Bending the boundaries of hexagonal logic, international ensemble find fresh colors in familiar shapes and add lines to previously unseen forms.
When Stephan Thelen’s "Fractal Guitar" arrived on the scene in 2019, the Swiss composer seemed to have discovered an original mother lode and soon was set to reap the riches of such a promising seam for the foreseeable future – without ever repeating himself. Not that fathoming the depths of his new sonic philosophy proved to be specifically difficult in terms of tune, yet his desire to observe the concept from multiple angles, with creative input from friends and colleagues, opened endless prospects and perspectives for the aural panoramas. These album-sized pictures involved fluctuating line-ups of volatile kindred spirits on a variety of projects of which “Fractal Sextet” is the most spacious, providing ample space for old and new pieces to be fleshed out and developed further. So, as the six players present here go about exploring melodic routes and tangents, magic starts to happen.
There are only five epic numbers on the record, “Mise En Abyme” harking back to Thelen’s 2009 platter and previously refracted on his and Jon Durant "Crossings" from 2021, whence “Fractal 5.7” also crosses over to the current display, but the ground covered by the sextet is immense. Jon and Stephan don’t simply expand the universe outlined on their earlier releases or merely inhabit it afresh; the two guitarists give this world a different life, populating it with light and laughter that venture beyond warm soundscapes and an occasional quote from rock classics. Weaving their many-colored strings around the tasty twang of Colin Edwin’s bass from “Zeptoscope” onward – to the varispeed and vibrant, pellucid and compelling finale of “Slow Over Fast” – Stephan and Jon don’t hurry to seize the momentum, preferring the vista to unravel gradually for the pulse and riffs to reveal a lot of wonders in wide solo-sculpting strokes which propel details to the fore and allow Fabio Anile’s electric ivories first embroider the groove and then take over the riveting narrative.
His “Planet Nine” will wrap the flow into hypnotic, yet ebullient and rippling, keyboard-driven sensuality, supported by Yogev Gabay’s drums and spiced up by Andi Pupato’s percussion, though not before Edwin’s soft, if tectonically hefty, steps anchor the piano’s scintillating swirl and the overall ethereal atmosphere of the second cut – of the two mentioned in the beginning – and pass the swift drift to the first, robust one to suspend and elevate the rush the two axes strive to bring forth. That’s where the majestic shift transpires, pulling all the kaleidoscopic strands into focus to show there’s natural unity at play; that’s where Stephan Thelen’s vision becomes truly celestial and claims to stay here for good.