By Jeff Potter | Published April 2020
While studying classical music at an early age, French pianist Marc Benham was seduced by the sounds of early New Orleans jazz and stride piano. But after graduating from the Bill Evans Piano Academy in Paris—where he now teaches—he merged jazz and electronica in his band, Llorca.
Benham earned praise from the European press with his solo piano releases, Herbst (2013) and Fats Food: Autour De Fats Waller (2016), the latter featuring interpretations of the pioneering pianist’s work. As dazzling as those discs might be, Biotope brings out the best in Benham’s playing, in part due to his ensemble: bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson.
The set mixes inventive interpretations of standards, interspersed with the pianist’s engaging originals. Benham’s laser-articulated playing brims with left turns on a shifting canvas drawn from swing, bop, stride, classical and even a brief salting of funk. Benham dives headlong into “Airegin” and “Con Alma,” but many of the most rewarding and inventive moments occur on restrained numbers, including the impressionist-tinged “Moonlight In Vermont.” Similarly, the pianist’s pensive nocturne “Year Of The Monkey” is both beautiful and eerily unsettling.
A vital voice from across the pond.
Biotope: Pablo; Airegin; La Suite De Fibonacci; Con Alma; Moonlight In Vermont; Jitterbug Waltz; Year Of The Monkey; On The Street Where You Live; Mood Indigo; Samurai Sauce. (48:28)
Personnel: Marc Benham, piano; John Hébert, bass; Eric McPherson, drums.