Bloom by Ben Monder and Bill McHenry

Ben Monder and Bill McHenry, Bloom

A good jazz duo record is hard to pull off, but Ben Monder and Bill McHenry are certainly up to the task with their recent release, Bloom. Their musical dialogue conjures the edgy spontaneity of great improvisation, whether sprawling through the drones of the title track or navigating the crunchy distortion of “Ice Fields.”

The record can be a bit challenging at times because of the lack of rhythmic drive, but the long phrasing and angular saxophone lines work because of the way that the two weave together larger melodic arcs.

Guitarist Ben Monder sets the tone of the songs with his intricate electric guitar wizardry, laying a foundation over which McHenry’s saxophone glides melodically. It’s not actually that different from what one would expect from a sax-and-guitar duo, only there seem to be no chord changes or functional harmony. Instead, the two dance within a more ambiguous framework of timbral and dynamic shifts that move subtly within each song and between tracks. McHenry takes the lead in a few places, such as the beginning of “Heliogabalus” (that was fun to type) where his aggressive chromatic passages and brash punctuations give way as Monder slides in quietly underneath him.

Taken together, these conversations provide a display of virtuosic and intimate improvised music. Although a clear departure from tonality and functional harmony, Monder and McHenry’s record is exciting, moving and oddly mystifying. I’ve had to find myself in the right mood to listen to it, but when I have really been able to dig in, it has taken my ear in some surprising new directions.

About arodjazz

Writer, trombonist, and PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology exploring the complexity of today's jazz world
This entry was posted in Jazz Journalism, Music Review and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s