Swiss born American composer and guitarist Stephan Thelen released his first solo album; Fractal Guitar on the prestigious Moonjune label. Musically, the label that suits him best, because Moonjune over the years made a reputation for acquiring musicians that explore the edges of jazz, electronic, progressive and ethnic music and sometime go beyond that. Stephan Thelen is one of those musicians who started to explore those edges, being an outstanding guitar player; he knows how to create intelligent melodies, but also how to create sounds that find their way into the musical journeys of his compositions.
Fractal Guitar can be seen as one of the ultimate guitar albums, since everything you hear on the album is made on the guitar, except for some minor organ parts and drums. The five compositions are well stretched and clock between eight and a half minutes up to eighteen and a half minutes each. The longest track is the opener; Briefing For A Descent Into Hell, where both Stick Men Markus Reuter and one of the leaders in the genre; David Torn add their unique sounds to the song. Both aforementioned guests exchange parts with Jon Durant's cloud guitar and Stephan Thelen's fractal and baritone guitar, creating a brilliant sound that never gets boring. The solid rhythm section of drummer Manuel Pasquinelly and touch guitar player Matt Tate preserve a steady though grooving base for the individual artists. The following Road Movie, blends the experimental parts with hunches of psychedelic space rock and elements of Norwegian musician Eivind Aarset into an unique musical experience. The title track Fractal Guitar is perhaps the most accessible composition on the album. Smooth guitar sounds, returning through a loop, provide a lot of room for the four guitar players that are present on the song. Radiant Day is marked by soundscapes and a dedicated bass (touch guitar) that form the base for a variation of guitar(ish) instruments to add their specific sounds. The result is a nice dreamy composition with excellent soloing. Although the album holds largely electronic guitar sounds, the groove of drums and (touch) bass remains a solid backbone for all the guest guitarists, the final track Urban Nightscape also has this very fine groove. Add the wonderful playing of David Torn and an impressive song is the result. Due to the variations on this last piece of music, I think I have found my favourite track in this one.
Fractal Guitar is not for the faint hearted, but is a great album, especially if you are a fan of the mentioned names. The grooves remind me sometimes of Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer's albums. The intense guitar parts could appeal to the ones who like King Crimson, Stick Men and other bands that hail in this musical area. Stephan Thelen has produced an outstanding debut album.
**** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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