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Guitarist Ben Monder investigates Club Tropical

The Guitar Whisperer

You know within about three seconds that something original is coming out of Ben Monder’s electric guitar — a whispering flow of harmonic challenges that fold backward, sideways and across dimensions like time-space origami. There are two answers to the obvious question of why nobody else is doing this. (1) No money in it. (2) Can’t.

Though Monder’s been known to erupt into whip-driven 1971-style fusion, his main thing is quiet spareness, which has the advantage, even when he’s at his quickest, of letting his constructions sink in. He’s like a magician who slows a trick down to ox-cart tempo, and you still can’t figure out how he did it. Unless you’re a teeth-gritted guitar student, however, you won’t care; you’ll just be enjoying the unusual sensation of displacement, freshness and potential. Maybe you’ll order something different tonight.

As Monder’s pretty much a New Yorker, L.A. has seen little of him prior to this week’s full slate of California workshops and stage shows. After early-’80s music studies at Queens College and the University of Miami, he hit the circuit with a growing roster of high-profile artists including Lee Konitz, Maria Schneider and Paul Motian. His bio shows a healthy sense of humor about his journeyman years playing R&B and whatever — stuff about his “unprecedented tolerance for alcohol,” “sullen demeanor” and “lifelike renditions of Louis Prima numbers.” The wide experience leaks out in the lightness of his improvisations, in the way he can translate a classical or Brazilian inspiration without ever getting specific about it. He’s got four albums of his own now, and they display an artist who’s mature and sure that what he’s laying down is worth hearing, worth absorbing, worth remembering. If you ever get the chance. Which is why I’m writing this.

The Ben Monder Trio (with drummer Ted Poor and bassist Ben Street) plays Club Tropical Mon., Sept. 18.

Pickpocket Bonanza

A lot of slobs will be stumbling outa the Six Feet Under/Krisiun show not knowing what day it is, so here’s a chance to steal fans’ gas money before they regain consciousness. If proof was needed that SFU are the world’s most odiferous death-metal clot, last year’s five-disc retrospective of filth-encrusted murk stamps huffer Chris Barnes’ 1995 excision from Cannibal Corpse as creative kismet. Brazil’s tireless Krisiun, meanwhile, improbably discover unexplored vistas in the overused double-kick; rhythmic firepower is their business. Need more? You got Poland’s extremely extreme Decapitated and L.A.’s unrelenting Abysmal Dawn to load up a bill that’s about as heavy as it gets. Too bad San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation had to pull out due to drummer issues; their new Karma. Bloody. Karma swirls with unprecedented density while maintaining peak hostility (“Unintelligent Design” indeed) and leaping into new realms of epic despair (“Alone at the Landfill”) — so good it almost isn’t music.?

Monsters of Death Tour consumes the Key Club Thurs., Sept. 21.


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