in performance: ben monder

Ben Monder. Photo by John Rogers

After an extended opening medley of “My One and Only Love” and “Dreamsville” that offered dual images of his guitar profile, Ben Monder mumbled a cordial greeting to the crowd gathered Friday evening at the Friends Meeting House on Price Ave. for the Origins Jazz Series. It was next to impossible to discern what was said, so the follow-up remark seemed a little curious.
“That was a joke.”
Mild laughter.
“I’ll be here all night.”
Slightly more pronounced laughter.
“Well, for about another 30 minutes.”
While the New York guitarist’s future as a comedian may be in doubt, his considerable ability to create a gallery full of sound portraits during the 70-minute solo electric performance was asserted. The opening medley, performed as separate interpretations on his fine 2019 album “Day After Day,” set the pace for a program whose melodic intensity continually mounted. “My One and Only Love,” however, came across like an intimate conversation with single, piano-like notes that established a chiming balance of atmospherics and melody.
For much of the evening, such duality would be called upon. Monder would regularly employ a modest array of pedal effects to establish his sound, although they were mostly used for tonal effect. There was no looping and noticeable delay gimmickry. The textured sound he would create for the program seemed quite organic.
Things intensified slightly as Monder took on Ralph Towner’s “Anthem.” While it was thrilling just to hear a work by the almost exclusively acoustic catalogue of the great Towner transferred to an electric setting, Monder struck a fascinating balance between his layered sound and the tune’s moody countenance. For instance, at the heart of the composition sat a brief, but ominous melody reminiscent of a chant. Monder used it as an anchor for an interpretation that employed more distorted guitar voices, courtesy of the pedals, to establish his own sense of ambience.
The warmer, cyclical set up of another standard, “Never Let Me Go,” reflected orchestration constructed around a series of agile, rolling chords repeated in almost mantra-like fashion. That helped set up an eventual finale where Monder gave in fully to his darker ambient impulses. The soundscape opened with a mounting electric edge, suggestive of the storm to come. When it arrived, Monder indulged in an exquisite torrent of sound – a massive electric wash that flooded the room in waves. The results mirrored remarkably the sonic imagery from the title tune to “Day After Day.”
Monder mentioned the segment was inspired by Zen poetry. The music’s initial darkness might have disputed that estimation, but the eventual electric envelopment of the finale did indeed suggest a choral spaciousness – an aural sky where shards of light continually found their way safely to those below.



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