowing approach to music made them popular on the jam-band scene. Benevento has since gone on to collaborate with a host of musicians, including Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon of Phish. (He toured with the pair in 2006.) In 2008, he launched his solo career and has released four albums to date. With each one, the pioneering keyboardist has waded into new musical terrain. On 2010’s “Between the Needles and Nightfall,” he utilized the sounds made by actual toys and on his most recent release, 2012’s “TigerFace,” Benevento ventured into contemporary dance pop sounds.
He also tours endlessly and has played about every major festival in the country, including Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Locally, he has played the Wormtown Festival, which is held bi-annually in Greenfield, and he has also made frequent stops at the Arts Block.
“I love the Arts Block! It’s a special place,” said Benevento. “They have one of the best pianos in the country there. I’ve had some real good times there, so I’m looking forward to doing it again.”
Benevento has been touring in support of “TigerFace” but said that listeners can expect to hear material off all four of his albums at this show. He is usually accompanied on stage by a bassist and drummer, but his Arts Block appearance is one of a handful of solo shows on his winter tour.
“I’m scared of solo shows but my manager makes me do them. I can’t figure out why he tortures me like this,” Benevento joked. “But seriously, I do like playing solo. It’s challenging, but super fun. I get to approach and present the music in a different way than I would with the band. It always feels more intimate and conversational, like a bit of a listening experience, as compared to one of our bigger rock shows where it’s really about rocking out.”
“I love the pure sound of the Arts Block piano, but I’ll be bringing some toys with me. We’ll run the piano through some effects, pedals and amps with the use of transducer pickups,” added Benevento. “I also have a looper that I use to trigger sounds with my feet, things like drum machine loops, mellotron loops and other recognizable sounds from my records. I also have a synth and a laptop that I incorporate to get some interesting colors.”
Interesting colors indeed. It’s impossible to predict what you will experience at this show, but having seen Benevento in concert before, I can say that you will be amazed at the full array of sounds he can create with this setup. Expect to hear everything from straight-out jazz numbers to electronica to some of the newer material that is outright danceable. Benevento’s shows, which Relix magazine recently described as “throughly entertaining,” will also include deep grooves, transcendent melodies and downright trippy jams.
One of the best parts of his show is hearing his interpretations of other people’s material, which in the past has included My Morning Jacket, Amy Winehouse and Leonard Cohen. During his recent tour in support of “TigerFace,” he has even slipped in his version of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.”
On “TigerFace,” which Benevento calls his most melody-driven work to date, he enlisted Kalmia Traver of Rubblebucket to sing on two songs. This was a huge surprise for fans as it was the first time he’s ever had vocals on one of his albums. And now Royal Potato Family, the record label he runs with manager Kevin Calabro, has released a tribute album devoted to the music of American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson. Guess who sings on it?
“My band recorded ‘Are You Sleeping?’ and I actually sang it, something I’ll be doing more on my next studio album. I also played piano on a track with Langhorne Slim,” Benevento said. “The producer Kenny Siegal, who’s also the owner of Old Soul Studios where the record was made, got some great sounds out of everyone that recorded there. It’s called ‘This is The Town: A Tribute to Nilsson.’”
Whether Benevento sings at the Arts Block show remains to be seen. Either way, be prepared for an evening of jam-jazz-rock fusion that is unlike anything you have heard before.
Tickets are $17 in advance and available at www.theartsblock.com Tickets at the door are $20, $15 for students with an ID. The Smithsonian Cafe, located at The Arts Block, is open for dinner from 5 to 8 p.m.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org