At first glance, keyboard wizard Marco Benevento’s Live at Tonic, featuring highlights from his November 2006 residency at the legendary and now-defunct New York jazz club Tonic, is intimidating. At three discs long, the album’s full playing time is slightly over three hours. However, even though it is a whole lot of music, the album doesn’t feel long and that’s why it works. Benevento is best known for his Benevento/Russo duo work with drummer Joe Russo, and he treats the listener to a wide array of originals and covers. While a few tunes are done solo, most of the time Benevento invites his friends to play along with him including drummers Russo and Matt Chamberlain, Phish bassist Mike Gordon, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s bassist and guitarist Reed Mathis, and trumpeter Steve Bernstein.
Benevento uses songs from all varieties including jazz, pop, and even classic rock, but never does it feel out of place. From the majestic jazz take on Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” to the frantic Benevento original, “The Night Before October,” disc one sets the album’s furious pacing. The sequencing to the album is one of its major strengths, and there are few, if any, lulls. Disc two’s opening one-two punch of the strangely intoxicating “Peppermint Hippo” and “We’re Using Time for Fun” grab the listener’s attention with abrupt rhythm changes and dissonant melody lines, but the songs don’t drag and feel structured rather than wandering. Benevento even finds time for fun throwing in equally playful covers of Carly Simon’s James Bond theme, “Nobody Does It Better,” and Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’.”
Marco Benevento’s Live at Tonic simply takes a group of talented musicians and let’s them do their thing while having a good time, and that’s what makes it such a success. It’s fun.