Gestrin/Monder/van der Schyff

The Distance
Songlines SGL SA1557-2

Reminiscent of guitarist Jim Hall’s work with pianist Bill Evans or what would have happened if a pre-Americana-obsessed Bill Frisell had recorded with a non-pretentious Keith Jarrett, The Distance goes the distance to prove that a first time meeting among convinced improvisers can result in memorable sounds as long as there’s a shared dynamic.

Dramatis personnel here are Vancouver pianist Chris Gestrin, who has played with everyone from vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughn to ex-BTO guitarist Randy Bachman and busy New York guitarist Ben Monder, both of whom prefer a narrow exposition. Luckily percussionist Dylan van der Schyff, who has seconded everyone from vibrant trumpeter Dave Douglas to minimalist saxophonist John Butcher, is along for the ride. His little instruments ratcheting, maracas shaking and subtle his rhythmic thrust on the rest of his kit adds a tincture of vivid coloring to Gestrin and Monder’s near monochromic playing.

Mostly completely improvised from the get-go, the 10 tracks highlight ongoing double counterpoint from the two chordal instruments, with Moder’s delicate, flowing finger-picking sometimes amplified to wide grunge-like drones or flanged pulsations with almost Jimmy Page-like audacity. A gentle stylist, when he isn’t involved in soft chording or patterning cadences, Gestrin, uses paper and other implements to prepare the piano. The results allow him to hightail it along the keys and create bottleneck guitar quivers at points, or showcase a color wheel of variations which involve airy soundboard vibrations that echo along with his intricate phrasing on the keys.

— Ken Waxman