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Evening Becomes Eclectic

Jason Bentley’s Apogee Sessions offer an alternative showcase to mix and mingle

Back in September at KCRW’s Apogee Sessions featuring Jim James, a mini mutual-admiration society was playing out between the My Morning Jacket frontman and host Jason Bentley. “I love you man,” Bentley said. “I love you,” responded James. “Well, I discovered you as a spiritual warrior,” replied Bentley. “And it’s true.”

Bentley then went on to reminisce warmly about seeing James perform in Austin, Texas, on the last night of South by Southwest in March and the spontaneous dance party they both attended at Sonos House afterward. “And I walked home that night on air,” said the KCRW music director and host of “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” as if re-experiencing the reverie.

It was a telling moment, underscoring how Bentley’s passion for the artists he promotes can be infectious, allowing his subjects to not only drop their guard, but open up to him in uncharacteristic ways. It also illustrates how hard Bentley works to keep abreast of new music — not easy to do when being bombarded nonstop by publicists, managers and talent.

To the outsider, being a tastemaker might seem like a cake job, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to sift through all the noise out there. Bentley, though, doesn’t seem to mind. He exhibits the same enthusiasm about the latest sensation that most people felt when they attended their first concert.

“I think it’s just that I’m still such a fan,” Bentley says. “I’m following labels and producers and some people’s tweets or music blogs. I still approach it the same way I did when I was a voracious 16-year-old music mind, rummaging through record bins. And that’s something that’s hard to explain to an artist, because they say, ‘Oh, how can I get you new music?’ And I’m like, ‘Just do great things and I’ll find you.’ I don’t want you to chase me. I want it to have that magic.”

The James concert and interview represented the 37th edition of the Apogee Sessions, recorded at the eponymous studio in Santa Monica and eventually aired on KCRW, as opposed to the live studio appearances normally heard on “Morning Becomes Eclectic” from the station’s basement studio on the campus of Santa Monica College.

These are coveted, invite-only, weeknight events that accommodate an intimate 175 guests. It’s all very civilized, with craft brews from Father’s Office and select pours from the Bodega Wine Bar. And it’s usually all over by around 9:15., so that many of the industryites on hand don’t feel held hostage by yet another late night in an endless series of nocturnal commitments.

The roster of guests to date is notable, to say the least, including Patti Smith, Nick Cave, KT Tunstall, Vampire Weekend and Janelle Monae, to name a few. All the shows are eventually available for viewing online. For fans of these artists, it’s a chance to not only see them perform in an intimate setting — legendary producer and mixer Bob Clearmountain, who provides his services pro bono as does the studio, mans the control board — but also hear them expound on the creative process.

Bentley is flexible with the format, mixing and matching to suit the various personalities on hand. “With Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, we played off of their folksy persona,” he says, “so we had everyone sit down and we had the interview in the middle of the room. And it played to their aesthetic.”

Everything’s so comfy and casual that even Clearmountain doesn’t mind people crowding into the control booth, where he fiddles with the dials on a vintage Neve console, the original board from the Power Station studio in New York (now Avatar) on which such albums as Springsteen’s “The River” and Bowie’s “Scary Monsters” were mastered.

“It adds to the vibe for me,” says the man who just wrapped work on the Stones documentary “Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live.” “In fact there was one show when for some reason no one came in the control room and it felt really odd. I like to have people in there because I feel like I’m part of the show that way, with the audience, which is nice.”

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