I. Gate's Opneing; II. Adrift (feat. Matthew Fries); III. Casting Humanity; I. Flaskling; II. Heavenly Virtues; III. Gate's Closing (feat. JACK Quartet); IV. For He Was Purpose (feat. John Hébert)
Exploration of one's identity in the face of existential uncertainty is the core theme of "Hohenheim Suites," the sophomore LP by saxophonist, composer, producer, and film photographer Stratøs. The album investigates ideas surrounding "Van Hohenheim," a nameless slave turned immortal being in Arakawa Hiromu's award winning graphic novel "Fullmetal Alchemist." Hohenheim begins his life in 15th century fictional Persia as "#23," a slave whose existence is closer to that of a piece of property than a living, breathing person until his master subjects him to an experiment which results in the creation of the "dwarf in the flask," a creature born from #23's own blood. The flaskling, itself much more knowledgeable than #23, offers three gifts: a name, knowledge, and eternal life. #23 accepts and is dubbed "Theophrastus Bombastus Van Hohenheim." With his newly gifted knowledge, he climbs his way out of servitude. However, his final gift, eternal life, is given to him at a price. The dwarf in the flask convinces the Xerxesian king of the aforementioned Persia to sacrifice the souls of its over 1 million citizens in exchange for eternal life. To his dismay, the king is instead sacrificed himself along with the innocent civilians. The ones who obtain eternal life are the dwarf in the flask and Hohenheim, the dwarf also gaining the exact appearance of the former slave in the process. A reluctant god, Hohenheim wanders the Earth, cursed to hear the cries of 536,329 innocent souls of Xerxes knowing that he is forever tethered to the dwarf in the flask, now called "Father," and must make sense of a seemingly meaningless existence. Stratøs draws parallels from the story of Hohenheim to his own life as an artist. The rigid traditions of Black American Music of the 20th century served as an obstacle the saxophonist had to personally overcome, believing himself to be shirking his duties as practicer, rather than an artist with many interests. The crisis one might find themself in when coming to terms with their artistic journey can be a threat to their identity. In the same way Hohenheim suffers knowing there is a malevolent being he is cursed to be tethered to, artists who are carving their own path despite cultural traditions can feel a weight of similar magnitude upon their shoulders. One of the composer's biggest influences is the late trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler, whose 2008 album "Other People" served as a major inspiration for the sonic identity of "Hohenheim Suites." Stratøs uses the same instrumentation (sans trumpet) as Wheeler's record but with the addition of upright bass, the role being played by the great John Hébert (Fred Hersch, Maria Schneider, Frank Carlberg). 1997 Great American Jazz Piano Competition winner Matthew Fries invokes complex emotions throughout the record with his playing but especially during "II. Adrift" on which he is featured. The world renowned JACK Quartet (New York Times, WQXR, Avery Fisher Career Grant recipients) enters the fray to deliver Stratøs' string quartet no. 1, "III. Gate's Closing" with beautiful vulnerability. Additionally, the producer brings Wheeler's nearly matching instrumentation into his own world with the electronic sound design he became known for on his debut LP "Planets." Contributing to this sound is adlai, Chicago based producer, who produced the 2nd half of "III. Casting Humanity." "Hohenheim Suites" reveals the producer's lifelong love for anime. The Japanese art form has quietly served as a source of inspiration in Stratøs' work, but is now being put front and center. "Hohenheim Suites" is an unofficial vol. II of a three volume series, with "Planets" being the first volume. The record could not have been made without the sacrifice and contribution to all credited.
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