[JPL] Ben Monder Review...NYTimes

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 21 17:42:34 EST 2005

  Ben Monder
"Oceana" (Sunnyside)
  It's best to set a block of time aside for "Oceana," the new record by the guitarist Ben Monder; listening to it in pieces won't do. Mr. Monder is a terror on his instrument, and it's a musician's album, if you're into that sort of thing. But this is an extended work, balancing album-length composition with smaller, harder études, writing against improvisation, and solo guitar against group interplay. It's got seven separate tracks, but it really exists in a 70-minute unit.
  For the last dozen years, Mr. Monder has been a sideman in New York jazz circles, with Maria Schneider's orchestra, among others. "Oceana," however, isn't really a jazz record, although it could only have been made by a jazz musician: there's its free-thinking attitude, its obsession with harmony and technique, the clean tone and heavy reverb of the guitar. 
  On other people's stages, Mr. Monder does what the situation requires, from bebop to free-improvised crackling noise. But here his sound is terrifically concentrated: he metes it out in rapid, fingerpicked puzzles with an independent thumb. (He seems to envelop the instrument, moving through wide pitch ranges and extended harmony in gliding phrases.) In some places, there are floating, repeated figures with Theo Bleckmann singing wordless vocals. Pat Metheny fans will recognize some of the guitar technique and the sweep of the ambition, though Mr. Monder is geared toward slower, thornier revelation.
  Mr. Monder takes composition seriously, more than most in his world. Two solo pieces, "Still Motion" and "Double Sun," alternate between single arpeggiated chords and fast chordal movement, tracing larger areas of harmony as they progress. Recurring motifs bind the record together, culminating in the full-band, distortion-drenched "Rooms of Light," which also contains the album's only breakaway guitar solo. (For a jazz guitarist to limit himself to one solo on a 60-minute record is the purest fastidiousness, but it is part of a concept.) And the final "Spectre," with a row of intervals moving softly and slowly for eight minutes under Mr. Bleckmann's long tones, gets into Morton Feldman's territory; it's like walking slowly through a series of clouds. BEN RATLIFF

Roy Durfee
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Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
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