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Gene Ess: Modes of Limited Transcendence

Dan McClenaghan By

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Gene Ess: Modes of Limited Transcendence Guitarist Gene Ess put together a quartet with saxophonist Donny McCaslin for his Sandbox and Sanctum (SIMP Music, 2005) . On Modes of Limited Transcendence he ups the harmonic ingenuity factor with a different quartet, replacing the horn with a guitar, to craft an often cooking, quartet-of-equals chamber vibe.

Ess began his musical journey as a pianist, but left the eighty-eight keys for the six strings. His chording cohort on the set, pianist Tigran Hamasyan, comps behind the leader with a sparkling zest, mixes and melds harmonies with the leader, and takes his own vibrant solo spots. Bassist Harvie S and drummer Tyshawn Sorey round out the quartet, squaring off with Ess and Hamasyan in a seamless dance that swings or funks out or relaxes into cool grooves on the eight tunes.

Like Sandbox and Sanctum, Modes of Limited Transcendence is a listening experience best enjoyed as a whole, with its empathic four-way interplay and collective inspiration. ''Discovery in Three" features of pretty and pensive piano solo with a gathering mometmum in front of whispering cymbals, leading into a solo by Harvie S., the bass man stepping out front with Ess shimmering behind him. Ess takes his turn with an eloquent rumination punctuated by cymbals splashes, buoyed by a lively piano.

"Gagaku Dreams" drifts in on a deft bass line that teams up with an amorphous and otherworldly ensemble mode that captures the surreal aspect of dreaming. "The Art of Nothingness" has a floating momentum, and "Trance Chant" is hard edged and energetic.

There is a Japanese word, "Shukumei." It means, roughly translated, "the life you ought to have lived." With Modes of Limited Transcendence Gene Ess delves deeper into his "Sukumei," and creates the art he has to create.


Track Listing: Ryo's First Flight; Discovery in Three; Trance Chant; Art of Nothingness; Hero to Wizard; Messiaen Shuffle; Gagaku Dreams; Sufficient Reason.

Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar; Tigran Hamasyan: piano; Harvie S: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: SIMP Records | Style: Modern Jazz


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