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Interviews

Ben Monder: Surprise from Cohesion

By Published: February 6, 2006

When I started thinking about doing a record, it wasnt my intention to have it basically 90% through-composed. It's just kind of what happened.

After twenty years in New York City, guitarist Ben Monder has played with, well, everyone: Paul Motian, Guillermo Klein, Tim Berne, Jack McDuff, Lee Konitz, Maria Schneider, and a plethora of other notables. At the same time, he's been quietly creating some outstanding work as a leader, fronting his own trio and quartet and releasing, to date, four CDs under his own name. The ultimate example of the musician's musician, Monder seems to be almost universally praised and respected by his peers: "you're interviewing Ben? Good—he deserves a lot more attention.

Monder may be too sui generis an artist to get as much attention as he merits—records like Dust (1997, Arabesque) and Excavation (2000, Arabesque) aren't the sorts of swinging, standards-stuffed, guest-star-loaded albums jazz radio programmers adore—but he seems to have turned a significant corner with his remarkable new album Oceana, released near the end of 2005 on Sunnyside Records.

If anything, Monder's music has gotten even more distilled and strange, but Oceana's blend of virtuosity, thematic rigor and outright heaviness impressed a lot of listeners and placed it on a lot of critic's best of 2005 lists. The playing is exceptional throughout, but air-guitarists beware—these are pieces that create indelible and sometimes unnervingly alien sonic worlds and the moods they establish aren't easily dispelled.

"I'm told I'm an interviewer's nightmare, Monder told me as we concluded our interview, but he really isn't. A thoughtful, cautious conversationalist not given to hyperbole or blather, Monder'll tell you anything you need to know—you just have to wait him out and not interrupt. His explanations of how Oceana came to be—and the crises and travails that accompanied its creation—were worth waiting for.

All About Jazz: I really just want to talk about your great new CD Oceana . This is your first album since Excavation, which came out in 2000. I know you're an extremely busy musician, but five years is a long time. What took so long?

Ben Monder: It takes me a long time to write, really. It takes me a long time to write anything. And it also takes me a long time after a record comes out to even start writing again. It didn't really feel that long, you know—I just work on a really long time continuum, I guess. And my busyness as a sideman—though I always feel I could be busier—all that work tends to be a distraction. Although I do end up doing a lot of writing on the road. Airport gates and hotel rooms are some of my favorite places sometimes; somehow I always come up with stuff there. Yeah, the last one came out in 2000, and I probably started writing just a few months after that and finished everything by 2003 or so. But rehearsing the band and performing some of the stuff—just the recording itself took about a year to make. And I didn't have a label; it was the first time I did it without a label funding it. So it took more time to even find a label after that.

AAJ: Those are good reasons. Let's talk about the personnel before we get into the individual songs on the record. This is your first CD with Ted Poor on drums; the drummer on your other three records was Jim Black. I don't actually have a preference between these two—I like each of them a lot. Do you think Poor brings something different here?

BM: He does have a different sound. I think he has kind of a different feel, like for the one rock tune.

AAJ: "Rooms of Light?

BM: Yeah. It's hard to say, but it sounds like he's played more actual rock music; it seems like he has roots in that kind of music. And the sound of his drums is different—I think he tunes them lower. I like that, especially for that one tune. I love Jim, and if he weren't so busy, I'd still be using him. But I can't think of anyone that would do a better job with that music than Ted at this point.

AAJ: There are two different bassists on this CD. There are two songs with Kermit Driscoll on, respectively, acoustic and electric bass. He's on a bunch of my favorite records from 2005. Then there's Skuli Sverrisson, who's on your last record as well, and he's just playing electric. The tunes they play on are somewhat different, and so is their attack. Would you explain the choice of players? Did you tailor them to the individual pieces?

BM: Not really. I wrote all the music, really, without anyone's sound in mind. Kermit was my working bassist at that time when I would do gigs—he was just more available at a certain point than Skuli was so I started using him. But there were technical challenges for a couple of those tunes and, well, I don't know how to put this delicately—he just wasn't able to play some of those parts. Part of it was that he had a five-string bass and Skuli has a six-string. I knew Skuli would be able to play it; it was just a matter of him putting the work in. And the other pieces also needed a certain sound—they needed that extra string, like that piece "Spectre, because there are some chords written for the bass where you need to hold notes. So for that one, Skuli's sound just worked better.

