Review: Aaron Shragge and Ben Monder, “This World of Dew”

Aaron Shragge/Ben Monder - This World of Dew

Aaron Shragge and Ben Monder’s “This World of Dew” is like a score for an exotic film noir, that doesn’t yet exist.

Aaron Shragge has a tender, broad, and emotionally expressive range with his dragon mouth trumpet, an instrument he designed.   Shragge says the songs are inspired by the writings of both ancient and modern poets: Kobayashi Issa, Matsuo Bashō, Li Po, Nishiyama Sōin and Charles Bukowski.  I can certainly hear the influence of Buddhist Issa’s haikus and Li Po’s sentimental romanticism.  The use of Shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo-flute, gives many songs a meditative sound.

Ben Monder’s role in the duo seems to be for atmosphere.  His electric guitar rarely breaks the background sonic barrier or leads a tune.  But, his playing is impeccable. The guitar is full sounding and sometimes, moist and damp in reverb.  He fills all the spaces, often simultaneously plucking both bass and harmonic notes.

I get a genuine rush while listening to these songs. They’re creative and inspired. Images in my mind are constantly changing as I listen.  The monochrome album cover has me dreaming in black and white. A classic.

Here are some of the album’s highlights for me:

“There is Always One You Follow” – gently floating and pulsing. In my mind’s eye, I imagine this as the soundtrack, where the ship is closing in to its destination. After getting lost along the way, it’s been located by the rest of its team and is being led to the promised land.

More nautical visions appear during “Pretending Wisdom.”  The consistent and chiming guitar reminds me of buoy bells.  The trumpet is thick, foggy and sultry.  A very short song that quite suddenly fades away.

“Roll the Dice” begins as a more straightforward “jazz” song. It’s also another enjoyable tune. Though it begins slow, the momentum builds with increased intensity as the track reaches the midway point. Tension builds to a crescendo and pinnacle, followed by a slow descent down the mountain.

“Sun Coming Down” is the final track and a perfect sunset for the album. In the movie I’ve been watching in my mind, Humphrey Bogart is standing alone on the dock, smoking a cigarette in the rain at night.  His love is aboard a ship which sails away. A tear runs down her cheek. She stares across the moonlit waves as a shipmate taps her on the shoulder. He gestures that she should follow him, and get out of the rain.

Preview and buy “This World of Dew” on Bandcamp.

A bit of a Renaissance man, Steve Murphy is a singer-songwriter, author, and journalist based out of London, Ontario. An avid vinyl collector and audiophile, his personal collection of albums is wide ranging and in the thousands, including four released from his band Westminster Park.

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