Friday, November 13, 2015

Ben Monder, Amorphae

Ben Monder and his electric guitar work are new to me--except on an excellent album by Barry Romberg that I reviewed some time ago on these pages (April 1, 2013). For his debut album on ECM, Amorphae (ECM 2421) Monder reveals an artistry that is as evocative as it is impressive.

Monder has an excellent harmonic sense, an orchestral approach to ambient guitar and an excellent sense of sound color and phrasing. The album at hand is spacy, freely improvised (except a reharmonization of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning") and vital.

There are many high points. The two duets with the late Paul Motian (including the version of "Morning" cited above) is one of them. Then there are two unaccompanied solo improvisations, two duets with drummer giant Andrew Cyrille, and two more with Monder and Cyrille joined by Pete Rende on synthesizer.

Ultimately this is a showcase for Monder's special guitar sensibility with his cohorts contributing to the dramatic ambiance.

The high-ceiling, fully wet acoustics of the ECM production sets off what Monder is doing fabulously. His sometimes use of digital delay further heightens the sound for a sometimes orchestral density.

Throughout there is a care to establish the free space as hypnotically cosmic, oceanic, lyrically outside the pale of normalcy, and very much attractively musical in the best ways.

If interplanetary landscaping, soundscaping guitar ruminations sound like your kind of music, or one of them, this is a sterlingly pure and satisfying trip into such terrain that you need to hear. It establishes Monder definitively as an important contributor to the genre. It is also a wonderfully expansive listen!


  1. Another reviewer called in "sonic wallpaper." It sounds like an expansion of things Terje Rypdal was doing years ago on ECM. Liking or disliking this "music" isn't even the point. I don't know what the point is, and I feel that about many ECM releases and I have many. I'm drawn to them, but how they are engaging me, as the listener and receiver, is not clear. I am attentive, open, and don't care about any of the technical standpoints. I guess "oceanic" is a good description, but I'm not sure about "cosmic." I feel like it is heading into vast interior space rather than out into the universe.
    p.s. - If I didn't have a great stereo, I'm not sure it would work at all.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I always remember my old prof pointing out that "cosmic" and "cosmetic" are related. IOW it is about inner space and its surface as well as outer, or in other words, is about mapping space is macro- or microcosm?. This sort of music I not only like, it is something I "hear" when I listen to myself humming along. But maybe "like" is an irrelevant word, granted. Of course all this music relates to Rypdal as it does to Fripp and Eno. They were important precursors as was/is Terry Riley. The experience of this music may be beyond words, as ultimately most worthy music is. I beat my head against that wall every day by making words that attempt to capture the fleeting moment in time where you get IT. A good stereo helps, sure. And of course there are those who treat this music as wallpaper--as an accretion to ignore while you do something else. That's true of almost all music that flows along. The difference between a sort of vapid new age music and ambient music of worth is another thread in itself. Some ads on TV have music I find very engaging in this same way--but they only go on for 15 seconds or so. What would they do afterwards? Anyway you raise some good issues and interesting thoughts, so thanks much.
    All the best,