The Benevento-Russo Duo - Best Reason to Buy the Sun CD

The debate over who brought guitar distortion to popular music will probably never die, but no one can argue against its impact. Aside from Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, nothing has shaped rock and roll like the noise created by a simple tear in a conical piece of fabric. Only time will tell what distortion will do for the Hammond B3 organ. What started as a one-man roller rink soundtrack has evolved into one of the most distinctive sounds in the jazz universe and has stretched the genre as much in the last ten years as any single musician.
The Benevento-Russo Duo's affinity for the B3 make them easy to classify as jazz, but organist Marco Benevento and drummer Joe Russo exist far beyond jazz's smoky speakeasies and dad's Sunday afternoon naps. While their latest, Best Reason to Buy the Sun, is as warm as the first sip of Scotch and as adventurous as Kerouac's late night bar excursions, it lives far above the world at our feet. Melodies pour and shine from an open sky as the duo's individual flights breathe winds both subtle and strong to steer its course.

The bluesy organ on "Bronko's Blues" justifies the simplistic jazz assessment, but even the jazz tunes are too amorphous to fit so neatly. Spacious, mournful drums on "Vortex" leave plenty of room for Benevento's ringing organ, but it's the piano that tips the box, letting the song's gorgeous melodies spill out and fill the room. Guest guitarist Smoky Hormel's "The Three Questions" only gets darker as Benevento's left hand carries the torch further down the basement steps. When the band finally sets foot on solid ground, a thousand mysteries scurry in the darkness as Hormel's guitar whispers the final paranoid warnings before Skerik and Benevento begin ripping flesh from the body.

"Becky" and "Scratchitti" are similarly maniacal--the former mixing ping-pong dissonance with Russo's digital hiccups while the latter rides the kick drum on an ascending melody before finally settling into a jazz metal orbit--but what sets the Duo apart from their instrumental brethren is their focus on simple pop melodies.

A ones-and-zeroes beat contrasts Benevento's organ-ic foundation on "Welcome Red," and when funnel clouds start forming in the overcast sky, they pick up the pieces until Russo's electrobeat lays them gently down again to flutter in the breeze. The organ riff of "9X9" circles like fireflies over Russo's shuffling riversong, and day breaks on a single cloud drifting triumphantly through crystal blue skies on "Sunny's Song." On "My Pet Goat," Russo's pixelated finger snaps dance beneath a simple melody that smiles despite the rainy day, but Benevento saves his most beautiful moment for the encore. After a short silence, he abandons the organ for a piano lullaby that outshines its silver screen backdrop.

This duo's place in the lexicon has yet to be determined, but their efforts merit note. While jazz references will stand alongside Sonic Youth comparisons, all the noise and distortion remain bells and whistles for a solid foundation of beautiful, soaring melodies that can open wide and swallow an entire room. Noise rock never sounded so soft, and jazz never sounded so big.

- by Brian Gearing