Jazz goes through cycles. When things start sounding the same‚ a few new innovators step in and remind everyone what the music's essence is about: a good conversation‚ evolution and being in the moment. And that means living and breathing music that fits into today and provides some guidance for the future.
Marco Benevento's imagination is soaring on Me Not Me‚ an album of seven covers and three originals that lends some momentum to the good kick-in-the-ass that jazz needs to evolve. To no surprise‚ this album is a part of the historical jazz doctrine by which some would debate whether or not this is actually jazz music‚ while others would howl that it's the truth. It was only about a year ago that Benevento released his first solo studio album‚ Invisible Baby‚ and it was major sonic breakthrough - not only for him‚ but for the new colors it shed on the modern age of music. It's part instrumental-indie-rock and part new-experimentation-in-sound (with Benevento's favorite circuit bent toys and one-of-kind distorted organs)‚ but at its core lays an acoustic piano and a player that has a deep gratitude for and knowledge of tradition. And now with Me Not Me‚ he takes another fearless leap forward and sounds like a musician constantly eager for a new adventure.
Benevento goes deep right from the start on Me Not Me with My Morning Jacket's "Golden." Over a thick bed of Matt Chamberlain's percussion and crackling electricity‚ the timeless melody floats on a cloud. Electrical waves crash softly in and out while Marco gets more and more lyrical. The way he gets to the heart of this melody on the piano is a great nod to how profound and universal Jim James is as a songwriter.
It's a phenomenal way to get off and running. And each composition that follows has its own distinct mood. Leonard Cohen's "It Seems So Long Ago Nancy" is some of Marco's most cinematic work-distant drones provide an eerily beautiful landscape and introspective foundation for him to let all the twists and turns of the melody breathe. His composition "Mephisto" has become a standard in his projects over the years‚ and here its relaxed vibe is a perfect pivot point for the onslaught of music that comes with the next three tunes‚ which form the centerpiece of the album and the core of Benevento's creative vision.
That vision shines on Deerhoof's "Twin Killers". It's super heavy and quirky‚ but when the music opens up he flies. His chops are not only ridiculous‚ but as sophisticated as any of the modern Blue Note gods - think Jason Moran and Robert Glasper - with a little sugar sprinkled on top.
If you need to imagine a place where it's always safe and warm‚ then the original‚ "Call Home‚" is it. Talk about creating a bed of sound that you could sleep comfortably in. This is one of Marco's originals that shows how much he can make music come alive.
His rendition of The Knife's "Heartbeats" displays brilliantly his understanding of deliberation and the wizardry of how to manipulate sound. A contrast is created by big looping rhythms swooping in and dashing by‚ while the melody scatters across. Lots of sounds come sliding in at different speeds and distances creating this great spinning wheel. Once the track gets going‚ each turn feels like you're entering a new universe. It's a lovely way to spend a little less than four minutes.
After these three tunes‚ it couldn't be more fitting to drop into a solo piano reading of Beck's "Sing It Again"-it's stunningly beautiful‚ a reminder that in the thick of noise and chaos‚ sometimes nothing could be more perfect than letting your mind wander with stillness and humility. Led Zeppelin's "Friends" comes next with a good blast to the eardrums and several waves to ride before the album concludes with George Harrison's "Run of the Mill." It's a pensive and reflective way to look back and to go out: a sound and feeling that isn't like anything else on the record‚ except that it's the tenth great song in row. And like he did at the beginning of the record‚ Benevento ends by letting his fingers sing a timeless tale.
Hearing Benevento's imagination evolve on Me Not Me is like walking into a wonderland. He has gotten to the point where he can express that feeling you had as kid of waking up on Christmas morning. Yet he also rides the edges‚ giving you twists and turns of irony that make you bask in the glory of thirty-something loserdom one second and in the next‚ the feeling of being sad and stoned in the rain. And he does it by understanding the complicated nature of letting a simple statement breathe. The music is thought-provoking at times‚ funny at others‚ and it never forgets to rock. Listening to Me Not Me gets out a lot of the beauty and ache we all treasure - it's as much the soundtrack to daydream to a Sunday afternoon as it is the heartbeat of a Saturday night.