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Published: 2008/02/24
by Jesse Jarnow

Invisible Baby – Marco Benevento

Hyena Records

In the still quaint confines of the post-jamband world, Marco Benevento's embrace of circuit-bent technology — as flirting and fleeting as it is — reverberates broadly. Playing modified children's toys on his solo studio debut, Invisible Baby, Benevento shows why cheap chips are the new vintage analog, triggering nostalgia while adding a new tone to the improv world’s palette. Employing the vibe (if not the instruments themselves) most prominently on "Atari" and the nearly perfect "Real Morning Party," Benevento continues from his work with Duo partner Joe Russo to stretch his hippie-jazz bonafides towards the indie set. And, while Invisible Baby is a great album, that’s not exactly why.

Instead, it gives the disc its place in a continuum of contemporary studio jazz experiments, including Medeski, Martin, and Wood's The Dropper, Critters Buggin’s Eyvand Kang-abetted Stampede, and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s forthcoming Lil Tae Rides Again. It is not a coincidence that Benevento’s Baby trio includes members of the latter two outfits in Jacob Fred bassist Reed Mathis and Critters drummer Matt Chamberlain. Occasionally, Benevento allows his new instruments to inform structure, such as the fade between the illbient intro of "If You Keep On Asking Me" and its subliminally rolling groove, but mostly he uses the sounds as a way of provoking new melodic associations, both in the songs themselves and in the ears of the listener. The circuitry is just playful window dressing.

Invisible Baby resonates primarily because of solid songs and solid players. Gliding on a banjo hook and a Mellotron loop — which, like most of the album’s novelties, disappear after the tune’s first 30 seconds — the opening "Bus Ride" moves with Chamberlain’s assured beat, despite the noise that threatens to overwhelm it. Side by side with the sweeping pomo dramatics of the disc closing "Are You The Favorite Person of Anybody?" (named for a Miranda July short film) are perfectly sweet, totally straight ballads like "You Must Be A Lion," "Ruby," and "Record Book." Combined, it’s the big noises and intimate reprisals that define Invisible Baby, which is as modest as its name. In that sense, Benevento succeeded at making an indie record after all, unassuming music one can hang with without compromise.

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