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Magic In The Air: Marco Benevento Road-Dogs It Back To The Beachland

Marco Benevento
photo credit: Seth Olenick

Marco Benevento is a workaholic. The playful, keyboardist who gleefully straddles the worlds of jam-band euphoria, jazzy, improvisatory exploration and nerdy gadget geekery might not fit the image of the jittery, Type-A striver but just listen to the man himself.

“I’m a very productive person,” he said by phone last month from his home in Woodstock, New York and one listen to his latest release, Marco Benevento (Royal Potato Factory, 2022), proves his point. Benevento composed all the music and played all the instruments except for some occasional added percussion and the vocals, aside from cameos by his wife and children are all Benevento’s.

But as much as studio wonkery appeals to the 45-year-old New Jersey native (and more about that later), he’s a road dog at heart who will return to a favorite venue, the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern March 14 on a double bill with labelmates Mike Dillon and Punkadelic.

Benevento didn’t return to live performance in earnest until last October’s West Coast tour. “We did San Diego to Seattle, but it was weird because some people still weren’t going to shows,” he said. “Everything’s expensive. The gas is more expensive, hotel rooms are more expensive, and everything has just become harder. But it was good to be out there [and] so great to play all these new tunes from the new record.”

Though its tracks were laid down during the pandemic, it too kept Benevento busy. Recorded in the tiny room at his home that he called the Fred Short Studios, Marco Benevento was part homage (to Paul McCartney whose first solo album was also eponymous) and part make-work project.

“I got my kids onto their school Zoom classes and I would just go out in the studio and be like, what do we got? I put together a lot of tunes, I think like 20 some odd tunes and I put about eight or nine of them on a record that was like, hey, here we go. I’ll just put this out,” he said.

“I’ve kind of always wanted to make a kind of experimental, crazy-guy-in-the woods-spending-too-much-time-on-all-the-keyboards-and-drum-machines kind of record. So yeah, it was productive for me,” Benevento said.

Now it’s time to see how those tunes laid down by a one-man band in the woods sound in a Collinwood concert venue as played by his band, bassist Karina Rykman and drummer Chris Corsico. And the stage might get more crowded if Dillon and his giddy, beat-heavy band get involved.

“We’ve got them on the whole tour. So we’ll be seeing a lot of those dudes,” Benevento said. “I’ve known them for a while so we’re old buddies and I’m sure there will be some sit-ins and whatnot.”

After the tour ends in Madison, Wisconsin next Saturday, it’s back to Woodstock, a source of inspiration for the latest record and a place that Benevento loves.

“It’s a cool little spot,” he said. “So like you go to have pizza and see Donald Fagan walk in, or you’ll do some sort of anti-fracking benefit up here, and Donald Fagan’s on the gig. [Drummer] Jack DeJohnette is here. John Medeski lives up here as well, who I’ve played with a bunch. So it’s definitely magic in the air.”

Marco Benevento with Mike Dillon & Punkadelick, Tuesday, March 14, 8:30 p.m. at Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd · Cleveland. $20 advance, $23 day of show, available here.

Trading Fours

There’s never a bad time to get out and commune in the same room with creative musicians. Below are four musical events of interest in the coming week that you might want to check out.

Matthew Fries Trio
Friday, March 10, 8 p.m.
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland (tickets)

Beer lovers will recognize Kalamazoo as a hotbed of craft brewing, but jazz? Not so much. Yet the Beer City’s own Matthew Fries released one of last year’s under-the-radar delights in Lost Time (Xcappa Records), a graceful and articulate postbop piano trio session with drummer Keith Hall and bigfoot bassist John Hèbert. At Bop StopHall is along for the ride with another notable bassist in Carlo De Rosa. Here’s a pairing suggestion: try Bop Stop’s delicious Bell’s Two Hearted ale, but even if you’re not inclined to indulge, don’t sleep on this one.

Celebrating Gigi Gryce
Friday, March 10, 8 p.m.
BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St. Akron (tickets)

George General Grice, Jr., better known as Gigi Gryce, was one of the hot young composer/arrangers at the apex of the harp bop era. Never heard of him? You’re not alone, but don’t worry. You’re all set to experience the joy of rediscovery when a A-list band of NEO’s and Pittsburgh’s finest–Theron Brown, piano; Jeff Bush on trombone; saxophonist Chris Coles; Tony DePaolis, bass and drummer Thomas Wendt–convene to bring Gryce’s music back into the spotlight where it belongs.

Max Johnson Trio
Saturday, March 11, 8 p.m.
BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St. Akron (tickets)

One measure of the health of a scene is the presence of touring artists who might not have marquee names (whatever that means in a jazz context). You won’t find bassist Max Johnson, Anna Weber (saxophone and flute or drummer Michael Sarin headlining any big name festivals—not soon, at least—but the three are making some of today’s most interesting music. The trio’s Orbit of Sound (Unbroken Sounds, 2022) is evidence of what this cagey, brainy New York band can do, and further evidence that the NEO scene is well and very much alive.

Tri-C Jazzfest Academy Spirit Of The Groove with Dominick Farinacci
Sunday, March 12, 7 p.m.
Market Garden Brewery, 1947 W. 25 St., Cleveland (tickets)

For those who believe that discretion is the better part of valor, next week is a good time to stay out of the bars. For music lovers interested in the future, get thee to Market Garden might be a better motto as Tri-C’s Spirit of the Groove band gets St. Patrick’s Day week underway at the West Side pub. Will they have an arrangement of “Danny Boy” ready? There’s only one way to find out.

Information for this section came from Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events.


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