Bubbling, exotic sounds à la the beer-bottle percussion bookending Herbie Hancock’s 1973 version of “Watermelon Man”; banks of tightly clustered keyboards a bit reminiscent of Joe Zawinul; wordless vocals deployed on a catchy sing-song melody; call-and-response passages; West Indian percussion courtesy of guest Mamadouba “Mimo” Camara; snatches of sampled speech—the aptly titled “Marco and Mimo” feels something like unexpectedly wandering onto a late-night Afro-Caribbean beach party, one where the contours of the music are unpredictable and the dancing is likely to continue until dawn.
Welcome to Benevento, a 40-minute excursion into a multicolor world of deep grooves and colorful textures created almost entirely by Marco Benevento, the Brooklyn-based musician who emerged from New York’s underground jazz scene and has made inroads on jam-band land, with his own group and such outfits as his duo with drummer Joe Russo. This album, a byproduct of Benevento’s time away from the road during the pandemic, was recorded at his cramped home studio—packed wall-to-wall with recent and vintage keyboards, drums and recording gear—near the foot of the Catskills.
Some tracks, like the candy-colored 86-second opener “Like Me” and the percolating 35-second “Polysix,” come off as appetizers, hinting at something grander. Others, while largely unconventional, are beefier. “At the End or the Beginning” gets its kicks from a cellar-scraping, sticky bass groove and some dub-style dropouts; the swirling “We Were Here” is tinged with carnivalesque calliope sounds; and “Winter Rose” hints at Prince-style psychedelic R&B, amped by Camara’s percussion. On the oozing-to-life “The Warm Up” and elsewhere, Benevento spikes these walls of sound with imaginative piano and keyboard solos. He caps the set with the polyrhythms, sonic crosscurrents and distant vocals, and repeating riffs of “Is This a Dream.” A good question for strange times.