Dueling piano men: Marco Benevento and John Medeski


Marco Benevento plays at U Street Music Hall Thursday. (Neal Casal)

Experimental piano players Marco Benevento and John Medeski are jazz-trained fixtures of the jam-band scene who happen to be playing shows locally Thursday. Both have found success with bands that bear their name: respectively, the Benevento/Russo Duo and Medeski Martin & Wood. On occasion, the pianists have even shared a stage. Since both are playing gigs Thursday using their names — Benevento at U Street Music Hall with his trio, Medeski solo in The Barns at Wolf Trap — it seemed appropriate to look at how the two stack up.

Marco Benevento

Sounds like: Mostly, instrumental jazz as performed by someone raised on rock ’n’ roll. When distorted, Benevento’s keys can replicate the sound of electric guitars. He’s also known to cover rock songs: 2009’s “Me Not Me” features takes on My Morning Jacket (“Golden”) and The Knife (“Heartbeats”). But his music spans genres: His songs sound like video games (“Atari”), electronica (“Limbs of a Pine”) and straightforward jazz (“Record Book”).

Backstory: Benevento’s career took of when he joined forces with drummer and old junior high friend Joe Russo — whom he ran into at a Medeski, Martin & Wood show in 2001 — as the Benevento/Russo Duo. Since 2007, he’s been going it solo and has released four studio albums and a live LP.

Key collaborations: There are many, including with two members of Phish. He also played keyboards on A.C. Newman’s third solo album, “Shut Down the Streets.” He moonlights as a member of electro-folk act Surprise Me Mr. Davis and the ever-evolving funk-rock group Garage A Trois (in which Medeski has also played).

If you go: You’ll see him with a trio — a drummer and bassist — playing originals and covers that you can dance (or rock out) to.

Show details: U Street Music Hall, 1115 U St. NW; Thu., 6:30 p.m., $15; 202-588-1880. (U Street)


Piano player John Medeski plays Wolf Trap solo Thursday. (Michael Bloom)

John Medeski

Sounds like: In Medeski Martin & Wood, the piano and organ player works with drummer Billy Martin and bass player Chris Wood to perform open-ended, groove-based jazz compositions that are ripe for improvising. In other words, it’s jazz made for dancing. By himself, Medeski can be much more meditative and subdued, like on his first solo album, this year’s “A Different Time.” In other words, it’s not made for dancing.

Backstory: Medeski performed with jazz composer Jaco Pastorius as a teenager. In 1991, he formed Medeski Martin & Wood. Best known for that group’s combination of funk and jazz fusion, Medeski has flexed his more avant-garde muscles with saxophonist John Zorn.

Key collaborations: No stranger to sit-ins, Medeski toured as a member of Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio’s solo band in the early 2000s and has joined Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s band on occasion. Somewhat paradoxically, Medeski — along with Martin and Wood — appeared on Iggy Pop’s 1999 album “Avenue B.”

If you go: You’ll see one of his rare solo piano concerts, which is a more intimate, meditative experience than an MMW show.

Show details: The Barns at Wolf Trap, 1635 Trap Road, Vienna; Thu., 8 p.m., $25; 703-255-1868.

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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