There are two main influences easily discernible in the music of the Benevento/Russo (BR) Duo. The first comes from the opening up of time patterns and metrical relationships within those time patterns as developed by Brad Mehldau from the Ahmad Jamal jazz lineage. Benevento/Russo clearly take Mehldau’s influence and turn it around so that they aren’t concerned with time as a linear abstraction, but more as how the abstraction plays out over time. The other main influence comes from jam-bands such as Phish. Taking one and two-chord patterns which are traversed over extended jams the BR Duo consciously work in areas of deep minimalist repetition. In putting these two influences together the BR Duo have created a fresh new sound and musical esthetic.
As to whether what they’ve come up with is jazz is another question. The inclusion of improvisation is in of itself not a determining factor as to whether music is jazz. Jimi Hendrix certainly was a master of improvisation, but there are few who would consider his jams jazz. Similarly, making music which is solely instrumental is not in of itself a determining factor in jazz. When Bruce Hornsby or The Ben Folds Five perform instrumental music there are few who would classify it as jazz.
What the BR Duo do create is a whole new sound of instrumental music that is from their own muse, derived from the influences listed above and filtered through groups of similar instrumentation such Medeski, Martin and Wood, The Bad Plus and the Esbjorn Svennson Trio. BR Duo music is exciting, mostly electric and rooted in groove.
The group is at their best when they relax and let lines flow in their own manner. Tunes such as Sunny’s Song and The Three Question Marks really show the ensemble has the ability to move music forward without having to resort to musical hooks. Being a group of the here and now they are extremely creative with their use of electronics and synthesized sounds. Not afraid to blow the walls down with these sounds, they do sometimes, however, let distortion overpower the strength of their compositional abilities. In the end this hurts tunes like Becky. It also hurts to some extent, though in lesser degree, Welcome Red. Here tasteful electronics add to and refreshingly color the repeated groove lines and the distortion is more of a function of dynamics than done for the sake of distortion itself.
But then again, this isn’t really jazz - it’s hot electric rock with jazz influences. Approaching the group from their own unique standpoint the music is successful and exultant in it’s own way, if somewhat repetitious. For those with open ears this music is worth checking out.