450

Ben Monder: Oceana

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
It's not uncommon to hear talk about artists spreading their stylistic umbrella so wide that figuring out who they are becomes a challenge. It's not so much that their personal voices are unclear; rather, it requires examining a wide cross-section of recordings. In simpler times past, artists might evolve, but any single release could present a clear conduit to their creative predilections.

Still, jazz has always had its share of artists who needed to be assessed over a larger body of work—and considerable time. Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock...any of these artists might be inappropriately pigeonholed were one to select a single recording from their discographies as the sole determinant of their musical voices.

It's safe to say that guitarist Ben Monder, with a résumé including Maria Schneider's Orchestra, Guillermo Klein's Los Gauchos, and Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band, fits this description. Oceana may not provide the complete picture, but it gives a broader view of Monder than most single releases, and it's unquestionably his most fully-realized record to date. It combines complex through-composition with influences ranging from contemporary classical music to Americana and progressive rock. Monder's tinted filter means these influences end up taking on more personal meaning.

It would be too easy to describe the opening solo acoustic guitar piece "Still Motion" as Metheny-informed. Certainly the folksy fingerpicking comes from that space, but Monder's melodies are more abstract than Metheny's accessible lyricism. "Double Sun," a solo electric guitar composition, is darker, evolving gradually and with periodically emerging melodies approaching pretty, only to ultimately be consumed by its hauntingly bleak ambience.

The title track features bassist Kermit Driscoll, drummer Ted Poor, and the wordless vocals of Theo Bleckmann. A knottily complex twelve-tone exercise in arpeggiation, it suggests how King Crimson's Robert Fripp might sound were he to take a softer approach and base it on a less constricted harmonic foundation. A series of episodes traverse a cross-spectrum of dynamics, creating an atmospheric form without ever really defining a consistent melody. Equally ethereal is "Echolalia," where Bleckmann builds a more discernable theme over the trio's soft cushion of arpeggios, brushwork, and long bass tones.

Skuli Sverrisson replaces Driscoll for "Rooms of Light" and "Spectre." On the former, Monder assumes a more aggressive stance with an overdriven tone that matches Sverrisson's powerful attack. This episodic, long-form piece runs the gamut from complex progressive rock to a soft but enigmatic respite, before the rock pulse returns and Monder delivers one of the only clearly delineated solos on the disc—referencing, to some degree, Allan Holdsworth in its rapid-fire legato style. The somber "Spectre" closes the album, with space and sound equal partners; the decay of notes is more meaningful than their gentle attack.

Keeping overt soloing at a minimum, Oceana defies any conventional jazz definition. But it's an album that could only be made by musicians versed in the jazz language and, consequently, deserves to be heard by those open-minded enough to see and feel its subtle connections.


Track Listing: Still Motion; Light; Oceana; Echolalia; Double Sun; Rooms of Light; Spectre.

Personnel: Ben Monder: guitar; Theo Bleckmann: voice; Kermit Driscoll: bass (3, 4); Skuli Sverrisson: bass (5, 6); Ted Poor: drums.

Title: Oceana | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Déjà Vu CD/LP/Track Review Déjà Vu
by Troy Dostert
Published: September 20, 2017
Read Woody Guthrie - The Tribute Concerts CD/LP/Track Review Woody Guthrie - The Tribute Concerts
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 20, 2017
Read Two in a Box CD/LP/Track Review Two in a Box
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 20, 2017
Read Discussions CD/LP/Track Review Discussions
by Glenn Astarita
Published: September 20, 2017
Read Just Friends: Live at the Village Vanguard CD/LP/Track Review Just Friends: Live at the Village Vanguard
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 19, 2017
Read Introducing the Simon Eskildsen Trio CD/LP/Track Review Introducing the Simon Eskildsen Trio
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 19, 2017
Read "Books On Tape, Vol. 2 - Standard Edition" CD/LP/Track Review Books On Tape, Vol. 2 - Standard Edition
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: October 17, 2016
Read "The Art Pepper Quartet" CD/LP/Track Review The Art Pepper Quartet
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: May 7, 2017
Read "BACHanalia" CD/LP/Track Review BACHanalia
by Jerome Wilson
Published: July 25, 2017
Read "A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard" CD/LP/Track Review A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard
by Mark E. Gallo
Published: July 27, 2017
Read "The Bug" CD/LP/Track Review The Bug
by Jack Bowers
Published: August 20, 2017
Read "Pomona" CD/LP/Track Review Pomona
by Mark Sullivan
Published: October 16, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.