AAJ: This album continues your work with vocalist Theo Bleckmann. He's got an interesting role here—not a lead singer, exactly—more like another instrument. You've worked with him a lot over the years.

BM: About eleven years now.

AAJ: His contributions to this record are considerable. Why a vocalist at all? What's he bringing to the music?

BM: When I first start of using him in the band, I hadn't written specifically for voice. But I thought some of the melodies needed reinforcement. So with some of the trio pieces, I had him doubling some of the melodies, and I thought it worked well—I really couldn't hear another instrument playing those same melodies. It seemed like voice, and in particular, his voice, was the only thing that was going to work. So he joined the band, and I started hearing things for him specifically and writing individual parts for him. That's sort of how it evolved. Again, I don't hear other instruments playing those parts; I just don't think it would work. I guess maybe the voice makes some of the complexity a little more accessible and maybe otherwise some of it could be a little forbidding. But if it sounds like it's a song, even if there are no words, it might be easier to deal with.

AAJ: Yes, now that I've heard the music as it is, it is hard to imagine something else playing those notes. I can't imagine, for example, a trumpet doing it.

BM: Right, and that might even be the closest thing.

AAJ: Speaking of Theo, let's start by talking about the shortest piece by far on this album of long tunes, which is "Light. This is a very brief, multi-tracked, a cappella Bleckman performance—a canon. It's gorgeous and unique and sort of acts as a prelude to the song "Oceana, which follows it, even though it has nothing in common with "Oceana. The musical material of "Light also recurs later in the song "Rooms of Light. What's its story?

BM: Actually, we were mixing "Rooms of Light, mixing the chorale part from that without the instruments, and I thought it sounded cool. So we just decided to print a version without the instruments. So it's not a separate performance; it's just that part [laughing] of that other tune. I thought it would be nice for it to recur later to kind of lend some unity to the whole record.

AAJ: That's great. "Light occurs pretty early on the CD, and when I heard that vocal melody again in "Rooms of Light, I thought, "brilliant! It's an album.

BM: [laughing] Well, I grew up in the seventies, in the rock epic concept- record age, so it's a little bit of an homage to that.

AAJ: Somehow that brings us to the album's title track, "Oceana, which is a fantastic song that sound like nothing else that's out there in music now. I suppose it's all based on that arpeggio phrase that you play at the very beginning, but the tune is long and goes through a variety of permutations and sections—in my mind, I hear three sections to this. I love the knotted, connected way you and Kermit Driscoll play and the way the song builds tension through its density and rigor—it doesn't ever really release that tension, either. Other than Ted's drum break near the end, I don't really hear any improvisation in this song.

BM: There isn't any. Originally I meant for there to be a solo section, just so it could qualify as a jazz piece [laughing], but then it just didn't seem to work, so I took it out. Three sections—well, I don't know. I would think there are five. There's the original theme that occurs twice more. Like you said, everything is some kind of treatment of the first four bars or so of the tune. I'm breaking it down into basically two subjects, one more scalar and one more angular, and kind of going back and forth between those, doing different things with them. So there's the first statement, which is pretty much non-tonal. Then I'm taking the first part of the theme and putting it into a more tonal context—that's the second part. It kind of goes from G minor, then there's a little E minor section and back to G minor. Then there are some pedals and then the original theme comes back. Then there's a sparser section where I'm taking the second theme and working that through—I don't know how technical you want to get, but I'm taking a particular scale and moving that in minor thirds and putting that sort of angular shape through that. That goes on for a few minutes, so that would be part three.

AAJ: So now we're getting to Theo's vocal, right?

BM: Yeah, exactly. And that somewhat violent strumming section—that was going to be the solo section, but I decided to just strum those chords instead of trying to play over them. Then what would constitute a release would be Theo's little cameo. I don't know—thematically, I can't really justify that; I don't know where that comes from. But it did seem like the right thing to do at the time. The guitar part is just a bunch of tone rows, and he's singing this melody over it. Then when it gets really fast over those pedals, that would be the, ah, fifth section now?

