On his second outing as a leader, Dust (Arabesque), guitarist Ben Monder boldly reveals himself in the stark setting of a trio. Accompanied by bassist Ben Street and drummer Jim Black, Monder creates flowing, rich harmonies while conjuring up moods of dark introspection and a twist of controlled mayhem on this stunning six-string showcase. With gorgeous tones he probes unorthodox voicings on every track. The results range from the provocative (“The Third Eyebrow,” “Gemini”) to the sublime (“In Memoriam,” “Silent Neighbors”). On an ethereal rendition of “I’ll Remember April,” Monder seems to suspend time while summoning up the walking-on-eggshells aesthetic of perhaps his biggest guitar influence, Jim Hall.
“If I had a mission it would be to explore all the possibilities given the starkest setting, just to see how much texture and harmony I can get out of it,” says the 35-year-old guitarist. “I studied Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock for a while to get some other kind of voicings happening. But at this point I’m more interested in trying to look for sounds...just trying to surprise myself but still remain coherent.”
Monder’s recording debut came in 1993 on Marc Johnson’s Right Brain Patrol. Since then he has appeared on two recordings by Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra (Evanescence and Coming About) and a couple of noteworthy projects for the adventurous Canadian label Songlines (his ’95 solo debut Flux and his collaboration with vocalist Theo Bleckmann, No Boat). And though Monder has appeared as a sideman in a variety of group settings—stints with Jack McDuff’s band, Michael Formanek’s quintet and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra—he prefers more intimate situations. “The duo setting is one that I like a lot, especially with a melodic instrument like saxophone or voice. If they’re tolerant of what I do, that gives me the most freedom rhythmically and harmonically. I don’t have to bargain with anybody as to how far I can stretch the time or where I can take the harmony.”
He applies that same daring approach to Dust.