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Gene Ess: Absurdist Theater

Jerome Wilson By

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On this CD guitarist Gene Ess and his group Fractal Attraction have put together an intelligent fusion of jazz, folk and rock concepts led by the glassy clarity of Ess' guitar and the calm beauty of Thana Alexa's voice. Alexa's rising and falling wordless tones are the first thing heard on the disc and they lead into a pretty, slow theme built on a methodical blend of voice, guitar and Manuel Valera's piano. The quiet mood continues on "Circe's Compassion" as Alexa's voice entwines with acoustic guitar and lush cymbal washes for a contemplative sound that touches on Ralph Towner territory.

There are heavier pieces on the CD as well. "Torii" is an intricate prog-jazz-funk amalgam with Yasushi Nakamura's throbbing bass and Clarence Penn's slow rolling drums underlining sharply buzzing electric guitar and moaning, scatting vocals while "Forkball" is a twisting guitar trio piece that spotlights Ess' prowess playing straight jazz guitar with the clean edge of Jim Hall and "Upward And Onward!" is hard-charging up-tempo jazz by the entire band with Alexa swooping and wailing like Flora Purim in her prime and Ess cutting loose with fast, swift licks.

The set is even flexible enough to incorporate a couple of actual songs out of a jazz-folk bag, "Jade Stones" and "Dejala Que Pase," where Alexa sings in a lovely soprano voice over placid, flowing melodies.

Although the CD is in Gene Ess' name this is really a group effort. He gets his feature spots but Thana Alexa's vocals give the music a human vulnerability that makes it stand out while the rhythm section plays with consistent taste and elegance. This disc covers a lot of bases but it is excellent from beginning to end.

Track Listing: Out Of The Ashes; Circe's Compassion; Jade Stones; Kunai; Torii (The Gate); Forkball (For Ornette); Dejala Que Pase; Upward And Onward!

Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar, synthesizer; compositions; Thana Alexa: voice, lyrics; Manuel Valera: piano, keyboards; Yasushi Nakamura: acoustic and electric bass; Clarence Penn: drums.

Title: Absurdist Theater | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: SIMP Records

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