by Constance Tucker
Guitarist Gene Ess has long been a part of the guitar jazz fabric, but far beyond that, his compositions lend themselves to the incorporation of vocalists as seen on his last CD; A Thousand Summers and now Fractal Attraction that features vocalist Thana Alexa. The unique approach of Alexa using her voice as an instrument and equal contributor to the instrumental fabric is captivating.
Each member contributes to the overall compositional sound and utilizes their jazz vernacular beyond the boundaries of ordinary, also comprised of David Berkman (piano), Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Gene Jackson (drums), the ensemble offers a cohesive, yet bountiful approach. The compositions are all original and penned by Ess, except for “Fractica” which was written by Alexa.
The opening track “Silver’s Fate,” kicks off with a motif in 9 set by the bassist, Kneeland, joined by vocalist Alexa and guitarist Ess, the melody is very intervallic in nature and moves lightly over the rhythm section. Alexa takes flight with a frenetic scat, driving each musician to push and dig in. Her rhythm juxtaposed against guitarist Ess’ quick lines is enlightened. Ess takes of the melody as Alexa punctuates underneath. Ess is known for his outstanding rhythm and modern note choices. This track sets the pace for an engaging journey.
“Ascent” is a wonderful centerpiece; the cut begins with an almost Avant-garde exploration, and then morphs into a Latin-underpinned piece that floats across the melody with a dark tinged emotive. Ess has always excelled with introspective pieces; his tone is round, yet darkened, while still maintaining a buoyancy and impeccable clarity. His solos are thought provoking and fascinating at the same time. The rhythm section he has assembled is perfect in their support of his ideas and concepts.
Alexa’s composition “Fractica” is a pulsing melody filled with complex phrases and tensioned harmony. Alexa attacks the melody with confidence as Ess creates a playful foil. Pianist, David Berkman creates and inspired solo while still maintaining the essence of the melody intact.
Fractal Attraction offers a high quality of well-conceived compositions, keenly crafted ideas and thoroughly expert musicians. To categorize Thana Alexa as a vocalist is almost an improper way of describing her role. For me, she was just as much of an instrumentalist adding to the textile of the music as well as any of the instrumentalists. Her voice is poised, commanding and quite supple all in one. Ess’ ability to put together musicians that compliment his compositions, not to mention his prowess as a guitarist, makes this a strong offering that demands its place among the modern jazz discography, but can also be appreciated fully by the jazz purist.
Track Listing: Silver’s Fate; Blues For Two; Ascent; Letter From Boston; Tanabata; Fractica; Descent; Fractal Attraction.
Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar; Thana Alexa: voice; David Berkman: piano; Thomson Kneeland: bass; Gene Jackson: drums.