Veteran guitarist Ben Monder is at his most experimental and atmospheric in this collection of largely improvised performances, his sixth album as a leader, and his first for ECM. The genesis of the album came from Monder's 2010 duet sessions with Paul Motian, sadly abbreviated by the legendary drummer's passing. Motian fans can surely be forgiven for wishing there was more than the two tracks included. But one of them is the highlight of the album: the pair revisits Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," a song which Monder had played on the Electric Bebop Band album Holiday For Strings (Winter & Winter, 2002). Monder takes his time easing into the tune, accompanied by Motian's subtle percussionthen the performance explodes into a rich soundscape based on Monder's reharmonization, followed by a gentle fade out.
On four other tracks the drum chair is occupied by Andrew Cyrille, another renowned avant-garde jazz drummer who Monder has previously performed with in a group led by saxophonist Bill McHenry. Cyrille proves himself a master colorist, providing more texture than pulse, much as Motian had. Monder adds new colors by debuting an electric baritone guitar and a Fender Bass VI, while Pete Rende makes it a trio by adding synthesizer to two tracks. Rende's contribution is subtle, despite the huge array of modules he's pictured with; his tones and drones are sometimes hard to distinguish from Monder's textural playing. There's a lovely spot near the end of "Zythum" where he plays a melodic part reminiscent of Brian Eno's "Discreet Music."
Monder describes this music as "pretty abstract music, much more ambient than what I usually do." The approach finds its purest expression in the two solo tracks, which place him in similar territory with label-mate David Torn's recent solo outing only sky (ECM, 2015). It's not a huge step from some of his playing on earlier records, which have always included music that does not sound idiomatically like jazz, and frequently employed electronics and minimalist elements. But it's far enough to place him into a rich new stylistic world. Here's hoping he continues to explore.
Tendrils; Oh, What A Beautiful Morning; Tumid Cenobite; Gamma Crucis; Zythum; Triffids; Hematophagy; Dinosaur Skies.
Ben Monder: electric guitar, electric baritone guitar; Pete Rende: synthesizer; Andrew Cyrille: drums; Paul Motian: drums.
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