Keyboardist Marco Benevento has made a name for himself as a musician’s musician steeped in a jazzy, jammy style of adventurous playing with the Benevento-Russo Duo, Bustle in Your Hedgerow and a memorable 2006 tour with Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon from Phish. This style works great in the live setting, but as with many jam-oriented artists, capturing that energy in the studio can be a challenging endeavor. The studio setting is an entirely different animal than the live performance arena, and Benevento is perhaps acknowledging this by putting his “Tigerface” on here for his fourth solo album.
Benevento is venturing into some new territory as the album’s first two tracks feature vocals from Rubblebucket’s fabulous Kal Traver. Benevento’s band followed Rubblebucket on stage at the High Sierra Music Festival this summer, where he related how he’d become immediately enamored of Traver’s skills upon seeing Rubblebucket in Burlington, Vermont. He said he knew he had to call her and this resulted in a new friendship that has yielded some dynamic musical results in “Limbs of a Pine” and “This Is How It Goes”. Traver sat in with Benevento for smashing renditions of both songs at High Sierra, and the studio versions capture some of that vibrant energy as well. “Limbs” is a high energy groove that benefits from Traver’s exuberant and infectious style, for which Benevento’s melodic synths make a great foil. “This Is How It Goes” is more of a straight pop tune, but one with a bit of a Beatle-esque psychedelica and electronica-style ambience. Benevento and Traver quite simply make a great team.
Benevento has one of the more distinctive styles amongst his contemporaries, delivering memorable live shows that feature a variety of sonic landscapes focused around melodic jams and uplifting grooves. The tunes here dabble in similar territory as Benevento seeks to mix his adventurous playing with memorable melodies and a wide arsenal of synths, analog keyboards, pianos, loops and varied beats.
Benevento also has some other friends helping out, such as Phish’s Gordon who plays bass and mandolin on “Escape Horse”, where the piano parts stretch out over the active groove from Gordon. Ween drummer Dave Dreiwitz, Tea Leaf Green bassist Reed Mathis and drummers Andrew Barr and Matt Chamberlain also contribute on the album.
“Going West” captures some of what Benevento does best in the live setting with its soaring blues rock psychedelica over a big beat, somewhat recalling garage duos like the Black Keys and the White Stripes. The anthemic “Eagle Rock” is another standout tune primed for live exploration, with a vibe that carries the listener along for a ride on an angelic cloud. “Fireworks” functions in a similar fashion, with a lilting melodic piano flavor over a crisp beat.
“Soma” and “Do What She Told You” get into some jazzier territory, with Benevento using his unique style of sonic spacing and melodic counterpoints to conjure up some progressive sounds. Tigerface certainly isn’t going to substitute for catching Benevento’s live show, although very few studio albums from improv-oriented artists will. But it shows his continuing evolution as a player who also wants to make the tunes count.