Fricke's Picks: Marco Benevento

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Marco Benevento was barely into his first set at New York's Sullivan Hall on a recent night when, after hitting a few wandering notes on his piano, he punched a button on one of his "circuit bent toys" — a customized armada of effects pedals — drenching the ivory in fuzz for a power-jazz assault on Deerhoof's "Twin Killers." Over the four sets I saw during Benevento's January residency at the club (with different rhythm sections each week), he also tackled Led Zeppelin's "What Is and What Should Never Be," "Golden," by My Morning Jacket, and the stately ascension of Pink Floyd's "Fearless." Those are brutal things to do to a baby grand. But Benevento, also in jam-scene stars the Benevento-Russo Duo with drummer Joe Russo, often hammers his keyboards like John Bonham and writes like a guitarist. On Invisible Baby (Hyena), with bassist Reed Mathis and drummers Andrew Barr and Matt Chamberlain, Benevento sculpts his pieces with playful weirdness too (the insect-dance hook of "The Real Morning Party") and addresses the melodies and spaces in "Ruby" and "You Must Be a Lion" with heated grace. He can go long and wild: In one jam at Sullivan Hall, he swung between rude-synth fun and high-speed piano breaks as if he were both Keith Emerson and McCoy Tyner. Last year's three-CD set, Live at Tonic, is more of that, with Benevento solo, in duos and groups, and having big fun the whole time.