Musicians who inhabit diverse skins – as comfortable in stripes as they are in spots – are frequently described as “chameleon-like,” which presumes they’re taking on the form(s) of others, a skillful sort of mimicry or approximation but something lacking in individual identity. While Marco Benevento seems to adapt to nearly any setting or style with duck-to-water aplomb, there’s never a sense he’s trying to mold himself in anyone else’s image. With Benevento one simply can’t do the usual critic equation of combining touchstones with qualifying adjectives. That sort of thinking just doesn’t add up with Marco who seemed quite alien – in the most beautiful, oh-shit-this-is-First-Contact way – from the moment he emerged to national (if underground for a period) consciousness with his buddy Joe Russo [see his drummer questionnaire here] in the early 2000s.
More simply, Marco is a singularity. Yes, there are tasty bits of great keyboardists past afloat in his sound stew – James Booker’s beatifically irregular New Orleans bounce, the cosmic drift and adamant modernity of Lonnie Liston Smith and Headhunter-era Herbie Hancock (with a dollop of Herbie’s In A Silent Way poetry), a Krautrock-ish groove sensibility that would fit in great with prime Can or Faust, a splash of Glen Gould-y classical know-how, the storytelling directness of The Band’s Richard Manuel – but one is hard pressed to discern fingerprints or clear lines in his ancestry. Free of genre restrictions or hero worshipping orthodoxy, Benevento has emerged as one of the most original keyboard voices in the past few decades.
His game-for-anything attitude is on happy display throughout Benevento’s new album, TigerFace (released September 11 by The Royal Potato Family), a journey – smooth and sumptuous – where one wonders from chapter to chapter, “Well, how did I get here, especially given where I last found my steps?” In visceral terms, TigerFace feels like a wonderful brain massage, where synapses attach to fragrant bubbles, which burst and drop them into yet more effervescence for the imagination. Largely instrumental (as is usually the case with Benevento), this set opens with a pair of collaborations with Rubblebucket lead singer Kalmia Traver, where the singer soars at her elemental, primal best – a sound of pure, finger snapping sensuality awash in music that only adds to the natural lift and shimmy of her gifts. Later, Benevento continues his work bringing boogie woogie into the 21st century on “Do What She Told You” and “Escape Horse,” which offer earthy, knee bouncin’ counterpoint to the spaciousness of pieces like “Soma” and “Fireworks.” Other coconspirators on this album include bassists Reed Mathis, Dave Dreiwitz and Phish’s Mike Gordon, drummers Andrew Barr and Matt Chamberlain, as well as saxophonist Stuart Bogie and violinist Ali Helnwein – another always promising thing about Benevento is the company he keeps. Like its creator, TigerFace is unique, a wide horizon filled with joy, light, and colorful things to rest one’s attentions upon.
The TigerFace tour began this past week and continues well into the fall. For full itinerary pop over here.
Here’s what Marco had to say in the Impound’s keyboardist survey.
- Favorite keyboard? Why?
- The Optigan. In short, it uses a light (hence the name) to read waveforms off of a transparent disc. And all of the sounds on each of the different discs that came with the Optigan, are so rad. To name a few there is – Polynesian village, romantic strings, guitar in 3/4, the blues – sweet and low (which was used on Danger Mouse’s record Dark Night Of The Soul with David Lynch), another disc called New Orleans Blues that Dan Auerbach used on the new Dr. John record, and of course Rock N Rhythm – one of my faves which I used on “Heartbeats” by The Knife. Playing the Optigan basically sounds like you are triggering old vinyl on a keyboard! Drums, organs, guitars – it’s super strange. Just Google Optigan, please!!!
- Tastiest keyboardist – i.e. not just soloing but also overall playing – currently working?
- Oh goodness…I can’t say…okay…Brad Mehldau. There, I said it…Well, him or Augie Meyers.
- A keyboard solo I never get tired of listening to is…
- Hmmm… Jack White’s solo on the Clavioline on “Icky Thump,” and a close second is the sped up piano solo on “In My Life”. And of course, Rick Wakeman’s solo on “Lucky Man.” Oh – and of course – Pete Townshend’s solo on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – goodness, you had to ask!!!
- Preferred brand of keys? Why?
- Any one that turns on…because the ones that don’t work suck. Broken keyboards – uh, I have so many of them. I’m currently looking for a keyboard repair slave to keep in my basement (or upstairs depending on how nice he or she is).
- Thelonius Monk, Bernie Worrell or Nicky Hopkins– which one gives you the biggest keyboard boner? What makes them SO sweet?
- I’ll admit that my biggest boner ever (to date) happened while listening to “Bye – Ya” (Monk). Shhhhhawwwing!!!! Oh the pole…
- One lesser known keyboardist folks should check out is…
- Ruby Benevento
- What aspect of being a keyboardist always makes you happy?
- Well, there are a couple. The first one that came to mind was the versatility of the word “keyboardist.” The term “keyboardist” means a ton of things. It could mean that you play piano. Or it could mean that you can play piano AND operate a MiniMoog, a Clav, a Hammond Organ, a Mellotron, or a Wurlitzer on a gig or in the studio as well. It makes me happy knowing that my role isn’t so concrete and that being a keyboardist isn’t as simple as just playing piano. It’s exciting to use and to know all of the keyboards that are out there and most importantly HOW THEY WORK and how to get that sound you are looking for (in addition to the effect pedals that they might work well with!!!)…And once you open that door as an artist…you’re fucked!!! The sounds and synths are endless!!! (and by the way, don’t go on eBay !!!!)