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Gene Ess: Eternal Monomyth

Geannine Reid By

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Gene Ess: Eternal Monomyth Award winning guitarist, Gene Ess, draws upon a diverse background to form his unique style of playing and writing. Eternal Monomyth is a companion piece to Ess' last album, Fractal Attraction. Ess explains, "the music should be heard in that regard. In a transparent sense, it is a continuation of my exploration with the combined timbre of the female voice and the electric guitar wrapped up in original compositions and supported by a piano trio. But acutely, it is about the discovery of my own personal truths through the "making" of music. There is a saying that states that an individual's most personal experiences are also the most universal to humanity as well. If that is true, I hope you, the listener find in this album, your own desire to discover your own personal truths."

The ensemble is comprised of Ess on guitar with Thana Alexa providing the vocals and lyrics and John Escreet playing piano supported by Thomson Kneeland on bass with the pulse driving Clarence Penn on drums. Ess describes the compositions as follows, "the 8 pieces that make up this album are loosely based on junctures in my life. And hence, perhaps this album is the most autobiographical of all my works. It was recorded over the course of couple of days in a studio in Brooklyn. It is a jazz record in the sense that it was recorded live to multi-track and pretty much left it at that. Peaks and valleys of the individual musician's performance are retained throughout the music program deliberately. Also, the music was carefully recorded at high resolution for a superior audio quality result. I hope you get to listen to this album on vinyl LP and/or high resolution PCM audio on a high performance audio system."

All of the tunes are fresh Ess compositions cast in new and sometimes surprising colors. Guitar fans will delight in the ample opportunities Ess has to show off with his remarkable technique and his mastery of the tone woods and wires. Ess' compositional style is undeniably ingenious and alluring; it is strong on the melodious side with singable lines that move soundly through the chordal colors and frequently lead listeners to unexpected new places. One at a time, each of these compositions provides listening enjoyment, but the chemistry of the group and what they have to say is emphasized over and over again. If you're looking for CD to break new ground and explore something more profound than the usual guitar based release, you have found it with Eternal Monomyth.

There are multiple factors conspiring to form a complete artistic statement here. For one, all the players seem to be in the same musical mindset and pleased to be working with each other and respect each other as equals. Ess starts the eternal journey with "Forsaken Island," a duet of his guitar and Alexa's voice, stating in unison, the two segue into dyadic harmony. Kneeland and Penn set up the swirling groove, with Escreet joining. The journey continues with Ess and Alexa, playing the various melodies together sometimes and sometimes in counterpoint. There are multiple solo interludes, Escreet's playing is featured in two that are fine musical statements and seamlessly follow the compositions feel and colors. Ess' composition traverses many colors, but the listener can feel the focus these players exude, listening deeply to each other, this deserves much adulation. Ess' tone is warm and focused with a bit of boost to the midrange, his attention to storytelling; his supple, graceful lines weave in and out of the ethereal composition with confidence, which is mature and full of heart. Kneeland's solo is in the pocket and full of impeccable intonation, again the group listening is front and center. Alexa's scatting solo is beautifully creative; and emphasis is placed on developing melodic fragments leading to an ascending phrase that leads us to the cadence.

"Summer Cantabile" finds Ess on the acoustic steel-stung guitar playing a hauntingly beautiful intro. Here Alexa takes the traditional vocal role and sings lyrics with the melodic statement. Her voice is pure and easily conveys the emotion of the lyrics. Ess also shows his mastery of orchestration in keeping this intimate balled as a duet. "Drakaina" carries over various melodic themes that were introduced in the preceding track, "Summer Cantabile." "Drakaina" an angular and twisting melody is executed with precision by Alexa in tutti with Ess. The counterpoint between the melodic line of Ess and Alexa against the piano figure is very effective. Ess' solo on this track is truly a marvelous statement, sophisticated embellishments, and fluidity of phrase. In the pocket rhythmic placement results in a superior musical statement.

Secondly, the compositions Ess has compiled and excellent vehicles that not only display Ess ear to compositions detail, but allow each player to display their virtuosic command of their respective instruments with lots of interesting interplay and essential listening, case in point is the second tune "The Trials" where Ess opens the tune with a guitar solo section in a trio format. Ess' voicings are fresh well-placed moments with flurries of notes that should even have the most world-weary critic nodding with approval. Ess' playing on this tune is joyous and inspired, his technique and attitude is that of one who truly loves music. How does that relate to composition? Well, It breaks the normal head-solo-head syndrome that seems to overwhelm so many of the compositions in our genre. No mistaking it, that formula works, but sometimes just a little change makes a big difference in the overall musical voice, both in melodic association and form design, of a projects flow. When the melody is stated, it is played delicately by Ess with Alexa following the melodic line nicely. After the melody, Ess continues to solo, giving the tune a nice balance of improvisational ability and compositional composure. Penn and Kneeland hook-up to provide a huge swing beat under Ess' solo lines to create an excellent climax to the tune and an overall pleasing arch to the composition (both penned and group created).

This is Ess at his best, he is not afraid to show it, especially with outstanding support from Penn, Kneeland and Escreet who all add to the warmth of Eternal Monomyth. However, Ess' continued exploration with the guitar and voice as focused color doesn't get lost and actually adds to the intensity and fluidity of the melodic lines yielding a special musical spirit and warmness to this brilliant album. Hopefully he will feature the steel string or classical more prominently in future recordings. Eternal Monomyth says something new and exploring something more profound than the usual guitar based release, you should listen for yourself, Eternal Monomyth will not disappoint.

Track Listing: Forsaken Island; The Trials; Entrance | Exit; Summer Cantabile; Drakaina; Blues for Ryo; Mono-no Aware; Into the New World.

Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar, compositions; Thana Alexa: voice, lyrics; John Escreet: piano; Thomson Kneeland: bass; Clarence Penn: drums.

Title: Eternal Monomyth | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: SIMP Records


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