Philosophy In Jazz

Bruce Von Stiers

As a jazz guitarist, Gene Ess has a decent pedigree. He received an outstanding performance award from Downbeat magazine. He graduated with honors from the Berklee College of Music. Gene toured and recorded with The Rashied Ali Quartet. Gene's album from last year, Eternal Monomyth, garnered international acclaims.

This year finds Gene with a brand new album. This one is titled Absurdist Theater. A philosopher at heart, Gene chose the theme of the album as the absence of hope and meaning. He uses both instruments and vocals to illustrate this disparity.

Working with Gene on the album are Manuel Valera, Yasushi Nakamura, Clarence Penn and Thana Alexa. Manuel, besides leading his own band, helps out here on piano and keyboards. Bass player Yasushi has played with Wynton Marsalis among other greats. He plays both the acoustic and electric bass on this album. The drummer for the album, Clarence, has also played with Wynton Marsalis as well as Randy Becker and Stanley Clarke. Besides her own album from last year, Ode To Heroes, Thana has sung on albums by Antonio Sanchez and Matija Dedic. She lends her fantastic voice to the songs on this album as well. On the album, Gene plays guitar and synth. He also wrote all of the compositions.

The album has eight songs and a play time of fifty-nine minutes. It was produced by Gene and released on the SIMP Records label.

Out of the Ashes is the first song. Thana has almost otherworldly vocals to begin the song. Then Gene comes in with guitar followed by and keys. It is a subtle piece that has a lot of nice piano.

In Greek mythology, Circe was an enchantress who could turn humans into animals. Odysseus bested her and became her lover. There is a song on the album titled Circe's Compassion. It is a fairly fast paced song at times. It slows down with the vocals of Thana. The vocals have an almost Brazilian tone, reminiscent of Flora Purim.

Jade Stones is the third song. The first two songs only had Thana in a kind of two or three sound harmony. This song actually has lyrics for Thana to sing. It is a soft and gentle song, which really showcases Thana's vocals in front of nice and easy guitar, keys and drums.

The next song has a strong guitar and keyboard presence. The title for the song is Kunai. Thana once again provides vocals that are similar to the first songs on the album.

There is some very interesting synth work on the front end of the song Torii. Then the bass kicks in. This song has more of a regular jazz sound to it. Thana has some nice harmony in the song.

Forkball (for Odette) is a soft and light jazz piece with guitar and drum as the primary music.

Dejala Que Pase has subtle piano that at times slightly darker than the beautiful vocals by Thana. About half way through the song, it gets very busy then slows back down again.

The final song on the album is Upward and Onward! It is a fast paced piece with a lot drum and guitar. Once again Thana provides some lilting vocals.

Each of the songs has a particular theme. Basically, through the music, Gene attempts to show how helpless life can be and how that can be overcome. The press release for the album termed the music as sort of a “jazz opera.” It does have that kind of sense of drama and angst that you find in most opera. So I guess that would be an apt comparison.

I am not really used to jazz albums with such a heady theme. But Gene makes it work well. I found the album very interesting. The material was unique and the musicians did an excellent job. Thana's vocals were terrific.

Absurdist Theater is available at major digital and traditional music retailers.

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© 2016 Bruce E Von Stiers