Like his frequent collaborator Charlie Hunter, keyboardist Marco Benevento is a former high school jazz band star who crossed over to instrumental indie rock, and he's all the better for it. Since graduating from Berklee in 1999, Benevento developed a highly imaginative stage show that requires a ton of ammo: Hammond organs, electric Wurlitzers, mellotrons, pedal boards, amps, vintage microphones, and, in most cases, a baby grand. Thus, what looks at first glance like a seven-piece band is really just Benevento and all his keyboards. The same goes for his new record, Me Not Me: If you never saw the album jacket, you might assume a much larger group was performing, rather than a piano trio (Reed Mathis plays bass; Matt Chamberlain and Andrew Barr alternate on drums). Benevento's songs have jam band looseness, but also sound rumbly, layered, and heavily processed — more akin to Radiohead than traditional jazz. Still, there's enough going on musically to keep a jazz audience engaged.
Take the opening song, "Golden," which would really just be a cheesy pop ballad if you took the piano melody by itself and scraped out everything else. In this case, Benevento takes the pop form and cannibalizes it, using crackly distortion to blur out the melodic lines, and setting them against a complex Latin drum pattern. The orchestration might seem rather insensible from a musician's perspective, but the result sounds wonderful. He continues in that vein for much of the album: The Leonard Cohen tune "Seems So Long Ago Nancy" has some truly fine piano work, and sounds almost like Chopin with an electric edge. "Mephisto" and "Twin Killers" are no-frills funk tunes with a loud, cacophonous overlay.
At many points in Me Not Me you might think your cell phone is messing with the stereo speakers, because the combination of a simple pop melody with all that soupy electronic mush seems so disorienting. With Benevento, though, it's intentional. (The Royal Potato Family)