Words about Ben Monder:
"Ben Monder is a very evolved kind of musician — great chord voicing and just excellent playing."
- Pat Metheny
You know within about three seconds that something original is coming out of
Ben Monder’s electric guitar — a whispering flow of harmonic challenges that
fold backward, sideways and across dimensions like time-space origami...He’s
like a magician who slows a trick down to ox-cart tempo, and you still can’t
figure out how he did it.
Ben Monder has played nearly unsurpassable jazz guitar with
any number of actual jazz groups. But what he plays with his
own group comes from another planet.
Nicknamed "Mind Bender" by his guitar-playing colleagues for his dazzling
technical facility, Monder has been quietly astounding guitar fans in New
York City for the past 10 years. His renegade approach to the instrument is
marked by liquid single note lines, classically finger-picked arpeggios, and
unorthodox chordal voicings. An adventurous player, Monder is particularly
impressive in solo settings, where his fondness for dissonance and daring
intervallic leaps, along with a penchant for weaving complex, contrapuntal
lines and creating ambient moods and textures come to the fore.
...if you need to surrender your routine-weary mind to an
alternate consciousness, Ben Monder is your best rejuvenatory
bet...Monder is a multifaceted, multi-talented anomaly that
mezmerizes with a rare depth of originality and focus.
...Ben Monder delivered the evening's most stunning displays
of technical virtuosity and compositional daring,...spinning
a web of hypnotic, rapid arpeggios with unerring accuracy for
minutes on end.
...his deeply personal musical vision, complete with staggering
technique and rhythmic flexibility, allow him to maneuver in
territory where most guitarists fear to tread.
About "At Night":
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.
Ben Monder and Theo Bleckmann's second collaboration, "At Night," is an astonishing compilation of originally conceived and orchestrated musical landscapes....While this album is not primarily an acoustic guitar recording, several pieces feature Monder's unique and expressive approach to the instrument. On the ominous opener "Late, by Myself," the guitarist creates some wonderfully flowing chordal tones to Bleckmann's ethereal wordless vocals. "Animal Planet" is a beautiful Brazilian inspired piece with subtle, melodic vocalizations over Monder's delicate and intricate accompaniment. An album solely devoted to the acoustic instrument would be a welcome appendage to the guitarist's critically acclaimed solo catalogue. The addition of Satoshi Takeishi on percussion on five of the tracks adds an even more dynamic dimension to the mix. As a case in point, on "Carbon" Monder unleashes some frenetic, distorted guitar lines reminiscent of Terje Rypdal and Steve Tibbetts, while Bleckmann counters with processed vocals amid Takeishi's powerful percussive work. There's even a psychedelic deconstruction of the Beatles "Norwegian Wood" and a poignant reading of Joni Mitchell's "Sunny Sunday." This groundbreaking album is challenging in many ways, but is at the same time uniquely refreshing and satisfying. While tradition is definitely abandoned, it is also redefined and recreated, to produce a recording that is truly unique and compulsory listening for adventurous fans of contemporary music.
On At Night, the duo’s second recording, Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder make the kind of music that critics often describe as genre-defying. Bleckmann, a vocalist who also contributes what he calls “live electronic processing,” sings in an off-kilter style that is reminiscent of Gastr Del Sol’s David Grubbs and Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren, two of post-punk’s artiest crooners. And Monder, an electric guitarist, alternates between lighter-than-air melodies and distortion-rich atmospherics that suggest no one so much as John Abercrombie. Together, they sound otherwordly...
"...truly gorgeous stuff...Exhilarating, trippy, and a little scary too. And somehow, comforting..."
On the first piece, "Late, By Myself", Monder sounds as if he is playing layers of slightly mutated acoustic guitars in harplike fashion, drowning supremely in cosmic echoes with Theo's transcendent voice floating on the clouds above. What is most amazing about this duo/trio is the way Monder gets all sorts of orchestral colors out of his layers of guitars; often his notes shimmer and wash over us like waves of the ocean. Both Theo and Ben are masters of creating vast colors and textures with their respective instruments, and once again show their limitless creativity on every piece.
"For all its layered density, the album is about nothing so much as atmosphere. "At Night" is the intimate sound of being inside one's own head. Bleckmann's keening vocals flow over Monder's cascading steel string arpeggios, like a waterfall's constant roar full of smaller ripples and eddies...Rarely have such individual musicians have sounded so single minded."
Ben Monder is a astounding guitarist who has just incredible technique and can go from wild rock to delicate control in a snap. Together they make really
Wondrous melodies are woven with exquisite compositions and intricate arrangements to form songs that composers often dream of. This is magic wrapped in eeriness folks!
