Stephan Thelen is an American guitarist, composer and musician who is based in Zürich, Switzerland. He makes experimental, jazzy guitar rock, comparable to the work of David Torn and Robert Fripp. He is best known as being the composer, artistic director and guitarist of the Swiss minimal groove band Sonar.
Fractal Guitar 3 is one of the four albums he worked on in 2021, because Thelen is a creative centipede who is working on a number of projects at the same time. Markus Reuter is one of the musicians you can hear here with his touch guitar doing a great job. However don't underestimate the tremendous power of the rhythm section on this album. Which are drummers Manuel Pasquinelli and Yogey Gabay and bassists Stefan Huth and Tim Harries. But we also have here musicians such as Elvind Aarset on guitars and J. Peter Schwalm on synthesizer, electronic percussion, to contribute to the composition of some pieces. Which usually contributes to diversity. Of course Stephan Thelen himself has an important part on this album as well. He not only plays fractal guitar, but also electric guitar, synthesizers and keyboards such as the electric piano, organ and mellotron. Using samples and does the programming as well.
In his comments on Fractal 3, he said that the most important stylistic element in his music are the complex polyrhythms and isorhythms. These know no genre boundaries and can be varied as often as you like, be it in chamber music, progressive rock or in music in which bass, drums and guitars seem indispensable.
I will not go into details about each track on this album. Bu you might say that this album is one single trip, and one that is downright rousing. Melodies, rhythms, grooves and experimental splashes of colour flow into each other in a very harmonious and musically sophisticated way. The extensive arsenal of instruments guarantees tonal variety and it is amazing how each instrument can act very rhythmically on the one hand, and on the other hand take over melodies or provide atmospheric splashes of colour and sound surfaces in the background.
Music wise it is very difficult to describe what you are hearing on this rather long album (70 minutes). On the album you can hear five long compositions that make you dream away with beautiful ambient and experimental music. Most of the tracks are based on driving rhythms, where the guitarists play more or less improvised parts. At first there doesn't seem to be any real themes on those instrumentals. Everything seems to be improvised and someone plays a tune that lives on endlessly in the reverberation and delay and another adds elongated tones to it. Meanwhile the effects do their job. However when you listen carefully you will hear rather strong guitar solos which reminded me sometimes of the earlier mentioned Robert Fripp.
Fractal 3 is a multi-faceted, inspiring album with a trippy, cinematic character. Most of all recommended to those who appreciate polyrhythmic spacey music with lots of soundscapes and ambient music integrated.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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