Marco Benevento: Invisible Baby & Live at Tonic
Armed with an arsenal including a grand piano and a myriad of vintage synthesizers (not to mention just plain old children's toys), keyboard virtuoso Marco Benevento emerged in the last few years as one of the shining stars of the ˜post-apocalyptic' jamband landscape. One might struggle to recognize the landscape in question since its triumvirate of heavy-hitters (Phish, Widespread Panic and the String Cheese Incident) is pretty much non-existent.
Enter Benevento, who made a name for himself in the jamband scene via his affiliation with Phish members Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon, who a couple of years ago toured extensively with Benevento's regular group, the Benevento-Russo duo. The keyboardist just wrapped up a month-long engagement at New York's Sullivan Hall in the West Village, a run that concluded with a performance celebrating the release of his new album Invisible Baby, which features bassist Reed Mathis (Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) and veteran drummer Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos), as well as a few tracks with drummer Andrew Barr, formerly of The Slip.
Invisible Baby showcases eight Benevento compositions, most of which are rooted in the leader's talent on the piano; Benevento is, without question, a gifted musician. His technical ability is apparent throughout; however it is his inclination to experiment with his sack of "toys" that paints him as much more than a typical pianist. Benevento loves to support his piano playing with a mixture of electronic ambience and at times just plain noise, which pushes the music beyond the threshold of 'mainstream', but without becoming totally inaccessible to the casual listener.
This is best illustrated on the album's signature track, "The Real Morning Party," which could be considered as a sort of theme song for the typical 21st century anime beach party. It's completely infectious and has a very strong chance of turning up in popular culture, given an advertising agency is smart enough to use it in a commercial.
Benevento's Jan. 31st performance at Sullivan Hall captured the spirit of the album and then some, courtesy of the improvisational instincts of the leader and his fellow musicians Invisible Baby alums Mathis and Barr. The gig saw renditions of all of the songs featured on the album, notably the soulful opener "Bus Ride," which also opens the album. The trio had no interest in sticking to the studio lengths of the songs, as improvisation was abound all night, much to the delight of the diverse and enthusiastic crowd.
The material from the new album was supported by an eclectic program of instrumental covers of popular songs, such as My Morning Jacket's "Golden" and Pink Floyd's "Fearless," which evolved into an intense 15-minute-plus sonic exploration.
If it's 15-minute-plus sonic-explorations that you're interested in, then look no further than Ropeadope's Benevento release Live at Tonic; a sprawling, three-disc odyssey documenting the musician's month-long stand at another New York venue: the now-closed Tonic. The album finds Benevento in various personnel combos, ranging from solo numbers to highly complex quartet pieces. Most of the included tracks are Benevento originals, some of which appear on Invisible Baby, such as "The Arrival of Greatness," which exists on Baby as "Ruby."
As with the Sullivan Hall gig, Live at Tonic shines brightest when Benevento explores a number of covers that seem to come out of nowhere, such as the big band favorites "Moonglow" and "Sing, Sing, Sing" and an epic rendition of Carly Simon's James Bond theme "Nobody Does It Better."
Straight-ahead jazz fans that come into possession of this release will appreciate a slightly modal solo rendition of Monk's "Bye Ya," which begs for Benevento to consider a long run at Dizzy's Club or the Village Vanguard.
The most curious instance on the album arrives in the form of "Elmer's Tune," the ancient Tin Pan Alley ditty performed here by Benevento and the eccentric Phish bassist Mike Gordon, who supplies the vocals. Place this track next to one of Benevento's longer, atonal explorations featuring nothing but percussion and you'll soon realize the extent of his potential to continue as one of the leading pioneers of what's left of the ˜jamband scene'.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Bus Ride; Record Book; Atari; The Real Morning Party; You Must Be A Lion; If You Keep Asking Me; Ruby; Are You The Favorite Person Of Anybody?
Personnel: Marco Benevento: piano, mellotron, circuit bent toys, keyboards; Reed Mathis: bass; Matt Chamberlain: drums; Andrew Barr: drums.
Live at Tonic
Tracks: Clouds; Record Book; Fearless; The Arrival of Greatness; Sabbath; The Night Before October; Carnival of Souls; Prestidigitation; Moonglow; Peppermint Hippo; We're Using Time For Fun; Seems So Long Ago Nancy; You Must Be A Lion; Intro; Nobody Does It Better; Executive Session; Elmer's Tune; Bye Ya; The Weathermen; Diego Garcia; Church of God Victory; Teardrop Tea; Birthday Boy.
Personnel: Marco Benevento; Mike Gordon; Reed Mathis; Matt Chamberlain; Joe Russo, Bobby Previte; Mike Dillon; Dave Dreiwitz; Claude Coleman; Steven Bernstein.