389

Ben Monder: Excavation

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Ben Monder: Excavation There may be five years and several thousand miles between them, but Ben Monder's Excavation is the mirror image of Bright Side, the most recent album by Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel.

It's a dark mirror, though, cracked and clouded. Both discs feature technically phenomenal musicians, each an adventurous improviser who gives equal weight to precisely arranged, often complex, through-composition—but while Muthspiel's aptly named Bright Side (2006) takes the listener down sunny, well lit paths, Excavation (2000, re-released) heads for edgier, more shadowy corners.

The album opens with the deceptively pretty "Mistral." Wave after wave of lush Monder arpeggios, fingerpicked Spanish guitar-style, roll out for over nine minutes. Vocalist Theo Bleckmann and drummer Jim Black enter on the second track, "Luteous Pangolin," when suggestions of darkness start to infuse the music.

While Excavation is no happy picnic in the park, it's never a downer. It has its downs, but also its ups, like life itself. The cornerstone tunes are "Ellenville" and "Hatchet Face" (like all but the final track, Monder originals). Each comes in at around fifteen minutes and is an unhurried exploration of atmosphere, developed through a succession of mini-movements, intelligent grooves, and freewheeling guitar improvisations mixing dextrous chordal passages and jetspeed single-note runs. "Hatchet Face" periodically lashes out with unmediated, grunge-like ferocity.

Monder's regular collaborators, Sverrisson and Black, provide empathetic support. But after Monder himself, it's Bleckmann's ethereal vocals—wordless on all but "Etching"—which are most key to the music and the vibe. You might hate most so-called jazz vocalists (and you wouldn't be alone), but Bleckmann stands a good chance of converting even the most hostile listener. His sensuous, pitch-perfect tenor magically enhances the atmosphere and mood.

The album ends with a three and a half minute version of the evergreen "You Are My Sunshine." If the Coen brothers were record producers, and Excavation was their take on bluegrass, this is how it might sound.

So welcome to the dark side. And when you feel like some sunlight, you could always check out Muthspiel's Bright Side—or read Monder's website biographies (there are two), which have some wonderfully self-mocking, funny moments.

Track Listing: Mistral; Luteous Pangolin; Ellenville; Sunny Manitoba; Hatchet Face; Etching; Windowpane; You Are My Sunshine.

Personnel: Ben Monder: guitar; Theo Bleckmann: voice; Skuli Sverrisson: electric bass; Jim Black: drums and percussion.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records | Style: Modern Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read United CD/LP/Track Review United
by Mark Sullivan
Published: March 23, 2017
Read Chromola CD/LP/Track Review Chromola
by John Eyles
Published: March 23, 2017
Read Satin Doll – A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn CD/LP/Track Review Satin Doll – A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 23, 2017
Read Nature City CD/LP/Track Review Nature City
by Henning Bolte
Published: March 23, 2017
Read Beninghove's Hangmen Plays Led Zeppelin CD/LP/Track Review Beninghove's Hangmen Plays Led Zeppelin
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: March 23, 2017
Read This Is The Uplifting Part CD/LP/Track Review This Is The Uplifting Part
by Karl Ackermann
Published: March 22, 2017
Read "Short Stories" CD/LP/Track Review Short Stories
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: November 3, 2016
Read "Les Rhincéros III" CD/LP/Track Review Les Rhincéros III
by Tyran Grillo
Published: August 18, 2016
Read "Desire & Freedom" CD/LP/Track Review Desire & Freedom
by Glenn Astarita
Published: February 19, 2017
Read "The Eastcote Studios Session" CD/LP/Track Review The Eastcote Studios Session
by John Eyles
Published: November 30, 2016
Read "Pocono Git-Down" CD/LP/Track Review Pocono Git-Down
by Edward Blanco
Published: March 1, 2017
Read "Heavy Dance" CD/LP/Track Review Heavy Dance
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: March 14, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: DOT TIME RECORDS | BUT IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!