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Stephan Thelen, Fractal Guitar 2 ****

Prog is a huge area and while its levels of technical virtuosity often is the match of that required by top jazz releases does not always share a lot in common with the essence of jazz. Why? Well it often prefers the language of rock as one input …

Published: 19 Mar 2021. Updated: 31 days.

Prog is a huge area and while its levels of technical virtuosity often is the match of that required by top jazz releases does not always share a lot in common with the essence of jazz.

Why? Well it often prefers the language of rock as one input far more than a lot of jazz and even ''jazz-rock'' in a classic sense certainly sounds very different to it. Prog heroes are prog heroes, a different global crew hewn from mountains and geetar myth usually. Its villains… you get the idea. Its methods, when it comes to improvisational endeavour have a different slant: usually the shape of the improvisations (where they exist and they often do in some quantity) is very different. However, a lot of prog does cross over or in its hybrid form can seem anomalous to classic prog which has very little in common with jazz.

And so to Moonjune, issuing label here. Like Giacomo Bruzzo's RareNoise this plucky indie is steeped in prog although RareNoise are ''rarely'' predictable and for vast swathes of its input have relied on house organist Jamie Saft. Unlike RareNoise Moonjune is more devoted to prog, and often its cosmic and space rock type strands, and also to where prog crosses into jazz. It is even regarded as a jazz label. Go figure. Full declaration a lot of Moonjune's releases leave me cold. However MJ do come up with the goods sometimes, for instance Music Of Our Times by Gary Husband and Markus Reuter last year was excellent. Read about that record here.

Rambling over, that's what listening to extensive soloing does to you, and at last to Fractal Guitar 2 by Stephan Thelen (who actually crops up on a recent RareNoise release World Dialogue referred to here). Why then is Thelan's record so very fine as is clear instinctively? Because above all it has a loose feel (conjured fundamentally by the Baertschian Andi Pupato on percussion and Andy Brugger on drums); and it is dotted with some incredible soloing for instance on 'Mercury Transit' especially. Very much a guitar record and with quite a cast, doh ''guitar'' is in the title, Thelan avoids the worst excesses of prog, which are usually overblown, preposterous, grandiosity, and favours more nuanced band interplay. But make no mistake this is still male-maximalist.

Fractal Guitar 2 is not at all ''spacey'' in a floaty ambient sense. There is lots of great harmonic detail and the guitar playing has a narrative complexity that if it were a novel might have a dozen sideplots that fascinate by themselves. Henry Kaiser makes a big input on 'Ladder to the Stars' in this regard on what is a magnificent track. A lot of readers will turn to the David Torn passages and 'Point of Inflection' at the end especially and why not? It has a certain edge to it that again makes the album leap out of the speakers as it eventually delves into Pink Floyd territory.

To wrap – prog is a huge area and yes it does have different methods. Fractal Guitar 2, the prog Boswell John ''Dave'' Kelman no less noted that the first in this series was ''a true guitar masterpiece of the new millennium,'' does things to the mind and body in an ultimately very pleasurable manner indeed. Must dash: lots of octopus air guitar coming on. SG

Out now. Stephan Thelen, top

Tags: Album / EP reviews

Brilliant Corners Belfast 2021

Online from 26 March Brilliant Corners, Belfast has announced its 2021 line-up. Lakecia Benjamin’s ‘Music of the Coltranes’, Witch n Monk, Jaimie Branch, Alexander Hawkins solo, Leïla Martial’s ‘Baa Box’, Benjamin Herman Trio with Oscar Jan …

Published: 18 Mar 2021. Updated: 35 days.

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Online from 26 March Brilliant Corners, Belfast has announced its 2021 line-up. Lakecia Benjamin’s ‘Music of the Coltranes’, Witch n Monk, Jaimie Branch, Alexander Hawkins solo, Leïla Martial’s ‘Baa Box’, Benjamin Herman Trio with Oscar Jan Hoogland, ReDiviDeR, Yurodny, Jack Joseph James, Scott Flanigan, Meilana Gillard, Dave Redmond, and music intros by Alpha Chrome Yayo are in the mix. Link: to attend