Ben Monder’s Amorphae is an ECM release. It’s contemplative, expansive, tumultuously beautiful and beautifully tumultuous. It sounds positively gorgeous. It’s sparse in ways that never leave the listener wanting more because it’s an album that makes one appreciate the pauses. Some folks out there are going to hate it, ECM albums can be like that sometimes. Some folks aren’t going to care that much for its drone nature. However, guitarist Monder pulls this all off so well that maybe those people who don’t care for this can just go off and chill for 45 minutes while minds are expanding elsewhere.
It’s an album where Monder is practically slouching on the guitar, letting engineering or even the percussion do the work. Having Andrew Cyrille on the middle tracks of the album give this a requisite chamber feel that rings, but the two songs on the album featuring the late Paul Motian — a take on “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma and the sprightly “Triffids” — go everywhere brilliantly. Additional electronic tweaks by Pete Rende gives an extra moodiness that gives an extra emphasis on the word “contemplative”.
Yet the whole reason why I’m probably writing this review is for the immenseness of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”. This album can fall into the drone genre at times, and this track is part of it. It’s one of those songs where it can be described as cross genre, those who believe wholeheartedly in the squishiness of genre to say this is just good. Describing it is difficult, much like the rest of this album. It fits in the microcosm of drone, in a sludgy stoner metal at times, and indeed it can be considered jazz. “…Morning” fits all these characteristics in spades. It soars. It’s impossible to get tired of it. Monder and Motian are emoting purely, a time capsule released upon us now that we are hardly worthy of witnessing it still.
It’s a heavy album for one with so few notes played in such a languished fashion. However, languish may not be the best word. Languish connotes laziness or sluggishness. There’s not speed here, but there’s tension. These notes sit, and they are contented at sitting, but it’s not as if there isn’t intention. They’re perfectly fine sitting, spreading out, settling in the speakers and floating through the air, rattling around in ears and settling themselves comfortably in brains. Amorphae is a creeping fog on an awesomely spooky day. It certainly sounds like an ECM album. It’s also the kind of album that’s easy and remarkably difficult to put in a box, all for the best reasons.
Amorphae, the latest album from guitarist Ben Monder is out now on ECM Records. You can buy it now at Amazon.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.