Photo | Photography by Wyndham
Multi-instrumentalist Marco Benevento brings his blend of jam, EDM, jazz and roots rock to Soul Kitchen Jan. 23.
Band: Marco Benevento
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 23, with doors at 7 p.m.
Venue: Soul Kitchen, 219 Dauphin St. (Mobile), soulkitchenmobile.com
Tickets: $12 in advance/$15 day of show, available through venue website or 1-866-777-8932
Ten years ago, pianist Marco Benevento exposed the world to his avant-garde sounds through his solo debut “Invisible Baby.” The critics labeled it jazz, but this groundbreaking album existed in its own dimension. Benevento mixed a concoction featuring equal parts jam, EDM, jazz and roots rock riddled with ambient overtones. This eclectic sound shone in its ability to wrangle an improvisational creation process into one beautiful sonic beast.
In 2018, Benevento celebrated the 10th anniversary of “Invisible Baby’ by re-releasing the album on his Royal Potato Family label. This decision was not only a chance to celebrate 10 years of solo work, but also a chance to bring the album into the Royal Potato Family.
At the time of the release, Benevento said he had no idea what label would take on this album.
“Luckily, this record label called Hyena put out ‘Invisible Baby,’” Benevento said. “My manager was working for them, so we had a bit of an in over there. Then we started our own record label … Royal Potato Family. So it was nice to put it out on our own label.”
Benevento says he vividly remembers recording this album. One of his fondest memories is the inclusion of drummer Matt Chamberlain as both a featured artist and producer. Chamberlain is known for his work with Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, Kanye West and many others. Benevento cites Chamberlain as not only one of his favorite musicians, but also one of his favorite people. To work with Chamberlain in the studio was a thrill for him.
“He’s funny,” Benevento said. “He’s such an amazing drummer and on so many records that I love. To be able to be friends with him and track with him and make a record with him, I was so excited. He’s a genius in the studio and has a lot of ideas.”
Benevento says he retreated to Chamberlain’s Seattle studio to record, joined by bassist Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green) and drummer Andrew Barr (The Slip). He instantly fell in love with Chamberlain’s environment, especially his Mellotron keyboard. Benevento says a “quirky” engineer also introduced him to an innovative technique he still incorporates into his live show.
“I do remember specifically that one of the engineers said, ‘Oh, you should try this little amp I got. It’s from an old projector from the ‘50s. Why don’t you run your piano through that,’” Benevento said. “That was eye-opening for me to think about. In the studio, you can do anything. I started doing that live. On the road, we have an upright piano, and it has pickups going to amps.”
Benevento’s life and music have changed greatly since the release of “Invisible Baby.” Ten years ago, he was a member of Brooklyn’s vast, eclectic musical community. However, Benevento says he and his wife felt Mother Nature pulling them away from the city. The couple wanted land and a garden in order to “feel more connected to the Earth.” They also felt a more rural area might provide a better environment for their children.
So, after spending 10 years in Brooklyn, Benevento packed up his family and moved north of the city to Woodstock. When he arrived, he found himself in good company.
“There are some other musicians who have moved up here, like my musical cohort John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood),” Benevento said. “Amy Helm lives up here, who is Levon’s daughter. Jack DeJohnette (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock) is up here. Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) lives up here. So there’s a community. There’s even a rock academy up here that involves kids doing music and putting on shows. We loved Brooklyn, but it was time to get out and have a little bit more space.”
Benevento’s music has evolved as well, as can be witnessed in his latest studio release, “The Story of Fred Short.” While his music still maintains its avant-garde persona, Benevento has added a thread of what he describes as “rock and pop sensibilities” to his sound. “The Story of Fred Short” proves that balancing these sensibilities with his style has not hindered its distinctive, eclectic sound. He’s also added vocal tracks to his musical mix with great results, for both the artist and the listener.
Benevento says adding a vocal aspect has made its own impression on his music.
“We were relying [with “Invisible Baby”] more on our improvisation to make it through a show,” Benevento said. “Now, I think there’s other factors and influences with singing. It’s really cool to incorporate instrumental music with vocal music. Sometimes it could be talking or chanting.”
While his studio work is exceptional, Benevento’s music flourishes live, which he has documented on such albums as “Woodstock Sessions,” considered a companion piece to “The Story of Fred Short.” For this endeavor, Benevento traveled two miles from home to Applehead Recording & Production. He describes this environment as a “picturesque Woodstock recording studio/barn” complete with a “giant pig that’s walking outside and horses and llamas.” Benevento loaded in his gear alongside an intimate crowd of people and documented the session.
“The gig was probably a two-hour-long gig, but we only had space for 45 minutes on a record,” Benevento said. “We cut some tunes and made a live record. They have incredible gear in there, and I know the engineer pretty well because we’ve done some records together. It’s a killer space.”
As far as future releases from this keyboard maestro, Benevento says he has just completed work on a new album. For this effort, he entered the studio with Leon Michels (El Michels Affair, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings). Benevento met Michels while subbing for him with The Arcs, which also features Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), Richard Swift and Nick Movshon. Michels is also a Brooklyn expatriate who lives in upstate New York near Benevento. The first single from the album will be released in July and the full album in September.