Defying categorization, Best Reason to Buy the Sun, the debut from the Benevento-Russo Duo, strives instead to encapsulate everything: Miles and Monk, Bird and Brad Mehldau, Zeppelin and the Chili Peppers. With proficiency and attention, Benevento-Russo attack the funked-out soul of Maceo Parker, the electro-humanity of the Postal Service and Radiohead, the lush layers of a Beatles studio symphony and the raw force of a White Stripes basement show. Its serene moments evoke a recital-hall performance, but they as easily break the levy with the fury and grandiosity of a stadium rock show.
Marco Benevento (organ, keys) and Joey Russo (drums) start with a jazz base honed in clubs across New York City. From there, it’s upward and outward, seamlessly blending styles and rarely getting carried away. Reconciling their instrumental proficiency with far-reaching appetites, the duo sought out producer Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.), who on Best Reason takes these left-field interests and centers them with precise craft and control.
A jazz album by default, Best Reason often eschews long free-form improvisations for straightforward rock choruses — minus the vocals — creating what Russo calls “songs that almost shouldn’t be instrumental.” Many of them — “Welcome Red,” “Sunny’s Song” — seem to beg for a Robert Plant or Chris Cornell howl over the tempered crashing.
A constant touring schedule and collaborations with some great young jazz pioneers (Marc Ribot, Charlie Hunter) comes through in Benevento’s layered, dexterous lead and wild rhythms; the interplay and loose, hypnotic percussion of “The Three Question Marks” borrow wonderfully from Hunter’s own Duo. Their acute sense of space and climactic build — the acoustic piano middle of “Vortex,” the space-rocking “9×9” — has roots both in Mehldau’s texturing and in the cinematic extravagances of Pink Floyd.
Versed in jazz tradition, the Benevento-Russo Duo understands the core of any good song, in any genre. And it’s with this awareness that they straddle the line, moving from glitchy electro-rock to serene twelve-bar blues, from a familiar acoustic melody to an explosive, distorted Mars Volta-style chorus, ultimately resisting boundaries by forcibly breaking them all down.