Dan Bilawsky, JazzTimes

gene ess pic.jpgWhile several of these songs’ arcs have a triumphant spirit, in keeping with the nature of apotheosis, guitarist Gene Ess isn’t obsessed with peaks and conquest. Reconvening Fractal Attraction, a style-fluid electric quintet with the signature frontline pairing of guitar and (mostly) wordless vocals, Ess continues to build momentum while also digging deeper into the reserves of spirit and heritage.

Numbers like “The Return” and “Two Worlds”—strong-willed gear-shifters bookending the album—speak clearly to an artistic thirst and questing spirit with a postmodern fusion slant. But Ess’ essence isn’t defined by a single attitude or bound to any one realm. He’s equally in his element waltzing along on “Sands of Time (Okinawa),” accompanying vocalist Thana Alexa’s poignant exploration of societal ills on “Same Sky,” and bopping through “Bluesbird.” Alexa, likewise, adapts to myriad circumstances and thrives on the challenges. She leaves no doubt about her stature as a rising star.

The rhythm section powering this project–pianist Sebastien Ammann, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Clarence Penn–proves adept at navigating its way through any and every scenario, be it one of the aforementioned adventures; the Eddie-Harris-meets-Jaco-Pastorius funk feast of “Tokyo Red”; or the haunting “Fireflies of Hiroshima,” a quiet stunner referencing the World War II bombing of that Japanese city.  There’s much to admire in Ess’ work with this band, but its greatest asset may simply be the way it presents the simpatico sensibilities of those who populate it.  Five years and four albums into its development, Fractal Attraction remains a unit of remarkable means and resilience with room to grow.

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