AAJ: Sure. So now we're at that rapid section.

BM: Yeah. And that, again, just deals with the first phrase of the original theme and extends it in different ways—goes through three different pedals. Then it goes back to the second section.

AAJ: Yeah, that telepathic time change to the slower time.

BM: Well, it's not telepathic at all. It just slows down. The magic of digital editing! And so, let's see if I remember it right—it leads back into the final statement of the original theme in its entirety, which ends in the drum break. I put that in because I couldn't end it there—but you needed a vacation from all those notes, so I figured, well, take a drum solo.

AAJ: If anything relieves the tension of that piece, it's the drum break. And that leads into a coda—that descending guitar line.

BM: Exactly. Which is really just the theme inverted, and that's taken through some different paces. The theme inverted, and then stretched intervallically gradually. The very end of the coda is just the first three notes of the original theme, played over and over again in different keys. So it might sound at first as if it has no bearing on anything, but it really is related to the theme.

AAJ: Pretty complicated stuff and pretty thematically thought out. But it does have a poppy hook, which is that skittering descending harmonic phrase you play twice in the piece.

BM: Oh, right, the fast triplets. Yeah, it's funny I can get away with that, because it's just a guitar trick, but I managed to fit it in.

AAJ: How much rehearsal went into this particular tune? It's obviously not an easy thing to play.

BM: A lot. A lot, but not as much as you might think, because Kermit is a great reader. And he's also a very diligent worker. He got it together really quickly. I should mention that Satoshi Takeishi was the original drummer, so he played a lot of gigs where we were playing that tune, so it sort of coalesced through a bunch of performances. When I added Ted to the band, he also learned it really quickly; I gave him a tape and we went over it, just the two of us. He's also a great reader and a really quick thinker. It didn't take long for him to fit right in. But yeah, we did do a lot of rehearsing.

AAJ: You talked about the magic of digital editing—I take it this song isn't one long take.

BM: We tried [laughing], but no. No. It was a really tough record to make; I try to forget about that, but it was. I booked three days in the studio in, let's see, January of 2004. It was right after the IAJE where I had like four gigs, something like that. So I was there every night, during, I think, the coldest week in fifty years. Something like that. Not that that's relevant, but I was really distracted by playing with all these different bands.

And then Sunday was the first day of my recording, so I'd played Wednesday through Saturday and that was really a bad idea—because I was not there for my own music. I didn't have the mental energy left to really deal with it, and I didn't have the time to put in for the preparation. So we tried that piece, and I just couldn't play it. It was pathetic, really terrible. So I went through this agonizing process of trying to figure out if I could salvage it, and just decided to book another day about two, three weeks later. And so we did it and it went a lot better. But even so, we recorded take after take, section after section, and just pieced it together.

AAJ: "Echolalia is a very different sort of song. It's almost got a Brazilian sort of sound to me, and Theo's wordless vocal is very memorable: it grows and flowers and has some built-in peaks and recurrent melodies. Was this completely written out for him?

BM: Oh, yeah. But yeah, he did a great job on that piece. Obviously, there are these phrases and each phrase repeats—that's probably why I called it "Echolalia. It's kind of a psychological term.

AAJ: It's kind of a psychological term.

BM: No, I mean it is a psychological term.

AAJ: No, I'm demonstrating echolalia. So the middle section of this song has an actual guitar solo, which really stands out in the context of this CD—there's lots of guitar, but not a lot of conventional soloing. Any reason for it here?

BM: Well, sequencing the record was a challenge, and I just thought it was a good time in the record for a solo. Also, the piece kind of acts as an antidote for the preceding piece ["Oceana ], just in its tonality and its regular pulse. I wanted to write something that was had a little more solo-head, so there it is. When I started thinking about doing a record, it wasn't my intention to have it basically 90% through-composed. It's just kind of what happened.

AAJ: Kermit's bass during your solo is particularly good to me—very sparse and autonomous, not completely interlocked with your guitar.

