September 2000

Ben Monder
Arabesque Recordings

Guitarist Ben Monder possesses such prodigious technique that songs can run away from him as he restlessly crams in every chordal variation. And this is mostly a very good thing, especially on Excavation.
While Monder does play single-note lines with a dark, almost underwater-sounding tone, his style is most defined by the speed, agility and harmonic dexterity of his arpeggios. Monder picks through chords like a spider spinning its web on speed, evoking a mixture of John Fahey's fluidity and '70s-era John Abercrombie's lush but lulling tonality.
Two duets with electric bassist Skuli Sverrisson-the lead track, "Mistral," and the seventh cut, "Windowpane"-are showcases for Monder's spindly arpeggios, which hang in a state of ethereal suspension throughout the, respectively, nine- and 11-minute tunes. "Luteous Pangolin" and the more rollicking "Ellenville" bring in drummer Jim Black for Bill Frisellian chamberlike jazz-rock, that also features the gentle glossolalia of tenor vocalist Theo Bleckmann. More echoes of Frisell surface on "Hatchet Face" and "Etching," where Monder uses a volume pedal for a wavy, unbalancing sound.
Monder closes the disc with a heavily reverbed solo acoustic version of "You Are My Sunshine," a haunting reharmonization that evokes clouds more than sun. Here Monder's technique is relatively sparse but no less captivating, confirming that his Excavation is well worth digging.

Originally published in September 2000

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