Gene Ess: Sandbox and Sanctum (2005)
The title of the recording calls to mind two famous works of British Romantic poetry, William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience and William Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood, which begins with the line, "The Child is father of the Man. Ess's young son, Ryo, is featured at age two in a photograph on the album, as is Gene Ess himself at the same age, and Ess dedicated the album to Ryo.
But Sandbox and Sanctum is no romanticized, idyllic portrait of childhood. Just as happy children can have bad dreams and be afraid of a dark side they only imaginethe stuff of fairy talesEss brilliantly mixes compositional colors throughout the album. He has achieved a delicate tonal balance that unites this "song cycle for quartet, as Ess subtitles the album, perhaps echoing John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, also for quartet.
While a listener might think of Pat Metheny or John Abercrombie or even Grant Green now and then, Ess here really sounds like no one else on guitar: he is his own man. In his solos, his front line playing with the very fine tenor and soprano saxophonist Donny McCaslin (next time: more soprano!), and his comping, Ess is a full-fledged master of taste and touch. His solos are model essays of eloquence and compression. His very special moments occur on acoustic guitar on "Ballad for a Swordsman and a very electric rock-ish "Sun Matsuri.
Just as John Coltrane thrived on a dynamic collaboration with drummer Elvin Jones (as well as Rashied Ali), Ess and drummer Gene Jackson share an intense chemistry on this album. Check out "Baptisma Pyros and "Ask the Guru for evidence of their bond. Jackson manages some fine calypso rhythms in the album's closer, "Kerama Processional as well.
Gene Ess was personally involved in every production detail for Sandbox and Sanctum, and the labor of the love behind the album truly shows. Along with bassist Harvie S (this "S stands for solid and supple), these musicians play like they've been together as a band for a long time. May they continue to play together for a good long time.
Visit Gene Ess on the web.
Track Listing: Free 2 Fast; Ryo; Baptisma Pyros; Ballad for a Swordsman; Ask the Guru; Noh Country; Sun Matsuri; Kerama Pocession.
Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar; Donny McCaslin: tenor and soprano saxophone; Harvie S: bass; Gene Jackson: drums.
Record Label: SIMP Records
Style: Modern Jazz