BM: Yeah, I think it's more interlocked with what Ted's doing. They're really hooked-up on that. They're both very intuitive, telepathic players. Especially Ted; we've played in a lot of situations now over the last couple of years, and it's amazing all the moments he just kind of plays exactly what I'm thinking in the moment . There's no time to calculate what's going to happen—but it just happens.

AAJ: This album has two solo guitar pieces. Solo pieces are something you've done on your records going back to "Propane Dream on your first CD Flux through "Mistral on Excavation. These pieces are pretty unique. They're so guitaristic—so designed for that device.

BM: Well, I write them on the guitar.

AAJ: "Still Motion is the album opener; it's a solo acoustic song. This is a very dense piece—it seems to possess its own gravity, its own reality. It's so mysterious that attempting to break down what it is seems sort of foolish. There are certainly two, and sometimes three, distinct and simultaneous parts. Is this a through-composed piece?

BM: Yeah. There's no improvisation on that one. As with a lot of the solo pieces, it's based on a picking pattern that I just happened upon which involves four strings. I just thought, well, what could I do with this particular pattern? A few of my solo pieces are similarly based on picking patterns; this one happens to be in four. A tune called "Windowpane [from Excavation] is an alternating-string kind of pattern—going up and down forever and ever. Another tune is a pattern that's in a group of twenty-three sixteenth notes. But anyway, this tune is just based on this thing where I happened to put my hand down and there was [laughing] an A chord, and I don't know, it just proceeded from there.

I can't really tell you the process. I don't really even remember writing things; I do it and then it's over and I'm sitting there saying, "Well, it's interesting. How'd that happen? But I did want to sort of convey the idea of, as you pointed out, things happening kind of simultaneously on different levels, and at the same time, kind of a static or really slow-moving harmony. And again, trying to be cohesive thematically—trying not to have too many ideas going on.

AAJ: Not to sound naïve, but this is played on a six-string guitar with conventional tuning? Just finger-picked?

BM: Yeah.

AAJ: Is a tune like this particularly difficult for you to perform?

BM: Oh, yeah. Yeah. You know, at this point it's not too bad. I've done it so much, although I don't have it worked up at this point. But I attempted to record that, I think, three times and failed. I finally got it on the fourth try. Even if I am able to play it, all the conditions [laughing] have to be perfect. It has to the exact right time of day where my hands are going to feel like they're able to do it at the right speed or whatever.

If I prepare too much, then I'm burned out and I can't play it—and if I don't warm up enough, I can't play it. It's kind of tricky! That was the hardest tune to record in a way; I don't know if it had anything to do with it, but I tried to do it around the time of some really serious health problems I encountered about a year and ahalf ago.

AAJ: Do you think the health problems you experienced in any way color the tune itself? The mood of it?

BM: Well, the tune was written before anything happened—whether it had anything to do with the performance, I don't know. I think with the performance, if anything comes through, it's just desperation: "please, god let this one be it! I can't try to record this again! When I finally did it, I'd gotten no sleep the night before, so I got up thinking, "great, I'm totally unprepared again. I got to the studio and my hands felt terrible—I did a few takes and just wasn't warmed up. Then I remember drinking like six cups of coffee and saying, "Okay, well, this is it. And I did it. And it turned out okay, I guess.

AAJ: It turned out great. But it sounds like there were some nerve-wracking experiences behind the production of this record.

BM: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I started recording at the end of January 2004 and finally had it mastered in December. So it was complicated.

AAJ: And all on your dime. That takes some pressure off, but puts a whole other pressure right on.

BM: I really had not anticipated it going that way at all. Every other record I've ever done was basically two days in the studio, a day or two to mix it, and that's it. And I didn't think this would be any different.

AAJ: Well, I think this is the best one, if that's any consolation.

BM: It is. I think so too. I'm happy with it.

AAJ: The other solo piece is "Double Sun. This one is done on electric guitar, which gives it a real desolate beauty. I think on electric the bass counterpoint is more ominous. This one's more spacious than "Still Motion. There's more of a sense of distance—"Still Motion is almost claustrophobic. This tune really imposes its mood on the listener; it's certainly not background music. Again, through-composed?

