Ben Monder: Dust (2006)
Guitarist Ben Monder's sophomore effort, originally recorded for Arabesque in 1997 and now reissued by Sunnyside, covers all the ground from free, ambient and discordant to tight, together and melodically upbeat.
Most of Monder's work (in fact, much of his best work) has been as a sideman; he has only released two albums as a leader since this record first came out. A veteran of Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band and Lee Konitz's New Nonet, Monder plays with an old school pedigree in a manner that is ahead of his time.
Monder's trio on Dust includes drummer Jim Black and bassist Ben Street. Like Monder, Street is a veteran of avant ensembles led by saxophonist Tim Berne and the aforementioned Konitz. Black has also performed with Berne in his Bloodcount ensemble. Following his work on Dust, Black began his adventures in space-rock avant-jazz experimentation with his AlasNoAxis group.
The opening cut, "Sleep, revolves around a sugary pop refrain. The tune shuffles and swings on the weight of Black's drummingwhich, as a drummer myself, absolutely floored me. Black plays with the ferocity of Elvin Jones, exhibiting both precision and power, barely letting up, even when Monder's playing becomes more delicate. "Silent Neighbors is a little more subdued and slightly freermore of a duet between Monder and Street. On "Thethird Eyebrow, Monder's guitar meanders in the distance, absentmindedly wandering to the rhythm of the bass and drums.
The nearly eleven-minute title track begins with Monder delicately plucking a tune by himself, before he's joined by Street's solemn bass. "In Memoriam, though deliberately subdued, is where Monder's playing begins to wear thin. This trio is at its best when all three members are engaged.
Trio records can go one of two ways: they either become a showcase for one particular player's overwhelming talent (like Eri Yamamoto's recent Cobalt Blue) or a dynamic conversation between three equally talented and thematically in-tune musicians. Dust definitely falls in the latter category. This isn't Monder's show per se; all three players push and pull the songs in varying directions, following no real leader.
While Monder's best work may be as a sideman, interested listeners may wish to check out Dust in order to see the artist in his early stages.
Track Listing: Sleep; Silent Neighbors; Thethird Eyebrow; Dust; In Memoriam; I'll Remember April; Gemini; Late Green.
Personnel: Ben Monder: guitars; Ben Street: bass; Jim Black: drums.