Ben Monder On the Side: Brian Charette & Mika Pohjola
There's a reason why, at Ben Monder performances, the guitar geeks sit in the first row. He is an outstanding soloist, inventive improviser and composer of highly original and engaging works featured on several of his own recordings. Monder has also proven himself to be the consummate sideman.
While Upside is a Brian Charette project, the 30-something organist allows Monder ample room, particularly on original tracks "Silicone Doll," "Look Elsewhere," "Public Transportation" and "Girls." And there are many delights here. Charette's own sure-handed way on the B3 Hammond melds well with Monder's musings while drummer Jochen Rueckert strikes hot. Charette is a player to watch, at home on such stalwarts as Carl Fischer's "You've Changed" and Billy Strayhorn's "Upper Manhattan Medical Group" as on his own adventuring pieces. And everything pops and swings energetically on Andy LaVerne's upbeat title track and sums up nicely by all parties on the final "Wish List." One wonders why Charette hasn't debuted on a major label with his fluid and lucid originals and spot-on musicianship before now.
Northern Sunrise from pianist/composer Mika Pohjola is in a different mood and mode from the Charette outing but these airy, arty and atmospheric renderings seem tailor-made for Monder's guitar and aesthetic sensibilities. The first tracks and some subsequent ones elicit some lovely guitar lines but it's all too brief. If you're a devoted or budding Monder-ite (or soon to become one) you might wish he'd get more solo action here. This recording was fashioned to put Pohjola's pianistic talents centerstage and what he does sparkles. But Monder, as well as the skillful saxophonist Steve Wilson, is consequently relegated more to the background than to the light. (When they get to step out a bit they sparkle.)
But this is Pohjola's show and that's not undeserved. His playingdisplaying a classical bent, more than one might expect on a so-called 'jazz' recordingis beautiful and evocative. He's a conjurer of emotion as well as a possessor of technical expertise and he seems to get the effect for which he strives. There are occasionally some odd touches such as spacey sounds in "Late Global Hearing" and an atypical "Have You Met Miss Jones." The band, with Massimo Biolcati on bass, Mark Ferber on drums and Franco Pinna on bombo on one piece ("Blues Chacarera"), is fully supportive and able.
The musical selections, which include a charming version of Grieg's "Peasant Song" and Pohjola's "Passacaglia" reflect a penchant for the classical, as well as the introspective and formal. But a rendition of "Sweet and Lovely," with spirited contributions from Wilson and Monder, let in some welcome jazz feeling. As an ensemble piece, "Human Impact" soars with playful, ebullient spirit from everyone too. A calmer "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" is an enjoyable way to wrap up this eclectic package.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Yolk; Silicone Doll, Look Elsewhere; Public Transportation; You've Changed; Furthering Adventures; Altered Waltz; Girls; Prelude to a Kiss; Upper Manhattan Medical Group; Upside; Wish List.
Personnel: Brian Charette: B3 Hammond; Ben Monder: guitar; Jochen Ruckert; drums.
Tracks: Northern Sunrise; Early Global Hearing; Blues Chacarera; Ebb & Flow; Old Manhattan Tango; Peasant's Song; Sweet and Lovely; Intermediate Global Hearing; Passacaglia; Have You Met Miss Jones; New Halling; Human Impact; Late Global Hearing; Duke Ellington's Sound of Love.
Personnel: Mika Pohjola: piano, compositions; Steve Wilson: saxophones; Ben Monder: guitar; Massimo Biolcati: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; Franco Pinna: bombo.