BM: Yeah. This one was an attempt to experiment with polyrhythms—superimposed so that the effect would be of two different tempos played simultaneously. The main polyrhythm of the piece is five against three. I kind of divide it up into three strings and three strings, so the five is on the top three strings and the three is on the bottom. Both parts are in cycles of four, which hopefully disguises what it is.

So there's that rhythmic friction, and also harmonic friction—at least at first, because the top part is playing an A major and the bottom part is in C. The strings are tuned down like a cello: low C, then a G, then a D. Then as the piece evolves, it becomes gradually more harmonically consonant. Thematically, it's really pretty simple; sometimes the theme's on top, then I reverse the roles and it's on the bottom. There's nothing you can't tell from one listening.

AAJ: Well, it might fifty for some of us. Okay, "Rooms of Light. Skuli's on electric bass here. This is the other long piece and it's, well, heavy .

BM: I think it's my favorite piece.

AAJ: It's as much progressive rock as it is anything. It's built around that unison melody of your guitar and Theo's voice—very exhilarating. Skuli and Ted really chew this one up and it's got your big guitar solo of the album. Tell me about it.

BM: The origin was an idea of how to divide a bar of six, or two bars of three. I kind of stole this idea from Guillermo Klein—I informed him I was stealing it, so it was okay. He has a series of pieces based on this seven-seven-three clave. So if you think of them in sixteenth notes, you're going to end up with six beats. On the last record we did with him [Los Guachos III , 2002, Sunnyside], there are at least two or three pieces that are based on that rhythmic idea.

AAJ: I think I found myself counting to six through this tune and being completely confused by that.

BM: Yeah, you can do that do a degree but—well, I'll explain how the piece evolved. I took the idea of this three groups of seven and one group of three, and I put the three in all the places in relation to the seven it could be, so one complete pattern was basically four bars of 6/4. And then I added a little three at the end, just to confuse that—it seemed like it needed it. So that's why if you tried to count in six, it wouldn't exactly work out.

AAJ: Right, and it didn't.

BM: So a lot of that piece is just playing with those four versions of that clave. And there's a release where it's exploring the melodic material rather than the rhythmic. The whole thing's kind of an arch form, I guess you might say—symmetrical. Except for the coda. So I'm thinking of it as A-B-A-B and then C is a release. Then D goes back to the clave, then there's a solo—I hope I'm remembering this right—and then D returns, but a little more elaborately. So you can call it D prime, and then C comes back, and that's the chorale section; it relates, but it's not identical.

AAJ: That's the vocal part you removed and used separately near the beginning of the album as "Light.

BM: Exactly. And then A-B again, and then the coda.

AAJ: I assume you're playing this one live now?

BM: No. I'm not playing any of this stuff anymore. Actually, we never performed that one because due to our schedules, Skuli wasn't able, really, to play any gigs. We just kind of worked and worked and worked right up to the day before the recording and then we just recorded it. And I haven't played with Skuli since then. It was not really practical to try to have Kermit play that tune. Plus, you'd need like three singers and two guitar players. It would be nice to do it someday.

I'm not really even playing with that quartet these days. I'm doing trio gigs. I'm using [bassist] Ben Street, Ted Poor and sometimes [drummer] Greg Hutchinson and trying to focus more on improvisation—trying to incorporate some standards. It's just a lot more fun for me to play more of a jazz gig than just sit there and try to play five million notes and get them all right.

AAJ: Well, you've made the record. The closest you can come to this material is to play it perfectly. That may not be why you got into playing music live.

BM: Exactly. I think I'm starting to realize that there's maybe a separation between recorded output and live performance. It would be nice to represent that music live because if it comes off well, it is exciting to do it. But I'm not a classical musician, and that's what I'd be acting as.

AAJ: The one song we haven't covered, and the last song on the record, is "Spectre. This one has no drums, just space. There's a slow, ascending guitar arpeggio with some harmonics at the top of the phrase, and Bleckmann's long vocal line. To me, it is an excellent ending to the CD, and perfectly titled, since it does leave a ghostly impression—like a double exposure on a photograph. Any insights?

