The Stone Church is a true gem of the Seacoast music scene. Where else but the historic hilltop building overlooking downtown Newmarket can you stand in the same room as a trio of eclectic, nationally renowned musicians on a Wednesday night and feel like part of the show? The warm atmosphere, cold beer and loud music combine to form an ideal winter shelter, complete with an acoustic intimacy that unites band with audience.
The venue was only filled to about a third of its capacity on March 7, but those in attendance crowded the stage, grooving within arm’s reach of the musicians. Bodies rattled as Mike Dillon’s power drumming pulsed through the amplifiers. Eardrums quivered as Marco Benevento produced ripping schisms of electronic noise on his keyboard. Reed Mathis delivered currents of bass notes that sucked in the crowd like an undertow.
Benevento, Mathis and Dillon each hail from separate nationally touring acts with connections to The Stone Church. Mathis appeared here in the summer of 2005 in his normal role as bassist for The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Benevento has played several gigs in Newmarket with the Benevento-Russo Duo, including a performance with Critters Buggin’. Buggin’s drummer at the time was Dillon, previously of Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade. Dillon also plays in his own band, Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle, which returns to the Church on April 18.
Seeing the three perform together for two dates on March 7 and 8 was an unexpected treat. All three operate on the same jazz wavelength, but they pull in elements of their individual artistic endeavors, culminating in a sound that is difficult to compare to any single band.
The opening act on March 7 featured an equally unique performance by guitarist and Newmarket resident David Tronzo and Club d’Elf bassist Mike Rivard. One of the best-kept secrets on the Seacoast, Tronzo tinkered with jazzy guitar improvisations that left the audience jaw-dropped. He used a variety of unusual slides, including a tin can, a plastic cup and a fluorescent green … thing.
Rivard also utilized a range of instruments, switching between an electric bass, an upright acoustic bass and a three-stringed Moroccan bass called a sintir. Crowd members were especially curious about the sintir, which has a wooden body made from a hollowed log covered with camel skin.
The pair sculpted an alien carnival of tunes, stretching each instrument to the outer limits of sound production. The opening act was more relaxed than the hard jazz madness that followed, yet still managed to set the tone for an evening of experimentation. Rivard returns to the Church with Club d’Elf on March 30.
The Benevento, Mathis, Dillon trio is a garage jazz experiment with unpredictable and highly volatile components. Introducing various chemicals in a single test-tube can have disastrous and explosive results, but in this case the reaction was delightfully incendiary.
The trio opened with a series of experimental blurps on keyboard and bass, anchored by rapid hand drumming. The music gradually gained cohesiveness and the intensity swelled as Dillon took a seat behind his drum set.
eldest of the group, Dillon seemed to dictate the band’s direction with sudden transitions that were at times violent and at times dreamlike. Guided solely by his whims, he assaulted his drums with merciless pounding, spurring Benevento and Mathis to match his instrumental fury. Dillon’s tireless spontaneity, fierce talent and creative energy fueled each tune’s fluid structure, and his younger band mates rose to the challenge with obvious glee.
All three musicians communicated with facial expressions and subtle gestures, challenging one another to produce mind-blowing solos and titillating collaborations. Tickled by each improvised note, they wore ear-to-ear grins and occasionally stuck out their tongues with savage pleasure. At times they simultaneously unraveled, letting loose anarchic crashes of notes like shattering glass.
Sneaking in a familiar strain, Benevento kicked off an obscure Pink Floyd song from the album “Metal.” At other times, Benevento seemed to make noises by accident, then shrug his shoulders and build off the blunder. His playing brought to mind Chick Corea’s electronic fusion efforts with Miles Davis in the early 1970s. Meanwhile, Mathis stepped on a spread of foot pedals to alter the voice of his bass, showing why he’s known as one of the most innovative players in modern jazz.
Although it was a weeknight in the small town of Newmarket, most guests remained until the Church shut its doors at 1 a.m. They came to see a group of relatively obscure musicians create a jungle of sound, and they were not disappointed. But don’t fret if you missed the show—just keep an eye on the calendar. A steady stream of fantastic bands hit the Seacoast every week. Just keep your eyes open.
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