Tony Reif, the head of Songlines, conspired with Vancouver International Jazz Festival promoter Ken Pickering to organize a concert featuring invited guest guitarist Ben Monder playing in an improvised trio format with the established duo of percussionist Dylan van der Schyff and pianist Chris Gestrin. Van der Schyff and Gestrin have a history of playing together, but Monder was new to their musical axis. The concert was recorded and two trio improvisations from a rehearsal later that day were added to create The Distance.
Whether or not the trio clicked enough to regroup can only be answered by the participants, but musically, they share an obvious symbiotic rapport that could easily be fit for further investigation.
These three generate a abstract, ethereal, floating, open-ended sound world not far removed from the classic ECM sound. There is an undeniably Frisellian sheen to some of this, but Monder is an unapologetically cerebral player, and his explorations needn't maintain earthbound contact for sustenance, unlike Frisell's more traditional work. Gestrin's playing has an impressionistic but exploratory angle, occasionally using prepared piano techniques to extend his sound palette. Van der Schyff is quickly becoming a ubiquitous presence, and his colorful washes and interpolations demonstrate why he is so in demand lately.
The majority of the program is one of relaxed introspection and pastoral reflection, as demonstrated by the pensive call and response of the opening "Ferns." There are however, more varied and dynamic moments within. The lyrical title track is the most structurally precise tune, with hints of Paul Bley and Pat Metheny at its core. "Treacle" is frenzied without being overly noisy, all staccato runs and frenetic group interplay. "Extrinsic" brings a welcome bit of noise from Monder's distorted guitar and Gestrin's metallic prepared piano, but things really heat up on van der Schyff and Monder's burnout performance of "Dark Engine." Monder lets loose feedback-drenched sheets of sound and van der Schyff follows suit for an electric meltdown that is as exhilarating as the pastoral beauty of "#47" is serene.
Whether or not The Distance spurs on a new working relationship between these three players, this document exists to cherish.
Track Listing: Ferns; Treacle; #47; Dark Engine; Treant; View from the Road; Extrinsic; The Distance; Voice in the Night; Second Approximation.
Personnel: Chris Gestrin: piano, prepared piano, bells; Ben Monder: electric guitar; Dylan van der Schyff: drums, percussion.