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Aaron Shragge & Ben Monder: This World of Dew (Human Resource)

Review of high-texture duo album by the trumpeter and guitarist

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Cover of Aaron Shragge & Ben Monder album This World of Dew
Cover of Aaron Shragge & Ben Monder album This World of Dew

Because the dewdrop is both beautiful and fleeting, it has been used in Buddhist teaching as a metaphor for the impermanence of existence. In the haiku that gave This World of Dew its title, the Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa makes a similar point but adds, “and yet, and yet”—a comment that speaks to the sense of loss the human heart can feel even as the mind tries to transcend its attachment to the material.

That’s a very deep thought to hang an album on, and yet it perfectly fits the mix of pacific calm and unresolved longing that suffuses the music here. For This World of Dew, trumpeter Aaron Shragge and guitarist Ben Monder expand on the haunting electro-acoustic soundscapes of their previous collaborations, not only layering in additional levels of texture but intensifying the rhythmic content through looping repeated figures. “There Is Always One You Follow,” for instance, balances a chiming, chordal line from Monder’s guitar against wispy electronics that alternately evoke high strings and chanting monks. Burbling beneath it, however, is Shragge’s eight-note shakuhachi ostinato, a gentle pulse that somehow makes the music seem both meaty and transcendent.

Then again, these two are expert at such dualities. Shragge’s “dragon mouth trumpet”— a customized horn that boasts both valves and slide—is a shape-shifting delight, bending notes, stretching phrases, and occasionally sounding like an anxious kettle. Monder, meanwhile, sometimes sounds like a guitarist, sometimes like an orchestra, and occasionally like both at once. Perhaps that’s how the music can suggest such depths within its quiet, and such harmonic richness within its lean melodies and chords. As with haiku, it’s all about using a little to say a lot.

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Originally Published