Frémeaux & Associés/Socadisc CD

New release.

Americans would probably, and deservedly, qualify Marc Benham as a versatile musician, to the extent that different styles coexist in his playing, from James P. Johnson and Fats Waller’s stride to Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea’s styles, with harmonic influences from Claude Debussy and Eric Satie. An unlikely melting pot. But, what could be a more or less deft copying, a collage both incongruous and random, assumes such unity under his fingers that his language gains an undeniable originality, and also a perfect fluidity. Such is this pianist’s talent who mixes, within the same tune, (the most) different moods, suggests alternately joy and melancholia, meditation and enthusiasm. So are his compositions and his free improvisation entitled heure perdue, developed in three parts. So are the timeless standards, Just You, Just Me, Tea For Two, Monk’s Think of One and Duke Ellington’s Angelica, too rarely played.  There is something of Martial Solal about him, regarding the virtuosity and the fancy. Also regarding how the whole history of the instrument is mastered, without dwelling at length on it, using hints and understatements. Is it needed to add that Marc Benham has a technique acquired through classical piano study? It would not be enough to tell him apart from many of his fellows if he did not combine it with a firm and fine touch, a melodic creativity and a sense of nuances and dynamics that keep the audience in suspense. Doubtlessly, this inspired funambulist, together light and profound, signs here a most promising record. Doubtlessly, we will hear about him again.


Marc Benham (solo piano). Le Pré Saint-Gervais, November 2011 and July 2012. 



Marc Benham, between Harlem Stride Piano and Modern jazz


Although an example at spanning two remote styles (1920’s Stride and first draft Jazz-Rock), the Parisian pianist Marc Benham is above all devoted to the idea of emulation. His father is a Dixieland saxophonist. His brother is a Jazz-Rock lover. How can this child from the North of Paris remain indifferent to these two styles opposed in the century, but both characterized by instrumental virtuosity?  Marc Benham, born in 1980, did not let himself be torn apart.  While studying at the local conservatory of music, he plays at 14 in his father’s band, and at home, he transcribes Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea’s solos from his brother’s vinyl records. He discovers Harlem Stride soloists, Donald Lambert’s vertiginous accelerations, James P. Johnson’s crazy songs. It is a revelation. The Parisian will never get over it: “I was dazzled by the players’ independence and the richness of style”. At 18, he gets a torrent of gigs. Benham keeps on studying Baroque (Bach) and the Romantics (Schuman, Chopin), but immerses himself in Keith Jarett’s parts, influenced by classical music, but who “could swing extraordinarily well”. He marvels at the unique musical universe and approach of Thelonious Monk, also infatuated with stride, and performs his “Think of One”.

His lucky break: he is introduced by a friend to the pianist Bernard Maury, the eminent founder of the Bill Evans Academy in Paris. He attends the school of the rue des Amandiers, he becomes an adept. He changes his views on music.

Oddly, Benham does not attempt to copy Evans’ knack, like most of his contemporaries do… “even though I adopted his voicings”. Bill Evans’ spirit can be found in the composition idée de Buenos Aires, from the great Herbst, his first record, hailed by Martial Solal, reviewed here last month. Why a penguin on the cover of the CD? “Because the piano player fades behind his stage costume to put on the show. He surrenders everything to the audience, starting with the promise not to get bored.” Why Herbst? Because it means Fall in German. The season between summer and winter evokes the leap between two worlds and summarizes his style well. Miles had already used the word in English for the title of a tune (Fall)… Benham naturally looked for his Viennese grand-mother vocabulary. Miles, another expert at straddling styles… he is right. If one vibrates, why freeze?


Here is the kind of pianist we like, nurtured by James P. Johnson’s tonic stride tradition, Martial Solal’s acrobatic research and Thelonious Monk’s advances (“Think Of One”).

There is the implicit melodic sense of Duke Ellington, whose “Angelica” is convincingly performed by Benham.

Attention is captured by the Frenchman’s playing, his invention, the limpidity of his touch, the evidence of his phrasing and his opening on exploration fields.