WHEN IT COMES to piano, Marco Benevento is master of the keys. Using loops, circuit-bent toys, and samplers, he's written compositions that fray the edges of jazz and veer into the experimental and electronic. With his fourth solo record, TigerFace, Benevento has entered new territory even for him, by incorporating vocals for the first time.
Kalmia Traver of Rubblebucket collaborated with Benevento on TigerFace's first two tracks, adding harmonies and overdubbing herself. Just after they finished recording, Benevento laughed out loud with satisfaction. He says, "The first song I added lyrics to, 'This Is How It Goes,' was tracked instrumentally. I ended up in the studio one night singing melodies, and made up words along with my wife and friends. I decided I wanted an awesome singer that blurred the line between Satomi Matsuzaki and Debbie Harry to do it, and Kal was totally down."
The album's opening songs are poppy, electronic, and dancey; you can imagine them blasting late at night at an open-air festival rather than at the Blue Note or Village Vanguard. Yet, despite their technical differences, they are as vibrant, grandiose, and joyous as any of Benevento's solo work. The inclusion of vocals is a giant step away from the jazz trio Benevento originally imagined himself in, but he notes that his taste has evolved over the years. "At a certain point in my life, I didn't listen to pop music—ever," he says. "If I heard the music I make now back then, I might not have liked it."
Benevento has never allowed genres to constrain him. Some of his other diverse projects include his Led Zeppelin tribute band, Bustle in Your Hedgerow, and Garage à Trois, a funk/punk/jazz group. His collaborative approach is at work again on TigerFace, which features many contributors. About his creative process, Benevento says, "Making my first record, I had more clarified song ideas going into the studio. Now I like to start recording with a few suggestions, and hear my friends' creative input—they have great ideas. I like to keep it open."
This receptivity is part of the reason Traver's vocals work so well on the record; Benevento creates space for each instrument, including voice, to meld and grow into a track. Will he be singing anytime soon? He says, "I've been writing and singing a lot of melodies to see where my own voice goes, and where my body resonates, but that's just privately for now." Let's see where he goes from here.