Justin Monsen: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (2008)
It's not just Justin Monsen's knowledge of modern jazz guitar referenced in the touchstone sounds of Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny, it's also what the young guitarist articulates in terms of melody and composition, which helps to make All That Is Solid Melts Into Air an enjoyable release.
Born in Japan, with geographical ties from Connecticut to Oslo, Norway, Monsen currently lives and gigs in New York. His debut subliminally throws caution to the wind through a well rounded quintet that includes saxophone, piano, and rhythm section.
First and foremost the music is engaging with a mix of original material and fresh covers. There's simple yet sophisticated arranging on "Windlip" with illuminating unison guitar/sax harmonies (shared by saxophonist Andy Allen), floating Fender Rhodes work by Peter Krag, and a surprising change in direction at the composition's closing that is quite scenic.
"View from Where We Stand" has cultural rock elements reminiscent of the music heard in Brian Blade's Fellowship. Monsen's solo is earthy and inquisitive as the sax and keyboards echo the melody. The radio-friendly "Time Will Tell" is a polished swinger whereas "Thousand Glass Butterflies," one of recording's strongest tracks, curves through spacious environments as Allen and Monsen dig deep and deliver robust solos. It's supported by some radiant timekeeping from bassist Russ Flynn and drummer Dan Ryan.
Monsen's awareness is heard on an astute remake of Charles Mingus' "Portrait" which retains the original's balladry yet possesses its own elegant and contemporary presence. The quintet also bops heartily on "So Do I" with shades of Wes Montgomery and McCoy Tyner. Monsen's definitely knows the history but more significantly is seeking his own individuality on this cohesive debut.
Track Listing: The Wind Lip; View from Where We Stand; Time Will Tell; Thousand Glass Butterflies; Portrait; So Do I; Time Will Tell (Alternate Take).
Personnel: Andy Allen: soprano saxophone (1-5, 7); Peter Krag: piano, Fender Rhodes; Russ Flynn: bass; Dan Ryan: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced