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Gene Ess: Apotheosis

Chris Mosey By

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The inspiration for Apotheosis, Japanese-American guitarist Gene Ess's fourth album, is taken from mythologist James Campbell's book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," first published in 1949. In this Campbell describes apotheosis as "the expansion of consciousness a hero experiences when defeating his foe."

His theories concerning fictional heroes have been used as a template by many modern writers and artists, including George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars films. Now Ess is applying them to jazz.

He hopes listeners to the album will experience apotheosis, just as he says he did when creating it. On the opening number, "The Return," he is helped by Thana Alexa's wordless vocals and Yasushi Nakamura's bass, followed by Sebastien Amman on piano. Along with the leader's guitar, they create a dense but always melodic entity.

With "Sands of Time" Ess (his full surname is Shimosato) attempts an aural portrait of Okinawa, Japan's southernmost, semi-tropical island, where he was raised on an American military base. Alexa ventures progressively into ever more stratospheric territory, until brought back down to earth by Ammann's piano.

"Same Sky" is based on a poem by Ess and Alexa, "Mine is the same sky we look to, you and I." This is followed by an existential, philosophical question, "How did our eyes learn to see differently?"

"Bluesbird" is wild, choppy and Eric Dolphy-esque. It's followed by Ess's "Tokyo Red" in which he seeks to capture the ambience of Shinjuku and Shibuya at night aided by some lowdown, bluesy piano from Ammann.

"Fireflies of Hiroshima" commemorates the dropping of the atomic bomb that helped to force Japan's surrender at the close of World War Two. It's remarkably lighthearted—the influence of the fireflies no doubt -but with hints of menace here and there. Ess dedicates the album to "those who have endured"—heroes one and all.

Track Listing: The Return; Sands of Time (Okinawa); Same Sky; Bluesbird; Tokyo Red; Fireflies of Hiroshima; Day for Night; Two Worlds.

Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar, synthesizer; Thana Alexa: vocals; Sebastien Amman: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Clarence Penn: drums.

Title: Apotheosis | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Simplicity Jazz Records

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