Tucked into a backstreet in the eastern part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. is a remarkable, near-magical place: a studio, complete with a live room bathed in natural light, staffed by true believers in the power of records. Ivakota hasn’t been open for long, but it’s already attracted some of the best musicians on the Eastern seaboard, all anxious to avail themselves of the state-of-the-art equipment and the deeply creative vibe. In short, Ivakota was made for a band like Bencoolen, a D.C. combo with a distinctive funk-soul sound, instrumental and vocal talent to burn, and a will to lock into a groove and stretch out. Bencoolen filmed the video for “Beautiful Escape,” their latest single, on the floor at Ivakota, and it’s an understatement to say that these five musicians seem right at home. They look like they were born to be there.
In a way, they were. While Bencoolen’s music will feel pleasantly familiar to anybody who loves ’70s and ’80s rock and soul, the band is an extreme outlier. There’s nobody in this act who is just filling space, or hanging in the background, or making room for a singer or soloist to shine. In Bencoolen, everybody contributes, all the time. Drop the (digital) needle on one of their records, and you’ll hear drums, guitar, bass, and saxophone – all interlocking, swinging, calling and responding, each instrument responding to what the others are doing, making their presences felt, generating sparks, exhibiting constant creativity. The combo has reminded D.C. of the unparalleled excitement of live music: their concerts have become must-see events, and the coverage in the local press has been celebratory. Naturally, Bencoolen has taken the show on the road, to show the rest of America what the Capitol District already knows.
No video could ever do justice to the explosive quality of Bencoolen’s live performances or the profound artistic connection that these five musicians share. But their fresh take Tom Misch’s “Beautiful Escape” comes close. Part of the credit for that must go to Ivakota, which is a beautiful place to visit for three red-hot, soulful minutes. Part of the credit goes to noted DC videographer, Carter Louthian. But mostly it’s the musicians themselves, whose passion, concentration, and belief in themselves are apparent in every frame.