Marco Benevento's new triple-CD‚ Live at Tonic‚ was recorded during his November 2006 residency at the now-defunct Tonic in NYC. There's a lot of music on this album‚ and Marco had a lot to say about the process of producing it and collaborating onstage with ten different musicians during those five Wednesday nights. In fact‚ Marco had so much to say that we've decided to run this interview in three parts.
I first interviewed Marco in 2003‚ and since then it's been like an annual ritual: we catch up and discuss current projects. Most of those conversations revolved around the Duo and various collaborations‚ like playing with both Mike Gordon and Trey Anastasio. But there would also be a thread about his growth‚ his roots on the piano‚ and returning to jazz. Marco always talked about that time down the road where he would have the opportunity to be playing in a stripped-down piano trio. Four years after our first conversation‚ he's achieved that vision with this live release.
Sort of. Live at Tonic features Marco playing acoustic piano in various forms-solo‚ duo and in a trio setting. But over the years‚ so much of his voice has developed through various organs‚ keyboards‚ circuit-bend toys and dedication to sonic experimentation. What we really dug into in this conversation was his development. Marco‚ with childlike enthusiasm‚ has a profound sense of his evolution as a musician‚ and because of that he speaks with a sense of urgency to explore the possibilities that are now open to him-right at his fingertips. When you hear one distorted Wurlitzer note‚ you know it is Marco. And naturally‚ Live at Tonic displays his voice both as a pianist and how he's evolved behind his keyboard arsenal.
First‚ congratulations on your daughter‚ Ruby. "Ruby‚ My Dear‚" huh?
"Ruby‚ My Dear." She's so cute. ["Ruby‚ My Dear" is a Thelonius Monk tune. - Ed.]
Yeah‚ actually‚ I saw a photo. Mike Gordon had one on his phone and was showing it to me.
Oh‚ cool. That's right‚ you're up there.
Beautiful‚ man‚ beautiful. So‚ I've been listening to Live at Tonic.
Nice. What do you think of it?
I dig it. I love the idea and the approach. It's unbelievable how much different music is on there.
Well‚ the residency was five Wednesdays in November (2006) and they were all recorded. Every night I got reference copies of the show-just a two track‚ two mics set up on the stage. So‚ each night I got pretty much two discs of music. I'd go home right from the gig and put it on just to hear it‚ and they sounded really good. Immediately‚ I got really excited. Especially the improv nights with (Steve) Bernstein‚ (Dave) Dreiwitz and (Claude) Coleman‚ and also the improv night with all the drummers-Joe (Russo)‚ Bobby (Previte) and (Mike) Dillon. That was awesome to listen to and to be like "Oh! It would sound like a song if I started it here and ended it here." I even have other tracks that didn't make it on that are really‚ really good. Andy (Hurwitz‚ of Ropeadope) was saying‚ "Let's just make it five discs!" And‚ you know‚ even with three‚ some people are going to get this album and be like‚ "Oh yeah‚ I like this one disc." It's just so much music to handle on a car ride or even at your house. Sometimes you don't even know where to begin‚ you know?
Exactly. I've listened to all the discs and seem to be stuck on disc two. I'm not sure why‚ but that seems to be the one…
Disc two is a good one. I like that one a lot.
But see‚ I think I'll get into the other ones‚ in time. I was thinking about it because Christian McBride's Live at Tonic was the same way. There was just so much music.
Yeah‚ I know. With this‚ I definitely got seriously into editing it. I was home editing and fading and adding… like on the Mike Gordon stuff: I was adding a record scratch in the background and making it sound lo-fi. I actually had plans to do a ton of editing‚ but the person who recorded each night on multi-track mailed the tapes to L.A. to be mixed and they were all blank. So all you're hearing is a two-track live recording; the reference copies became the album. I originally wanted to mix nights together and cut and paste and experiment with all different cool stuff. Almost edit a live performance to make it sound like a beefed-up recording. But we couldn't do that because we just had a two-track live recording-just two mics right there. And I was like‚ "Fuck it‚ even better." Even better to just capture the recording as if you had two ears and were in the room. That's what it sounded like‚ you know? [laughter] So‚ after all that it was cool to not be able to edit it. Although‚ you would imagine some artists getting all freaked-out‚ like "What the fuck? I was planning on doing all this stuff!"
Right. How did that happen?
How did it become blank? That is a mystery to Bill Mulvey (who recorded the shows) and everybody involved in this whole project. How could you be Medeski Martin & Wood's archivists and not know whether your multi-tracks have music on them before you send them to the engineers? What kind of move was that? Anyway‚ whatever‚ I'm not down on anybody about it. It's just sort of like‚ "What?!" And then I just put it into perspective: I didn't even know I was going to record this album until about two weeks before the shows started. I called up Andy (Hurwitz) just to say‚ "I got some gigs in New York. You should come out to the gigs." And he responds‚ "Why don't we record it and make an album?" [laughter] I said‚ "Sure‚ I'd love to do that."
And now you're about to tour with Matt Chamberlain and Reed Mathis.
I essentially booked this tour with Matt and Reed. I made the calls and booked the gigs. I called people I know and made it happen. And even calling you‚ it's like-I'm just going to call people I know. [laughter] Even though managers hate it when you do that‚ you know; they hate it when artists make calls. But I'm like‚ well‚ this is not the Duo; this is my own thing. It's me and my own little world‚ so I'm just going to do this myself. I'm down with taking charge of it yourself and doing what you want to do. I was pretty much inspired by Bobby Previte and Charlie Hunter and hanging out with those guys when I did that tour with them out west. Those guys have been through a lot of stuff. They've been here and there and sold out big rooms and done things across Europe‚ but now they just do what they want to do. They're still are in love with their instruments.