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Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder: At Night

Phil DiPietro By

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The cover imagery depicts mesas viewed heavenward towards a threatening yet beckoning night sky. In the foreground, an empty highway envelops two empty stools for any brave two travelers on life's journey to perform an offering to the stars, to the universe, to all, to the night. If ever two musicians were up to the task, it's the flat-out astonishing virtuosi, vocalist Theo Bleckmann and guitarist Ben Monder.

Bleckmann possesses technique so colossal, yet so meticulous, he can seem otherworldly, an android-like embodiment of sci-fi vocalisms, a bodily vessel for that voice. Still, whether accompanied by actual words or not, the sounds wrought are undeniably the product of the indissoluble bond of that magical, futuristic technique with the spectrum of suffering and celebration emanating from the soul of their maker.

Throughout his career, Monder has consistently raised the bar of guitar technique to its now new-millennium level, while linking it to refinement and erudition that is all his own. In his improvisations and his compositions, he has the uncanny ability to play tensions and resolutions, and to magically and futuristically translate them, as would a painter, in the mind's-eye of the listener, to darkness and light.

Eight of the ten pieces herein were composed by the co-leaders, with three of those co-composed with the third man in on this recording—the indispensably inventive percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. Three of eight combine to form the session's nucleus around translations of the 13th century Quatrains of the Persian poet Rumi, the only words used by Bleckmann on the session's originals.

Bleckmann begins, floating "Late by Myself, in the boat of myself" over Monder's finger-style version of circular breathing arpeggiation on steel-string acoustic. The use of powerful poetic metaphor and spectral melodic line combine to wash over us into the ocean of imagery found in our own depths, akin to the effects of Monder's 2005 opus, Oceana (Sunnyside Records).

"Swarm" is a hoard of buzzing free-associations, first between Takeishi on rims, metal, and wood and Bleckmann's manic gutteralisms, percussives, tweets and toots. They are conjoined by Monder's hyper-speed, darting single-line improvisation. His lines' basis comes later, from the harmony implied by a spare combination of Takeishi's laptop and Bleckmann's organ-like live multitracking, achieved by a device that echoes his vocals at set intervals. The swarm gives way to light in the form of a Bleckmann soliloquy, only to be refracted out through Monder's lines.

This slight turn south allows Ben to lift us higher with his gorgeous volume-swelled voicings supporting Bleckmann's invitation to the "Orchard." This Rumi-nation on how our world, however beautiful, is transformed so completely by others choosing to accompany or desert us, will elicit tears.

Cinematic and transporting are not descriptive enough adjectives to apply. Not only is the music a soundtrack to a yet existent motion picture, it is inspiration enough for its own film. Not only will hearing stir each listener into their own voyage, it will propel them to other journeys.

Visit Ben Monder and Theo Bleckmann on the web.


Track Listing: Late, by Myself; Sunny Sunday; Carbon; Hymenium; Animal Planet; Swarm; Orchard; Norwegian Wood; At Night; Apocryphon.

Personnel: Theo Bleckmann: voice, live electronic processing; Ben Monder: guitar; Satoshi Takeishi: drums, percussion, laptop.

Title: At Night | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Songlines Recordings

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