Ben Monder: Le Monde du Monder
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 and George Van Eps, 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, 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 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, thougha real collective project.
AAJ: I mean, you've recorded with Maria Schneider, Charles Pillow, Tim Ries, Guillermo Klein, David Binney, Steve Johns and Peter Brainin, Fundamentia, Drew Gress, Chris Dahlgren, Dan Willis, Jon Gordon, Dave Pietro, Michael Leonhart and the incredible Paul Motian. Is there some kind of natural order to how these dates fell in place?
BM: Not really. They calledI showed up.
AAJ: Who else have you gigged with, besides the folks you've recorded with? I know you've worked with Josh Roseman. 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 and Matt Wilson 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's band and Reid Anderson'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 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'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.