Ben Monder has spent more than two decades carving out an extremely personal aesthetic niche. The guitarist has played with tons of jazz luminaries, including Paul Motian and Maria Schneider, but recent albums under his own name — like 2005’s Oceana and 2013’s Hydra — feature sprawling, immersive, micro-detailed long-form compositions that seem to land somewhere between technical metal and ethereal art song.
It’s fitting that a player this unusual forged an alliance with David Bowie, a rock star who never allowed genre to fence him in. Monder joined an illustrious lineage of Bowie guitarists when he played on the late icon’s final album, Blackstar. That’s his gritty yet luminous shredding you hear in the LP’s final minutes, during the climax of “I Can’t Give Everything Away.”
In the context of his career so far, the most surprising thing about Ben Monder’s new album, at least on paper, is how conventional it is. He’s recorded plenty of standards in the past, but they were always palate cleansers rather than the focus. Out April 12th, Day After Day is an entire double-disc album of covers.
Half recorded solo and half with drummer Ted Poor (who also played on Hydra and Oceana) and bassist Matt Brewer, the album features Monder’s takes on everything from the 1967 Burt Bacharach–Hal David protest song “The Windows of the World” to the Olivier Messaien choral work “O Sacrum Convivium,” the Beatles’ “Long Long Long,” Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” and “Galveston” by Jimmy Webb, who Monder says is “possibly my favorite living songwriter.”
“I had been gradually adding pop tunes dear to my heart to my trio repertoire,” Monder writes in an e-mail. “I found that many of them were fun to improvise on, and it was rewarding to render tunes I had a history with. When I got a grant from the Shifting Foundation to record an album, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to finally document some of this material, which I had so far never really done.”
One of Day After Day’s most striking tracks is a version of “Goldfinger” — the famed Bond theme composed by John Barry and originally sung by Shirley Bassey — on which Monder, an avowed metal fan, cranks up the distortion and teases out the original’s doomier undertones.
Monder’s reading features ringing power chords and molten-lava runs. As Brewer and Poor lay down a steady foundation, the guitarist’s lengthy solo grows wilder and more ecstatic. Returning to the opening vamp, the band gradually ramps down the tempo, with Monder sprinkling in bits of fuzz-tone noise.
Monder recalls seeing Goldfinger and other Sixties Bond films as a child. “They were some of my earliest and most profound cinematic experiences,” he writes. “We also had an LP called Themes From the James Bond Thrillers by the Roland Shaw Orchestra that I listened to constantly as a little kid. They were instrumental versions of many of the theme songs from the Sixties movies, including ‘Goldfinger.’ But I probably would never have thought to cover it were it not for a friend suggesting it out of the blue about 10 years ago. The quasi-metal treatment is the best way I could think of to honor the power and attitude of the original.”
Day After Day is available for preorder now.