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Benevento jazzes up the Valley

benevento_sm

(Courtesy myspace.com)

Marco Benevento is quickly becoming known in the jazz circuits of New York, making Brooklyn his primary stomping ground. Yet this past Thursday, Benevento and his talented trio travelled to Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall for a new school culture shock unlike any the Pioneer Valley has experienced.

The 10 p.m. performance drew a modest crowd to the quickly chilling street outside the venue.  Benevento warmed up his act as attendees waited to warm up freezing extremities indoors. His music is difficult to classify, swinging from jazz to post rock with an emphasis on piano distortion.  His music spans genres and decades, with Benevento creating original tunes and covering the likes of Leonard Cohen, The Knife and Beck.   

Yet when a bearded Benevento took the stage in a baseball tee and jeans, he looked more like a grunge rocker than a jazz musician. His casual style of dress and his accessibility were half his appeal, making him a true musician for the new generation.

With no opening act, Benevento dove directly into the music.  It was not until midway through the show, however, that he introduced the other two components of the trio.

With their unassuming demeanor and uncompromising musical skill, drummer Andy Borger and bassist Reed Mathis seemed well-matched with Benevento. Borger and Mathis accompanied the musician throughout the 13-song set, which was devoid of any encore performance. 

A stellar rendition of Benevento’s original track “Atari” from the album “Invisible Baby” proved to be one of the show’s highlights. True to the gaming console, the song featured a prominent 8-bit sound over Benevento’s jazz-inspired piano styling.  The two complimented each other perfectly in the live setting.   

“The Real Morning Party” was another example of a Benevento original.  The performer showcased his multitasking ability, taming piano and keyboard simultaneously.

The sixth song in the set was a cover of the Knife’s 2008 single “Heartbeats.”  Benevento’s cover of the tune is featured on his most recent album, “Me Not Me.”  His interpretation began with simple electronic blips, swelling into something entirely new  as layers of piano, drums and bass began to unfold. 

“That was the song of the year for me,” proclaimed Benevento afterwards.  Perhaps it was his love of the tried and true tune that made his version so distinct.

Benevento also covered “Golden,” a tune that was originally recorded by contemporary alternative-country legends, My Morning Jacket.  Benevento transformed the acoustic guitar track into a dramatic piano performance, layered over drumbeats and lush with synthetic sounds. 

Taking suggestions by the end of the evening from the crowd, Benevento combined requests for “something funky” and “Johnny Cash” into, “a funky Johnny Cash number.” 

While the aforementioned “funky Johnny Cash number” was never brought to fruition, Benevento turned up the tempo with the next few tunes.  “I’m going to turn this into a dance party,” he said with a laugh, taking to the keyboards again. 

The show ended with a request for “Echo Park,” a song that had originally been recorded with drummer Joe Russo, whom Benevento had performed with under the Benevento Russo Duo. The song was a perfect choice to bring the set full circle, leaving the crowd wanting more but not unsatisfied with what they had already received.

In all, Thursday’s performance left little to critique.  The set list was an appropriate length and there was the right ratio of original and cover tracks. No encore was needed, though it would have undoubtedly been appreciated by rapturous fans of Benevento.

One can only hope that Benevento was not discouraged from future performances in the Valley by the show’s modest turnout.  There is always a place for musical innovation in western Mass. 

Angela Stasiowski can be reached at astasiow@student.umass.edu.

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