08 April 2008

Review: Rashanim|Marco Benevento

Still working my way back through the last few shows starting with the more recent... next up:

Stanton Street Shul, 3 April 2008

Rashanim is one of those bands I am constantly missing for one reason or another. Every time they have a gig around town, I've got something else on my plate and regrettably must miss it. Regrettably, because these guys are flat out one of the more exciting bands out there right now, if I can speak truthfully. So, I can't tell you how happy I was that I was able to convince the Big Squeeze to sacrifice her normal Thursday mom's night so I could trek into town to check out the second of what is looking to be a regular, intimate gig in the Lower East Side. What makes these shows special besides the music is that they take place at the Stanton Street Shul, which is, as you might have guessed, not a music venue proper but a plain old, no-frills house of worship.

The crowd Thursday was maybe 10-15 people strong and we huddled around the center of the room where the band was set up like we were there for a bible study or communal pow wow. It was a warm, family vibe despite the chill in the air and the none-too-comfy pews we were sitting in. In reality, what this was was a gathering of people who love music and don't need the conventions of a rock theater or jazz club to get our fix. Which isn't to say there wasn't a bar -- Rabbi Yossi was happy to sell you a beer or a shot of Jack Daniels... although it wasn't clear if the intent was to get people drunk, make a few bucks or just to clear out the booze from the synagogue before Passover begins later this month.

Yes, Rashanim's music is Jewish in its flavor and origins; in fact all of their new material takes their song titles from names of prophets (which gave us treats like "Elijah" and such). But really, it's just really great music, heavenly at times, but also brutally rocking, swinging with grooves or just flat out jamming. The band consists of Jon Madof on guitar, Shanir Blumenkranz on bass and Matthias Kunzli on drums and percussion -- just your run-of-the-mill power trio. The first set Thursday was acoustic and was a perfect way to set the vibe of the evening. Starting around 8:30 to the cozy crowd, they wasted no time digging deep with some gorgeous melodies. The sound was perfect and the music was a perfect mix of cerebral complexity and sheer accessibility. This was jazz/rock fusion that your bubbe and zayde could get jiggy with. Madof is the de facto leader of the group and his compositions have a maturity and freshness that seem a bit incongruous with his youth and jokey stage demeanor. He led the trio through some tight composed sections and let them loose with individual solos and plenty of wonderfully improvised sections. The music was loose, but it always had a groove to latch onto.

They took a very brief break to set up for an electric second set and gave us another hour or so of rip-snorting rocking out. Blumenkranz really seemed to take off after switching from stand up to his Fender electric bass. There were some jaw dropping, intensely dark passages both on guitar and bass -- nasty, effects-laden stuff that may not have been entirely appropriate to unleash in a holy place. I do not exaggerate when I say that Jon and Shanir are the best guitar and bass players you probably haven't heard yet. It's not every band that can successfully blow your mind with some beautiful acoustic music and then open things up with some far-reaching electric jams. Kunzli may have been a bit off from professed jet lag, but still showed some remarkable creativity in the million-and-one ways you can keep a beat. I especially loved it when he played melodic rhythm using just his handclaps... another level. Overall, the whole of it was incredibly tight from top to bottom, just intense jaw-dropping stuff. It was one of those shows where you feel lucky that you're there, that you know, and yet at the same time lament that there are so many people out there that would be blown away right there with you who are regrettably absent but for their own ignorance of the talent. Hopefully the gig will continue and grow and you'll take a chance. I think I have a pretty good track record with these things, so check it out. Next Stanton Street gig is on 5/22. Get involved. And looky here, embedded videos from the acoustic set (maybe the audio will make it this way in the near future):

Rockwood Music Hall, 3 April 2008

From there, C-Dawg and I made our way to Rockwood Music Hall for Marco Benevento's midnight solo show. Just a few short blocks away and in a room almost equally as intimate. It was that kind of evening, where you felt like someone gave you the password and you were on right side of exclusivity. Of course, the show there was free and open to everyone, and yet, again, there were just a few of us there. Rockwood is one of the smallest music venues in Manhattan, I'd reckon. Any more than 50 patrons, and it's a bit tight. That's about where we found the room when we got there as we went to the annex bar for a beverage while the earlier set finished up. We moved in for the 11pm set and lucked into some I-can-rest-my-feet-on-the-stage seats, which was nice. Always good to be sitting, and sitting close in. The set was Aaron Dugan who is part of Matisyahu's band, making it a full-fledged Chosen Peeps twofer. He was playing guitar and had another guitar player, an upright bass player and a female vocalist on stage... there was also a drummer, but the stage wasn't big enough to accommodate, so he was off to the side. I didn't know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised with some very enjoyable, occasionally dreamy music. Of course, I was exhausted at the time, and the music had a very nice soporific effect on me. There were some extended instrumental passages with some off-kilter vocal interludes in between. Nothing brain-bending, but also not bad at all.

After that, Marco came in and the house piano was set up with his own brung-from-home modifications to give it that special Benevento je ne sais quoi. Around 12:30 he got rolling with a slow-developing cover of Led Zeppelin's "Friends." Marco was in high spirits and in an adventurous mood, cutting and pasting his normal repertoire like a 3 year old with a pair of scissors and a tub of Elmer's, so that songs veered into other ones on whims while others got sandwiched in between either as teases or full-blown sandwiches. His mood matched the setting and the crowd perfectly as he called for requests and babbled affably with the audience of Marco aficionados. There were a few selections off the brilliant new "Invisible Baby" album like Bus Ride and the grooving Real Morning Party. The latter brought out an audience participation request to keep the beat which sounded easier than it proved to be for the late night we-so-white crowd. Eventually Marco just took over and sunk into some fantastic soloing which squeezed its way through the tube into "Fearless." Marco tore up the keys on the Monk tune "Bye-Ya" and then succumbed to an audience request for "Mephisto." That one showed some promise of going somewhere and delivered reaching out into the late night balminess and then flipping over into the Duo's "Soba." Benevento never ceases to amaze, whether playing with a bunch of who dats, making sweet duolove with Joey R., leading an all star jam session or just sitting alone at a piano.

I realize that this marks the 8th time I've seen Marco in some incarnation this calendar year, a measurable percentage of the times I've left my house. Maybe a bit obsessive, yes, and certainly a tad embarrassing considering my inability to do anything but fawn. Still, it just seems to be getting better and better. The music remains fresher than ever even after hearing the same tunes over and over and the enthusiasm he imparts from the stage seems to be getting more infectious with each new look. Until he makes me feel otherwise, I'm gonna keep on going. It's been easy money thus far.

Which is all just a way of warning you that there may be a Duo review in your future... more to come.


Stuart Sigman said...

great review - wish i had been there! rashanim is one of the best bands out there right now...

veronica electronicka said...

that was a good nite...as they always are....