STEPHAN THELEN — Fractal Guitar 3 (review)

STEPHAN THELEN — Fractal Guitar 3 album cover Album · 2022 · Nu Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
“Fractal Guitar 3” is of course Stephan Thelan’s third installment in his fractal guitar series. The overall sound of ‘3’ is similar to the first two, but there are changes as well. Whereas early Fractal installments leaned heavily on extended guitar solos, on 3 the emphasis now is more on composition and arrangement. There are still plenty of hot guitarists on hand here, but the solos are shorter and are used to add meaning to the arrangements. Whether these arrangements were pre-composed or created on a computer program after the fact would not make any difference to what our ears are hearing. If this music was playing in the background you might would only notice a cool groove topped with interesting guitars and electronics, but give the music a closer listen and you will hear how each track tends to morph and grow as it goes along. There is a sort of overall similarity to every track, making the whole album flow like one tone poem, but once again, extra attention reveals the individual nature of each song. The main thing each track holds in common is layered poly-rhythms that can recall music from Africa and Indonesia, as well as minimalist composers such as Steve Reich or Terry Riley.

Track 1 has the most guitar solos and also features a bubbling synth sequencer going through the sort of filter modulation that is essential to a good rave jam. 2 is one of the quieter tracks and drops the rhythm towards the end for some floating ambience. 3 uses a lot of drop breaks and has some insistent double time electronic interjections. On 4 we get layered sustained guitars as a sort of choir and some string parts taken from a string quartet that Thelan wrote. 5 ends with a long ambient break as if the album is ready to fade into the ether, but wait, there’s more. The final track is a bonus re-mix of track 1 with more focus on Elvind Aarset’s guitar parts.

The guitar work on here is outstanding, if you like the long sustained tones of Robert Fripp, Steve Vai, Phil Manzenera or Terje Rypdal then you will enjoy all the textures the Fractal crew conjures up, but probably the best feature on this album is the production. The sound of this album is near perfect within the digital electronic niche in which it resides. Every little riff, echo, guitar melody or keyboard interjection is arranged perfectly.
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