by Jeff Becker
Gene Ess is an award-winning guitarist, who through his many diverse musical experiences draws upon that insight to create a unique sound that is deeply personal and an inimitable imprint of discography.
His new album in a string of memorable offerings takes a deeper look at the philosophy of the absurd. Absurdist Theater, is a collection of pieces continuing the exploration of voice as an instrument in a chamber setting, featuring a powerful ensemble all from different musical backgrounds but rooted in a like mind of exploration, Thana Alexa (voice), Manuel Valera (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Clarence Penn (drums).
The album begins with an awakening, “Out of the Ashes.” The lone sound of Thana Alexa’s voice is the cool water that refreshes your senses, with plush and supportive chords by Ess, he creates a spacious canvas for the ensemble to paint upon. Ess has an electric sound, uniquely identifiable in the guitar world. A trait only achieved by years and hours with one’s instrument, which is not an overnight process. It can only be taught through hours of connecting on a deeper level with one’s instrument and inner self.
A change of texture is achieved with “Circe’s Compassion” featuring Ess on nylon strung guitar, it is a delicate tune, and in the hands of this masterful group, the nuances of the tune come to fruition with staggering beauty. Alexa utilizes her voice as an instrument and like a horn player its additive is potent. Ess is a passionate and inventive composer and this compelling group conveys the message within the tune with eloquence and respectfulness. I might add, it is refreshing to see a composer of Ess’ stature recognize the voice as a vital instrument and such has written in a way that supports and includes its place in the ensemble. Alexa is certainly a perfect choice in that role.
The compositions on this album were culminated from a stay in San Jose, located on the southern coast of Spain. “Déjala Que Pase,” is a tribute to this reflective time and is colorized in a hauntingly deep expressive manner, that ponders the meaning of existence. Alexa is featured in a lyric based vocalizing approach, dappled with quick lines and flurries of notes, heightened with robust drums which build to fervor and release.
“Upward and Onward!” is quick paced and a barn burner, filled with interludes and rapid changes. There is no lack for interaction and each musician plays their role well.
Ess has done it again, creating an interactive listen, with top-notch personnel and creatively complex, yet listenable tunes, that elevate the absurd to that of enjoyable theater. His collaboration with his working group Fractal Attraction adds a deeper experience of pushing the sonic boundaries into new territory, giving the listener an exciting experience to be savored again, and again. Highly Recommended!