Royal Potato Family

In the ’70s, Sly Stone was an unlikely but prominent influence on jazz. Since the late ’90s, Radiohead has taken the same position. It may be because they are one of the few recent popular bands with enough going on in the music department to keep instrumentalists going. As well, Brad Mehldau, one of the most prominent modern improvisers, has a strain of icy romanticism similar to what appears in many Radiohead songs.

Marco Benevento has mentioned being influenced by Mehldau’s occasional rock-tinged, Jon Brion-produced CDs, so it’s fitting that his new CD brings Radiohead to mind at times. However, Between the Needles and Nightfall is a different affair from what Mehldau would offer. Benevento’s main goal seems to be sonic saturation – almost every cut has a thick wall of distorted pianos, clamorous drums from Andrew Barr and deep, dubwise tones from ex-Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey bassist Reed Mathis.

Between the Needles is more a rock-like aural experience than a jazz-style document of improvisation. However, tastes in aural experience are subjective. For this listener, the several ballads are attractive (the mix of earnestness and mild eccentricity brings to mind not just Radiohead but latter-day John Lennon), but not enough to compensate for the lack of lyrics. The uptempo numbers get across more easily – the cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” relates to Ramsey Lewis’s “The In-Crowd” roughly the way The Strokes relate to Tom Petty, and “RISD” is catchy, even if it reminds me of the music movie theatres play before the previews start. And the disc ends on a clever note, a surprise I choose not to give away.

Between the Needles doesn’t get Benevento’s vision across with Radiohead-level intensity. However, it does enough to establish the uniqueness of this vision that I’ll be curious what aural experience he has coming next.