The New York City jazz guitarist Ben Monder was already the owner of a humming 30-plus-year career as leader and sideman when he was tapped by David Bowie to be one of the featured voices in the ensemble that made Bowie’s arrestingly strange final album, Blackstar. When Bowie taps, you fall down. He was the Miles Davis of rock — with feelers on every street corner looking for the first signs of fresh new things to borrow and glom upon.
Monder’s thing was fresh but hardly new. Often ballparked as a player in the impressionistic tradition of John Abercrombie and Bill Frisell (more the latter than the former to my ears, a harmonically rich cloud painter sans the pop impulse of a Pat Metheny), Monder is now in his mid-50s and has been on an impressive run since the late 1980s.
He grabbed his jazz imprimatur from his work with Toots Thielemans, Lee Konitz and—especially on-topic—with Paul Motian, who, as the drummer in the first and greatest Bill Evans trio, can be said to have founded the impressionistic jazz tradition. Monder’s 2015 release Amorphae features some of Motian’s last recorded playing. Amorphae is also Monder’s first on the label that hosts all of jazz’s finest watercolorists, Manfred Eicher’s ECM. The only surprise is that it took Monder so long to wind up there.
The Rhinebeck Chamber Music Society presents a free concert by Ben Monder and vocalist Theo Bleckmann at the beautiful Wilderstein Historic Site on Sunday, September 30. Monder and Bleckmann go way back. They recorded No Boat, a stunning and strange ensemble piece, in 1997.
Monder and Bleckmann concert, Sunday, September 30, 2 p.m., Wilderstein Historic Site, 30 Morton Road, Rhinebeck, www.rcmsmusic.org