BM: I actually had originally asked Ted to play on it, and he wisely decided that it would be better without him. I'm grateful for that, because I kind of like the spaciousness of it having no percussion. He was just going to play random sounds. I think it originated with a line that I played on the piano, which happened to be a twelve-tone row, which is that ascending thing. I wrote the whole thing on the piano. The line gradually mutates, although it retains its twelve-tone integrity. The vocal line is also a row, although it takes more time to develop. I think I'd been listening to a lot of Morton Feldman, so that came out [laughing]. I wasn't consciously ripping him off, but I guess unconsciously I was.

AAJ: This song helps underline how well-sequenced the album is, and how important that sequencing would have to be when you're dealing with pieces like this.

BM: I'm glad to hear you say that, because it was really hard to sequence this record. I was burning CDRs of like, twenty different possible sequences. There's also another tune that didn't even make it onto the record. I was trying to get them all on somehow, and trying to get it under eighty minutes so it would fit on a CD, which meant removing three notes from this tune or that, that sort of thing. Or thinking about making it a double CD.

I'm glad I did it the way I did, ultimately. Originally I had reversed the solo pieces, so it started out with "Double Sun. And I sent it out to a bunch of labels like that, and got no response [laughing]. Finally, the producer Hans Wendl got back to me and said, "that first tune is kind of a downer. You're not going to have much luck getting label interest if someone's got to wade through that thing right off the bat. So I thought about a while and decided that was probably right.

AAJ: So instead you started with a jaunty hit-single grabber like "Still Motion ?

BM: [laughing] Exactly. I think it was good advice. It is a better sequence that way.

AAJ: I also like the overall sound of the record.

BM: Analog tape. It might be the last record to come out on analog! Definitely the last one I'm going to do. It's expensive, and it's so much easier just to go into the computer, much as I'd rather not. I mean, we weren't splicing tape or anything, but even so—just running it into the machine to do it is hard. But I do love the sound of tape.

AAJ: Are you playing guitar through one amp on this CD?

BM: No, they're all two amps. I'm going stereo on every tune. And the amps are different—there's a different pair of amps for just about every tune. I normally use a Music Man and a souped-up [Fender] Princeton, and that's what I brought. I think my Music Man was broken, and the studio where we recorded had a bunch of really nice vintage amps, so I was trying different things. For a couple of tunes, I had a big old Marshall—not a stack, but a Marshall combo amp, which sounded good.

AAJ: "Rooms of Light ?

BM: Yeah. And "Spectre, also—that was that and the Princeton. And then "Echolalia was a Princeton and a [Fender] Bassman. I used my two amps on "Oceana. On "Double Sun I used a Princeton and a really fantastic old [Fender] Deluxe that [bassist] Tony Scherr had lent me. I kind of wished I'd used it on the whole record, but it was the last piece I did, so I didn't know.

AAJ: Since we're already wallowing in gear talk, what kind of guitars do you play?

BM: The electric is an Ibanez AS50. The acoustic is an old Martin from 1936; it's one of those small ones—I can't remember, D-something. Whatever the small one is.

AAJ: Those are your two standard guitars?

BM: That's pretty much it. I own a Strat that I take out about once every two years.

AAJ: Whether you're improvising or composing, there's a great thematic unity in construction. Geoff Young told me that he would ask you...

BM: Geoff Young, the guitarist from Canada?

AAJ: Yeah. He said he'd ask how you "develop such a powerful sense of musical architecture in your improvisations and compositions.

BM: Well, if I answered that, it would sort of legitimize the question, which I couldn't possibly do.

AAJ: Let me rephrase it, since the question makes you so uncomfortable. Why are you so great?

BM: [Laughing] Oh, where could I start?

AAJ: Okay, let me put it this way: do you think thematically in your playing?

BM: Yeah. I do. I think it was instilled in me a long time ago by a teacher I had named Irwin Stahl, who I probably don't mention nearly enough, but people don't really ask me, either. He loved really thematic improvisers; he didn't tolerate waste or notes that didn't mean anything. Notes played just for effect, or to impress. He came out of a classical background. So having that influence at an early age, and also being interested in classical music and enjoying listening to a thought process unfold over time—all contributed to that aspect.

