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Interviews

Ben Monder: Le Monde du Monder

By Published: January 1, 2002
AAJ: You are an absolutely incredible single note soloist, but your chordal work is just so advanced, so complete, so cutting edge, it almost overshadows that aspect (the single note lines) of your playing.

BM: Yeah, maybe I play too many chords.

AAJ: How did you come to be such a chord completist? Practice, right?

BM: I don't really feel my chord work is so well developed, especially if you think about players like Ed Bickert
Ed Bickert
Ed Bickert
b.1932
guitar
and George Van Eps
George Van Eps
George Van Eps
1913 - 1998
guitar
, but I'm working on it. Anyway, I'm just coming up with ways to realize the sounds I'm hearing, and exploring harmony is a big part of that. I've spent a lot of time inventing chordal and voice leading exercises for myself, in the hope that it would lead me to be able to improvise the kinds of sounds I'm drawn to. Also, I'm trying to exploit the guitar's full potential, because, for me, it makes for the most interesting music.

AAJ: You seem to be able to play absolutely anything on guitar. From the atmospheric/ECM style, to straight bop, to Frisell-type wall of sound, to almost a modern classical approach. How did you evolve into such an "all-around" stylist?

BM: I dunno...

AAJ: OK... I'll stop with the superlatives. What were the earliest recording or gigging projects you did? Did you start off as a "jazz" guy?

BM: The first band I really started working with regularly was a kind of R&B/Funk band. After that I did a lot of club dates (weddings). Doing jazz and original music full time came later.

AAJ: Besides your own stuff and the stuff with Theo Bleckmann
Theo Bleckmann
Theo Bleckmann

vocalist
, you've done a LOT of work as a "sideman." My first familiarity with you is as a member of Marc Johnson's Right Brain Patrol. Was that your first commercially released recording? Try to explain the evolution of your recorded career.

BM: Yes, that Marc Johnson
Marc Johnson
Marc Johnson
b.1953
bass
date was actually the first CD I ever did. I used a borrowed amp and I was just figuring out how to use my new volume pedal. It was a great experience, though—a real collective project.

AAJ: I mean, you've recorded with Maria Schneider
Maria Schneider
Maria Schneider

band/orchestra
, Charles Pillow
Charles Pillow
Charles Pillow

saxophone
, Tim Ries
Tim Ries
Tim Ries

saxophone
, Guillermo Klein, David Binney
David Binney
David Binney
b.1961
saxophone
, Steve Johns
Steve Johns
Steve Johns
b.1960
drums
and Peter Brainin, Fundamentia, Drew Gress
Drew Gress
Drew Gress
b.1959
bass
, Chris Dahlgren, Dan Willis
Dan Willis
Dan Willis

saxophone
, Jon Gordon
Jon Gordon
Jon Gordon

sax, alto
, Dave Pietro
Dave Pietro
Dave Pietro

saxophone
, Michael Leonhart and the incredible Paul Motian
Paul Motian
Paul Motian
1931 - 2011
drums
. Is there some kind of natural order to how these dates fell in place?

BM: Not really. They called—I showed up.

AAJ: Who else have you gigged with, besides the folks you've recorded with? I know you've worked with Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman

trombone
. I'm sure there's a laundry list. Any more notable types I've left out?

BM: I did a few gigs with Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
and Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
b.1964
drums
a few years ago. We just played free and went in and out of standards. It was a lot of fun. Except for one panicked moment when Lee started playing "Skylark" in G flat. Also, I love playing in Bill McHenry
Bill McHenry
Bill McHenry

saxophone
's band and Reid Anderson
Reid Anderson
Reid Anderson
b.1970
bass
's band. I used to play in composer/saxophonist Patrick Zimmerli's band. He has the (justified) reputation of writing some of the hardest music on the planet. We would rehearse a piece for a year before it was ready to be performed. Come to think of it, maybe it never was ready...There are actually two discs documenting that work, if you're interested.

AAJ: Actually, Ben I have Explosion the first, but not Expansion, the second. Challenging, incredible stuff in my opinion. Please comment on my thoughts on some of some other incredible performances. Chris Dahlgren "Slow Commotion" is my favorite performance of yours as a "sideman." Just total abandonment in places, emphasizing your wilder side and a real sense of surprise.

BM: All I remember about that date was that it was in this big barn- like studio in upstate New York. It was late November and there was NO HEAT. I remember being in there at 1 AM and everyone is playing with his overcoat on. Maybe what you're hearing is some of that misery.

AAJ: Heyday ,Drew Gress. The performance, other than your own or Theo's stuff, that sounds most like a "band." Was that a working unit, or just a recording date, or both.

BM: Yeah, that was (is?) a band. We had been together for a few years and done quite a few gigs by then. And Drew's music is very involved, so it takes some experience to get it sounding fluid and musical.

AAJ: "Fundamentia," your "easy-listening" side. People should hear this if they don't "hear" you as a single note guy. Some beautiful, lyrical lines on this one. This band should be more "popular" Thanks for indulging me. I won't go on, although I could. What of the "sideman" stuff are you most proud of?

BM: I thought you weren't going to go on.

AAJ: What recording projects stand out most for you as positive experiences?

BM: In addition to the things you've mentioned, I like the Chris Cheek
Chris Cheek
Chris Cheek
b.1968
saxophone
record, A Girl Named Joe. I think I take my best recorded solo, for what it's worth, on the title cut. I like Reid Anderson
Reid Anderson
Reid Anderson
b.1970
bass
's The Vastness of Space. And I've done a few records for the Basque singer/songwriter Ruper Ordorika. Those are a lot of fun because, being a rock record, I get a chance to really shape and layer my parts. It's a completely different process than a jazz record, and very rewarding.


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