There is a fine sense of balance on the recording. Both Monder and Bleckmann have a quirky sense of humor, which is transmitted to their music. This is seen in the way they set up the instrumentation and bring in a new twist. They have their serious side manifested in the ethereal beauty that flows through the songs, which does not stop them from painting some black.
Well established as one of the great contemporary progressive jazz guitarists, Monder ditches the sideman gig for a return to the group he started ten years ago and hasn’t recorded with since. With sharp chops leading the way, Monder never fails to impress. A nice dose of cutting edge jazz that open ears are sure to welcome. Recorded in super audio, this is an intimate enough date that it sounds like they are in the room with you.
"It is very rare to encounter a recording that is truly unique in its compositional style and performance. Oceana is one such record. Monder...has created seven wonderful compositions that are structurally sophisticated and unique in style. Monder's music seems to move and flow with little effort, while in reality it is incredibly complex from a technical and compositional standpoint. ...Oceana, with its changing tides and liquid sound, is a terrific album and a compositional triumph."
As much an experience in hypnotic textures as a voyage through aquatic
depths, Ben Monder's "Oceana" captures an essential mood and holds it for a
full seventy minutes...."Oceana" [is] a truly exceptional disc that cannot
and should not be categorized.
...unquestionably his most fully-realized record to date, [Oceana] 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.
Ben Monder's "Oceana", the first CD in five years for the enigmatic
guitarist, is a stunning acheievement.
With their mercurial arpeggios, leaping intervals, sonorous melodies and
counterintuitive rhythms, Monder’s through-composed pieces defy comparison.
But it is color and mood, not just jaw-dropping complexity, that sets this
Oceana, Monder’s fourth release as a leader, reads like a compelling story—a
moody, swirling atmosphere full of ghostly worlds, abstract lyricism, small
group craftiness, and a sense of compositional drama that keeps you turning
each page to see what’s next...On Oceana, Monder proves his ability to
distill a variety of guitar pillars into his own concoction and creates a
mesmerizing program that speaks to his personal ethos. Truly an outstanding
guitar record that stands miles ahead of the rest.
The guitarist’s Oceana is one of the year’s more dazzling jazz discs.
Following some novel design tenets, Monder’s music waxes rigorous, psychedelic, pensive,
An absolutely original voice with no musical comprises or boundaries, Ben
Monder is a hidden treasure. Check out his latest recording - Oceana...
"Guitarist Ben Monder flashes a technique that’s close to ridiculous here, though you might miss it if you aren’t looking for it. On “Mistral,” the first number and a tune that sets the tone for everything that follows…the guitarist surges through streams of notes so quickly and smoothly that the guitar seems to liquefy in his hands."
The compositions...combine serious grooves with technically
staggering ensemble passages, wordless vocalizing, and brilliant
guitar playing...Excavation contains some of the most unique,
invigorating music released during the year 2000.
Guitarist Ben Monder inhabits a world where jazz is created for
deep space. Setting aside typical jazz meters and swing, he plays
with a detached consciousness.
Monder's delicate guitar notes combine with the high pitched or
throaty vocalized humming of Bleckmann in creating a harmonic
garden of pleasure, a place where vibrant music swarms
unthreateningly over the senses...the result is a recording of
highly inspired music.
Another extremely strong release from an underrecognized, innovative
harmonic master and his henchman that, so fortunately for us all,
calls out for the next.
Monder picks through chords like a spider spinning its
web on speed...
Monder's haunting compositions use odd meters, extended forms,
and daring polytonal harmonies that push the boundaries of
the guitars capabilities...Highly recommended.
...Monder creates flowing, rich harmonies while conjuring up moods
of dark introspection and a twist of controlled mayhem on this
stunning six string showcase.
Dust is one of the best jazz records I've ever had the pleasure of hearing.
While the entire band contributes perfectly in their respective roles, Ben
Monder is clearly the captain of this musical ship with his powerful, yet
beautifully subtle, guitar playing...Listening to Dust I was taken back to
the days when I would put my headphones on and listen to entire albums with
my eyes closed. This is the kind of album that demands some patience, but
the payoff is magical.
The solo guitar study, Orbits, creates compelling continuity
through use of a bass-like pedal figure against bright treble
clusters, while the title cut embodies sophisticated theme
development through carefully sculpted and tantalizingly oblique
Beautifully shaped and recorded, this is an absorbing trio record...
...his solo pieces display a unique, often astonishing technique that transcends style. His pristine tone, combined with sophisticated ideas, make him a musician to watch.