Sunday, March 07, 2021

Ben Monder / Tony Malaby / Tom Rainey - Live at the 55 Bar (Sunnyside Records, 2021)

Originally intended as a studio album, guitarist Ben Monder took the initiative and recorded his collective trio with saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey just as live performances were going into stasis, during March of 2020. The three lengthy spontaneous performances caught the band at a performative peak, providing one last burst of creativity before a long silence. "Suite 3320 - Part I" is a lengthy slow building performance developing in smears of horn glimmers of guitar and cymbals coming together and coalescing into an open improvisation. The group picks up the pace of collective improvisation that builds through raw tinged saxophone, feathering percussion and layers of guitar. The intensity of the music waxes and wanes dramatically in pace and depth, leading to stark yearning tones of saxophone met with crisp attentive drumming and beaming guitar. Turning back to fast and taut interactive improvising, melding three as one, the music becomes very exciting and impressive, leading to a guitar and drums interlude, before Malaby's saxophone returns to push for the finish. Light touches on all instruments usher in ""Suite 3320 - Part II" where Malaby's saxophone and some sublime drumming along with with Monder's guitar painting around the edges create light and nimble music that billows and rides the thermals, darting around very quickly with the musicians interacting at an extraordinary level becoming faster and more muscular leading up to overdriven guitar and drumming taking control. Moving down to an edgy section where guitar and drums head to the outer realms, then pull back to the trio configuration, simmering and ready to boil, finally erupting in a fast storming collective improvisation of scouring tenor saxophone, crushing drums with waves of electric guitar. "Suite 3320 - Part III" opens with the group trading sounds looking for entry, then leaping into a full blowout improvisation creating an exhilarating sound as crashing drums meets sheets of guitar, then heads back dynamic flux with long tones and raw asides in the open space. Raw rending saxophone and drumming with shades of guitar leads to a satisfying completion. This was an excellent album, fulfilling in every way. The music is played in the spirit of exploration and camaraderie. With the unknown on the horizon, they left everything on the bandstand. Live at 55 Bar -

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