Reviews of At Night

At Night

“Aptly named, this atmospheric set layers the seemingly limitless vocals of Bleckmann over Monder’s stormy, portentous guitar; whether transforming “Norwegian Wood” into a distorted howl, stretching Joni Mitchell’s “Sunny Sunday” like mournful taffy, or setting Rumi poetry or even wordless exultations to an acoustic waterfall, the duo paint a portrait of enticing isolation.”
—Philadelphia City Paper Top 10 List for 2007

“The cover imagery depicts mesas viewed heavenward towards a threatening yet beckoning night sky. In the foreground, an empty highway envelops two empty stools for any brave two travelers on life’s journey to perform an offering to the stars, to the universe, to all, to the night. If ever two musicians were up to the task, it’s the flat-out astonishing virtuosi, vocalist Theo Bleckmann and guitarist Ben Monder. Bleckmann possesses technique so colossal, yet so meticulous, he can seem otherworldly, an android-like embodiment of sci-fi vocalisms, a bodily vessel for that voice. Still, whether accompanied by actual words or not, the sounds wrought are undeniably the product of the indissoluble bond of that magical, futuristic technique with the spectrum of suffering and celebration emanating from the soul of their maker. Throughout his career, Monder has consistently raised the bar of guitar technique to its now new-millennium level, while linking it to refinement and erudition that is all his own. In his improvisations and his compositions, he has the uncanny ability to play tensions and resolutions, and to magically and futuristically translate them, as would a painter, in the mind’s-eye of the listener, to darkness and light. Eight of the ten pieces herein were composed by the co-leaders, with three of those co-composed with the third man in on this recording—the indispensably inventive percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. Three of eight combine to form the session’s nucleus around translations of the 13th century Quatrains of the Persian poet Rumi, the only words used by Bleckmann on the session’s originals. Bleckmann begins, floating “Late by Myself, in the boat of myself” over Monder’s finger-style version of circular breathing arpeggiation on steel-string acoustic. The use of powerful poetic metaphor and spectral melodic line combine to wash over us into the ocean of imagery found in our own depths, akin to the effects of Monder’s 2005 opus, Oceana (Sunnyside Records). “Swarm” is a hoard of buzzing free-associations, first between Takeishi on rims, metal, and wood and Bleckmann’s manic gutteralisms, percussives, tweets and toots. They are conjoined by Monder’s hyper-speed, darting single-line improvisation. His lines’ basis comes later, from the harmony implied by a spare combination of Takeishi’s laptop and Bleckmann’s organ-like live multitracking, achieved by a device that echoes his vocals at set intervals. The swarm gives way to light in the form of a Bleckmann soliloquy, only to be refracted out through Monder’s lines. This slight turn south allows Ben to lift us higher with his gorgeous volume-swelled voicings supporting Bleckmann’s invitation to the “Orchard.” This Rumi-nation on how our world, however beautiful, is transformed so completely by others choosing to accompany or desert us, will elicit tears. Cinematic and transporting are not descriptive enough adjectives to apply. Not only is the music a soundtrack to a yet existent motion picture, it is inspiration enough for its own film. Not only will hearing stir each listener into their own voyage, it will propel them to other journeys.”
—Phil Dipietro, All About Jazz 6/07

“Ben Monder and Theo Bleckmann’s second collaboration, “At Night,” is an astonishing compilation of originally conceived and orchestrated musical landscapes….While this album is not primarily an acoustic guitar recording, several pieces feature Monder’s unique and expressive approach to the instrument. On the ominous opener “Late, by Myself,” the guitarist creates some wonderfully flowing chordal tones to Bleckmann’s ethereal wordless vocals. “Animal Planet” is a beautiful Brazilian inspired piece with subtle, melodic vocalizations over Monder’s delicate and intricate accompaniment. An album solely devoted to the acoustic instrument would be a welcome appendage to the guitarist’s critically acclaimed solo catalogue. The addition of Satoshi Takeishi on percussion on five of the tracks adds an even more dynamic dimension to the mix. As a case in point, on “Carbon” Monder unleashes some frenetic, distorted guitar lines reminiscent of Terje Rypdal and Steve Tibbetts, while Bleckmann counters with processed vocals amid Takeishi’s powerful percussive work. There’s even a psychedelic deconstruction of the Beatles “Norwegian Wood” and a poignant reading of Joni Mitchell’s “Sunny Sunday.” This groundbreaking album is challenging in many ways, but is at the same time uniquely refreshing and satisfying. While tradition is definitely abandoned, it is also redefined and recreated, to produce a recording that is truly unique and compulsory listening for adventurous fans of contemporary music.”

“On At Night, the duo’s second recording, Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder make the kind of music that critics often describe as genre-defying. Bleckmann, a vocalist who also contributes what he calls “live electronic processing,” sings in an off-kilter style that is reminiscent of Gastr Del Sol’s David Grubbs and Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren, two of post-punk’s artiest crooners. And Monder, an electric guitarist, alternates between lighter-than-air melodies and distortion-rich atmospherics that suggest no one so much as John Abercrombie. Together, they sound otherwordly…”
—Brent Burton, Jazz Times

— Brent Burton

“…truly gorgeous stuff…Exhilarating, trippy, and a little scary too. And somehow, comforting…”
—Mark Saleski,

“On the first piece, “Late, By Myself”, Monder sounds as if he is playing layers of slightly mutated acoustic guitars in harplike fashion, drowning supremely in cosmic echoes with Theo’s transcendent voice floating on the clouds above. What is most amazing about this duo/trio is the way Monder gets all sorts of orchestral colors out of his layers of guitars; often his notes shimmer and wash over us like waves of the ocean. Both Theo and Ben are masters of creating vast colors and textures with their respective instruments, and once again show their limitless creativity on every piece.”
—Downtown Music Gallery

“For all its layered density, the album is about nothing so much as atmosphere. “At Night” is the intimate sound of being inside one’s own head. Bleckmann’s keening vocals flow over Monder’s cascading steel string arpeggios, like a waterfall’s constant roar full of smaller ripples and eddies…Rarely have such individual musicians have sounded so single minded.”
—Shaun Brady, Downbeat Magazine

“Ben Monder is a astounding guitarist who has just incredible technique and can go from wild rock to delicate control in a snap. Together they make really beautiful, unique, intimate music that sounds like it could only have come from these two (Satoshi Takeishi guest on drums and percussion and computer on 5 tracks). Not a difficult listen at all, this is probably the best record I heard this month. Recommended!”
—Wayside Music

“Wondrous melodies are woven with exquisite compositions and intricate arrangements to form songs that composers often dream of. This is magic wrapped in eeriness folks!”
—J-Sin, Smother Magazine

“There is a fine sense of balance on the recording. Both Monder and Bleckmann have a quirky sense of humor, which is transmitted to their music. This is seen in the way they set up the instrumentation and bring in a new twist. They have their serious side manifested in the ethereal beauty that flows through the songs, which does not stop them from painting some black.
Texture and dynamics are constantly forged which makes listening to this CD a constant surprise.”
—Jerry D’Souza, AAJ

“Well established as one of the great contemporary progressive jazz guitarists, Monder ditches the sideman gig for a return to the group he started ten years ago and hasn’t recorded with since. With sharp chops leading the way, Monder never fails to impress. A nice dose of cutting edge jazz that open ears are sure to welcome. Recorded in super audio, this is an intimate enough date that it sounds like they are in the room with you.”
—Midwest Record


— Tony Reif