The Big Apple’s Ben Monder has played with scores of cutting-edge bands and artists—including bassist Marc Johnson’s Right Brain Patrol, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, and drummer Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band—in addition to releasing four solo albums. Oceana finds the innovative guitarist accompanied by bassists Kermit Driscoll and Skuli Sverrisson, drummer Ted Poor, and vocalist Theo Blekmann. As the title suggests, the music is generally deep and dark, with bits of lightness and beauty breaking through from various angles.
The album opens with “Still Motion,” a solo acoustic guitar composition that unfolds like the tentacles of a sea creature, employing clustered arpeggios that imply melodies rather than stating them explicitly. Monder switches to electric for the remainder of the album, but continues to emphasize cascading waves of notes, at times sounding like the love child of Robert Fripp and Jim Hall. The only actual “solo” Monder takes is a soaring legato excursion on “Rooms of Light” towards the end of the disc, but it demonstrates that not soloing extensively is a choice rather than a necessity. This is one of the most intriguing and original-sounding CDs I’ve heard all year. (Sunnyside) —Barry Cleveland
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