Marco Benevento and Friends / Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Los Angeles, CA
February 11, 2009
Words by Joy Rosenberg
When Marco Benevento took the stage at Largo, he shook his head in dismay at the brown bottle he held in his hand.
“I’m sorry I have a beer and you don’t,” he said to the people in the theatre seats before him.
For many years, Largo was a supper club on busy Fairfax Avenue, just a few blocks south of Melrose. Despite its proximity to the Sunset strip, Largo came to be known as the antithesis of the Hollywood scene, where great musicians could try new material with a small but appreciative audience as the latter ate dinner and enjoyed rounds of drinks.
But Largo has moved. It’s only a few city blocks west from the original location, but the biggest change is its format. The club now resides within the Coronet Theatre, a 280-seater with padded velour seats, an aging stage, burgundy velvet curtains, the works—but no food or drinks are allowed inside the theatre. In fact, the only libations available are water, tea, and coffee as the establishment awaits its liquor license.
That, of course, didn’t stop Marco Benevento from bringing his beer on stage, but it certainly was a change to be able to listen to an evening of unadulterated music appreciation without the distractions of two-drink minimums or settling the tabs.
Jazz-jam revolution vanguards Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey opened the evening with a set to support their new album, Winterwood, and were decked out in suits that matched the relaxed but respectable vibe of the venue. From behind two keyboards and a piano Brian Haas conducted the quartet, which consists of Josh Raymer on drums, Matt Hayes on upright bass, and Chris Combs on pedal steel. Haas resembled a crazed muppet at the controls, playing storyteller between songs to relate the inspirations behind them, ranging from the “loss of my two Chihuahuas in a divorce,” to Dr. Dre and Beethoven. He dedicated “Country Girl” to his “favorite type of woman.”
“There’s just something magical about them,” he said, to a peal of laughter from the audience.
Jacob Fred’s sound is rooted in classic jazz but ascends every so often into a cartoon realm—think The Muensters crossed with Danger Mouse. They pay homage to the greats (Thelonious Monk, for one), but push the genre to its limit, into twisted, danceable grooves.
At the end of their set, Haas called offstage. “I’d like to introduce a friend, who is approaching the stage right now with a vigor that can only be attributed to a fellow Okie…a man I love almost more than life itself.” On walks Skerik, in a brown hooded sweatshirt and his saxophone
Skerik’s talent, which he showed with JFJO and more during Benevento’s set, is not in his ability to play the notes that are there, but to create sounds that previously did not exist anywhere in the universe. He emits sounds specific to each moment, jerking his body spasmodically to squeeze out high-pitched squeals or low groans emerging from beautiful stylistic flows only to scream into the horn like a deranged madman. Somehow, it all seems to work.
Benevento opened his set with a piano solo, a lilting and transporting Beck cover. No sooner had he turned up the distortions, was he joined onstage by Skerik and drummers Calvin Weston and Billy Martin for a steaming jazz meltdown.
Marco is an unassuming performer who played as if he were supporting everyone else in the band, yet his mastery was apparent as he supplied the underlying melodies with random, outside sounds to complement Skerik’s furious eruptions and weird phrases.
Baby elephants, screaming for their mothers?
Westin and Martin are skilled percussionists, who added doses of tambourine, shekere, beat box, and a kazoo to the madness being traded up front. The night ended with an offbeat cover of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There.”
It was a treat to be able to sit back in a dark theatre with no distractions and digest the meatiness that emerged from both bands on Largo’s stage. Jazz, especially in the tradition of twists and turns as bizzaro as these, provided a place to hang out for a while and truly enjoy the moment.
And being able to relax in a padded velour seat sure helped.