Marco Benevento, of the Benevento/Russo Duo, has been frequently compared to keyboardist John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood, much like the Duo has been compared to Medeski’s trio. However experimental Medeski’s sounds are he gravitates towards soul jazz, blues, and funk most regularly. But unlike Medeski, Benevento, on his debut studio album Invisible Baby, indulges the listener in a wide sonic spectrum, from electro-indie-pop to ballads Billy Joel could sing his heart out to, at once distinguishing himself from the revered player and emphasizing the dexterity that has helped his group earn respect and admiration from the most eminent of jam band royalty, Mike Gordon and Trey Anastasio.
It was while on tour with Anastasio in 2006 that Benevento began seriously writing and recording for a solo project that first led to his recording of a live album that fall — Live at Tonic — and concluded with this studio release. Several pieces from Invisible Baby can be found on that live recording under misnomers and performed with mostly different personnel, though Anastasio’s partner in crime, Gordon, is featured.
Continuing with the jam band incest Anastasio, in fact, composed the banjo line in Benevento’s opening track, “Bus Ride”. Displacing its seminal genial sound is Reed Mathis (of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) and his thunderously distorted bass, echoing the industrial sound of Benevento’s (bio)diesel tour bus, and pounding acoustic piano chords. The cyclical sounds of the banjo, Mathis’ bass, and the opening keyboard line suggest the tediousness of touring, but the celestial acoustic piano chords and streaming runs mitigate such misgivings.
It takes the first third of the second track, “Record Book”, before the comforting melody of major piano chords establishes itself from the mélange of desolate, somewhat ominous sounds. Unlike his work with the Duo, here, and throughout the album, Benevento’s main voice is acoustic piano. Employed effectively, it provides greater emotional depth and articulation to his work, especially when highlighted against numerous effects and electronics. Texturally diverse playing by drummer Andrew Barr also adds to the track’s emotional consistency.
Surprisingly, “Atari” is not the most electronic-infused track on the album. Though the perpetuity of its drums and accompanying racing pulse recollect reaching stratospheric levels in Tetris, “The Real Morning Party” is in fact the reigning electro-indie-pop tune. Sounding like the ultimate accompaniment to the penultimate Super Mario Brothers speed record, the track hurls pixilated fireballs, collects ringing golden coins, and propels ebullient Mario to rescue Princess Toadstool with even enough time for a percussion breakdown.
Marco Benevento – The Real Morning Party
An equally plausible application would be to throw in some apathy, a dose of whiny anti-establishment lyrics, grab some dilapidated black Chucks and skinny jeans and call it indie-pop rock. But the song’s youthful exuberance is appealing and highlights the multifaceted ideas that continually flow through Benevento.
Like “Record Book”, “You Must Be a Lion” exudes lust and heartache, its minor-tinged, blithe major chords producing a melancholy yet burdened tone, not unlike the Beatles’ “Martha My Dear”.
Going forward there are more Beatles similarities, however they concern texture. In the intro and ending to Benevento’s most dissonant and psychedelic track, “If You Keep on Asking Me”, he emulates the Beatles’ then experimental Mellotron and tape loops from “Tomorrow Never Knows” by utilizing his arsenal of circuit bent toys and keyboards and large, old spring reverbs culminating in a vivid musique concrète. Benevento likens the resulting song to “being slightly annoyed, and focused at the same time”.
“Ruby” is the album’s redemption song acting as a harbinger of the album’s imminent resolve. Named after Benevento’s daughter, the piece emulates the sensation of a child falling asleep in its parent’s arms. The paternal feeling came to Benevento in a dream before her birth and serves as an emotional oasis for him after. Like other tracks, this piece prominently features circuit bent instruments and, more appropriately, toys during the introduction before dissolving behind the soothing piano and gentle ride cymbal.
As Benevento’s favorite track on the album, “Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?” embodies the range of textures and sounds permeating the album. The piece, Benevento’s best effort at fusing his ornamental electronic sounds with his powerful acoustic playing, begins like tepid water in a tea kettle, ambiguous and diffused with indolent energy, but quickly boils and then explodes with steam, unleashing the piece. Much like the music of Radiohead, the track intensifies and manifests, then broils with energy and feeling, and finally exhausting itself, diminishes into the haze from which it rose. Embellishing the song’s epic arc equally is Matt Chamberlain’s drumming and dynamics and Benevento’s arpeggiating chords and syncopations.