Ben Monder – Amorphae
(ECM 2421. CD review by Henning Bolte)
What are characteristics of guitarist Ben Monder’s music? Is it dark and gloomy? Dusky and inscrutable? Overcast, hazy and melancholic? All of these, and yet none of them. His music is a unique layering of fine melodic lines of great clarity and purity, soaked in flashes and flickering shades of darker blue and grey passing through wondrous space. This album also appears to be related to some astronomical and biological phenomena.
In the opening piece, Tendrils, Monder is wandering through a space of peculiar silences and miraculous reverbs leading into the serene, sunlight flooded melodicism of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Oh, What A Beautiful Day ("There's a bright golden haze on the meadow/ … / All the sounds of the earth are like music/ … / I've got a beautiful feeling/ Everything's going my way"). Monder and the late Paul Motian (the tracks were him were recorded in sessions in 2010) render a crossfading multidimensional version of the evergreen. Its gentle melody becomes dusted by a cosmic sound storm that enshrouds the very essence of the song. The subsequent piece, Tumid Cenobite, with its dark tone and swelling sound characteristics justly got its funny title. Gamma Crucis also performed on electric baritone guitar with Pete Rende on synthesizer and Andrew Cyrille on drums wafts its swathes of sound into wider cosmic star spaces.
The album goes to old Egyptian beer, Zythum, next and to the fictitious venomous and menacing-looking plants called triffids. Triffids, a duo with drummer Paul Motian, is about overgrowing forms again. Hematophagy (feeding from blood) and Dinosaur Skies complete the eight pieces cycle of the album. Hematophagy is no ambient music. Monder plays with a simple series of tones here, tones clustering as small islands of an archipelago and connected via a special dramaturgy instead of a straightforward horizontal progression. Andrew Cyrille’s percussion especially in the second part is an impressing example of deep end spiritual drama. In Dinosaur Skies as the title already indicates Monder turns towards panorama-view with fire spitting roaring animal monsters. Although Monder is not caught in clichés at all, in this piece the listener could discern some far echoes of Morricone’s music for the western Once Upon A Time In The West. Amorphae inherits a deeper unity created by a unique musical voice. Monder is very much his own man matured along a long series of intriguing collaborations manifested in a larger number of impressing and memorable albums. That distinguished line is both prolonged and reinforced by this very satisfying album.