Me Not Me
The Royal Potato Family
After the dippy jam-jazz of the Benevento/Russo Duo and a stint in Phish man Trey Anastasio’s ensemble, keyboardist Marco Benevento seemed primed for postbop the hard way with his testily experimental Live at Tonic.
The three-CD set showed off the instrumentalist’s chops, not only as a keyboardist who could leap inventively among jazz canons old (Thelonious Monk’s “Bye Ya”) and new (Brad Mehldau’s “Sabbath”), pop oddities from Pink Floyd, and the big-band brass of Benny Goodman, but also as a leader who could command topnotch downtown cats like Bobby Previte, Matt Chamberlain and Steven Bernstein.
That’s not to say that on Me Not Me Benevento’s role as a leader is diminished. Along with persnickety drummer Chamberlain, Benevento ably takes second rhythmatist Andre Barr and bassist Reed Mathis under his wonky wing as he did on his studio debut Invisible Baby.
Benevento’s hand is strong as he strides pastorally through the militaristic shuffle of “Golden” and manically atop the stuttering avant-garde boogie of “Twin Killers.” But Benevento has too few good places to lead the ensemble, his predilection within being an odd mix of covers from indie pop elitists, classic rock elders and a few originals. Certainly there are better, more defining tunes from My Morning Jacket (“Golden”) and Beck (a tepid “Sing It Again”) to drag his sidemen through. While an autumnal take on Leonard Cohen’s “Seems So Long Ago Nancy” apes the author’s ruminative ache, it doesn’t catch fire. Benevento and co. light a noisily grand fire below Led Zeppelin’s “Friends,” but the flame is contained. And somehow this smoldered-ember vibe is what defines Benevento-penned tunes such as “Memphisto.”
Benevento’s getting warmer. But not hot enough yet.