When I say guitarist Gene Ess composes and plays unusual but familiar music, it's indicative of a variegated background that, once understood, begins to explain his simultaneously unorthodox and very disciplined techniques. Born in Tokyo but growing up on a U.S. Air Force Base on Okinawa, he was first exposed to indigenous Oriental musics and then the pop and jazz common at the Base. At 14, enamored of music qua music, he began performing but, after graduating at the top of his high school class (we'd call that a 'valedictorian' here in the states), found himself at odds with the education he'd received to date, thus entering George Mason University in America to pursue classical studies under one of Andres Segovia's disciples, Larry Snitzler.
This led him to Dr. Glenn Smith and that composer's work in chamber and orchestral composition. Not impressive enough? Well, he traveled to Berklee College, graduated magna cum laude, then migrated to New York and worked with Carlos Santana, Ravi Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and others. He's also a founding member of NYC's 'The Kettle', a quite respected music collective. In his own work, you may be beginning to intuit, a broad melding occurs even though the results are definitely jazz…with a difference, an outside-ish strain found also in cats like Steve Khan and John Abercrombie, though the catalogues of all three differ greatly. Ess, in Fractal Attraction, obviously bases himself from bop and Grant Green foundations but then goes on to phrase not unlike elements of Abercrombie and others in a clear mellow tone often playing just beneath, but tracking, vocalist Thana Alexa, who appears in melisma and scat on every song but one (which contains lyrics). The opening cut, Silver's Fate, sets the stage.
But hop over to the angular 14:08 Ascent, and things very quickly become much more abstract before settling into a highly intelligent nightclub atmosphere for brainiacs in need of decompressing. This is where Ess joins hands with Khan and Abercrombie more distinctly in his own vocabulary cross-connecting the borders and hearts of those two giants with his own. Satisfyingly extended, the composition traverses vast terrain, with everyone turning in top-notch contributions, Alexa outdoing herself. It turns out that this is Ess' seventh release, and the sophistications, maturities, and depths are abundant. Not just that the Braziliana, bop, and mellifluities are apparent but also repeating subtle and not-so-subtle essences and snatches of Cage, Jarrett, Bley, Messaien, and many others. This is not of Pauline Oliveiros' realm at all but it does indeed require what she advocated in order to really grasp the totality: deep listening. But, hey, if you don't want to do the work, Fractal's also a waaaaay effective cool-out disc too.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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