My favorite improvisers to listen to are the ones who explore new territory in a logical way, where something unfolds and is surprising and inevitable at the same time. Jim Hall was a big influence for me. And Wayne Shorter has improvised like that as well.

AAJ: Any other big musical influences, in or outside of jazz?

BM: Going way back, the Beatles. All the stuff that was on the radio in the seventies. John Coltrane was a huge influence; I'd just spend a week or two listening to nothing but 'Trane bootlegs that I would get from friends—I'd try to play along with them. A lot of twentieth-century composers. Probably the first I got into was Bartók. More recently, composers like [Elliott] Carter, [Gyorgy] Ligeti, [Milton] Babbitt. I mentioned Morton Feldman.

AAJ: Someone told me you were into [Brazilian multi-instrumentalist/composer] Egberto Gismonti.

BM: Oh, yeah. I went through a big Egberto phase in the eighties. I think if there's an influence to some of the solo things I write, it's probably his influence, at least unconsciously. He's a pretty astounding musician.

AAJ: What are you going to do in 2006?

BM: I'd like to pursue the trio that I mentioned a little bit more—write music geared a little bit more towards that. Maybe start up the quartet again at some point. The thing is that I just kind of started writing a little bit—I've been on the road with Maria Schneider, and that's where I started writing. I started writing in hotel rooms and airport gates [laughing]. So that's the first stuff I've actually written for probably over a year and it seems like stuff I'll have to do with the quartet, so I guess I'll have to revive it. I don't seem to be hearing anything else. But I would like do more with the trio and generally do more of my own stuff—more gigs as a leader.

AAJ: It's got to be challenging for you. It's nice to be in demand as a sideman, but it takes up time and energy.

BM: Yeah, it does. I could try to make a commitment to not take certain gigs, but it's hard—when something comes up and you have a hole in your schedule, it's kind of counterintuitive to say no and not do it just in case I can get some gigs. I don't know quite how to handle that yet.


Selected Discography

Paul Motian Band, Garden of Eden (ECM, 2006)
Chris Gestrin/Ben Monder/Dylan van der Schyff, The Distance (Songlines, 2006)
Ben Monder, Oceana (Sunnyside, 2005)
Guillermo Klein, Live in Barcelona (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2005)
Rebecca Martin, People Behave Like Ballads (MaxJazz, 2004)
Maria Schneider Orchestra, Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004)
John O'Gallagher, Abacus (Arabesque, 2004)
Josh Roseman Unit, Treats for the Nightwalker (Enja, 2003)
Guillermo Klein, Los Gauchos III (Sunnyside, 2003)
Miguel Zenon, Looking Forward (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2002)
Paul Motian/Electric Bebop Band, Holiday for Strings (Winter & Winter, 2002)
Theo Bleckmann, Origami (Songlines, 2001)
John Hollenbeck, No Images (CRI, 2001)
Charles Pillow, In This World (Summit, 2001)
Paul Motian/Electric Bebop Band, Europe (Winter & Winter, 2001)
Ben Monder, Excavation (Arabesque, 2000)
Donny McCaslin, Seen from Above (Arabesque, 2000)
Maria Schneider Orchestra, Alegresse (Enja, 2000)
Bill McHenry, Graphic (Fresh Sound New Talent, 1999)
Dave's True Story, Sex Without Bodies (Chesky, 1998)
Jochen Ruckert, Introduction (Jazzline, 1998)
Drew Gress' Jagged Sky, Heyday (Soul Note, 1998)
Chris Cheek, A Girl Named Joe (Fresh Sound New Talent, 1998)
Theo Bleckmann/Ben Monder, No Boat (Songlines, 1997)
Ben Monder, Flux (Songlines, 1997)
Ben Monder, Dust (Arabesque, 1997)
Chris Dahlgren, Slow Commotion (Koch, 1996)
David Binney, Luxury of Guessing (Audioquest, 1995)
Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Coming About (Enja, 1995)
Marc Johnson, Right Brain Patrol (JMT, 1993)
Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, Evanescence (Enja, 1992)

Related Article:
A Look into the World of Ben Monder (2002)

Photo Credits:
Top: C. Andrew Hovan
Center: Rick Herter

Bottom: Ralph Gibson



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