Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019
Personnel - Ben Monder: electric and acoustic guitars; Matt Brewer: bass; Ted Poor: drums.
Guitarist Ben Monder is equally comfortable in straightforward and subversive settings. His playing is sparkling and his efficiency, remarkable. The double-album Day After Day offers a wide-ranging collection of esteemed non-original songs interpreted in solo and trio formats. Joining him in the latter context are bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Ted Poor.
Disc one features a solitary Monder in absolute control of the instrument and exhibiting unparalleled sounds fertile in bright introspective textures. The sonic propagations of “Dreamsville” are rich, relaxed, and full in color. Effortlessly operating in several octaves, the guitarist embraces fluidity, combining wise harmonic concepts with carefully built melodies.
The concurrent movements on “Emily”, a tune popularized by Bill Evans, are mesmerizing. Bringing out his classical influences, Monder integrates melody and bass lines with perspicacity, demonstrating advanced performing expertise. In this particular case, he proves that complexity is not incompatible with beauty, stressing a suggestive metronomic line with a subtle percussive touch in the last minute of the song.
The transparency and enlightenment of “O Sacrum Convivium”, a choral wonder by the 20th-century composer Olivier Messiaen, obfuscate us with warm beams of light. Yet, it’s the standard “My One And Only Love” that most clearly shows that miraculous voice-leading control, replete of surprising note choices. Monder also luxuriates in dashing sonorities on another balladic standard, “Never Let Me Go” as well as on the ever-evolving version of Burt Bacharach’s “The Windows of the World”.
Over the course of the second disc, the guitar is center-place, leading the bass and drums into adventurous paths characterized by different moods and genres. Still, two songs are bass-less: The Beatles’ “Long Long Long”, a 3/4 song that draws some ambiguity from the virtuosic fingerpicking, and the opaque experimentation on the title cut, a song from the early ’70s, whose dark waves cause a dystopian sensation. The bandleader’s relationship with hard rock music is not a novelty, and the 007 theme “Goldfinger” is a showcase for his prodigious metal technique.
The casual country pop of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston” opens the record with a convivial posture, culminating in a speedy guitar solo pronounced with distortion. However, it’s the emotionally charged “Dust”, a great contemporary rock song by The Fleetwood Mac that strikes with awe, featuring Monder on acoustic guitar and Brewer in an inspired bass solo.
Bread’s “The Guitar Man” is a soft-rock song designed with bluesy dotted notes and carrying something of Bob Dylan, who is also paid tribute here with a suave rendition of “Just Like a Woman”.
Regardless of the nature of the songs, Monder has a personal and tasteful approach to the music. His versatility and dedication are impressive and this accessible double album invites you to experience a fraction of his immensely creative mind.
02 (disc1) - Emily ► 03 (disc1) - O Sacrum Convivium ► 02 (disc2) - Dust