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Esthema - 2014 - "Long Goodbye"

(55:02, ‘Esthema’)


1.  Three Sides to Every Story I 2:01
2.  Three Sides to Every Story II 8:21
3.  Three Sides to Every Story III 3:19
4.  Fire and Shadow 6:49
5.  Reflections from the Past 9:07
6.  Without a Moment's Notice 9:22
7.  Reminiscense 4:22
8.  Long Goodbye 11:41


Andy Milas – guitars 
Onur Dilisen – violins 
Naseem Alatrash – cello 
Mac Ritchey – oud, bouzouki
George Lernis – drums 
Tom Martin – bass 

Prolusion. The US band ESTHEMA was formed back in 2006, and released their initial album "Apart From the Rest" the following year, followed by "The Hereness and Nowness of Things". Since the release of that album the band appears to have been reinvented somewhat, with Milas and Dilisin the sole remaining members from the 2009 version of the ensemble. "Long Goodbye" is the name of their third full-length production, self-released in 2014.

Analysis. The self-described aim of this US band is to fuse "the sounds of Jazz Fusion and Progressive Rock with the sounds of the traditional music of the Balkan region and the Near & Middle East" – quite the ambitious goal and one that many would summarize in the term of World Fusion. Which isn't all that incorrect, I guess, although it doesn't truly reveal the details of the music at hand here. String instruments are at the core of this band, with violin, cello, guitar, oud and bouzouki taking turns in providing lead motifs, and frequently combining to do so in layered arrangements. The violin and cello are the undeniable stars of the show, due to the haunting sounds produced by these instruments, sounds that tend to dominate music they are used in, unless they are mixed down. That Esthema by preference tends to opt for sounds, scales and expressions with what many here in "the west" would describe as exotic, presumably using eastern scales quite a bit, results in striking arrangements with a strong folk music flavor in general and an eastern one in particular. The band isn't alien to add a few touches of gypsy-sounding jazz movements either however, with cello and violin and then combining quite nicely with the guitar instruments to produce a rather different expression altogether, usually backed up by appropriate bass lines and rhythms when exploring that particular sound. The oud and bouzouki further add exotic flavors to the proceedings, and at least one of them is used extensively to provide what I suspect will fall under the Balkan sound self-described by the band, although to my mind, these details sound fairly similar to Greek and Mediterranean music as well. No matter origins or associations this brings a different feel to the proceedings, whether they are employed in the eastern-sounding or subtly more jazz-oriented escapades, resulting in a sound that at least to some extent can be described as a meeting or a blend of different cultural and artistic traditions. While there's a strong folk and world music tinge to this material, and a lesser, but still present, jazz-orientation now and then, I would also say that a fair few sequences and movements touch base with traditional chamber music and chamber rock. An exotic flavored variety for both the former and the latter, but there are similarities to both to a lesser or greater degree in select passages throughout this production. Those elements, alongside regular drums (when used) and an acoustic guitar that has a stronger tendency to revolve around more familiar sounding musical territory are probably what brings the progressive rock aspect into this music more than anything else, then catering for the rock part of that style description. All of this is assembled into a tight, well executed package, with compositions alternating between the frail and the tight, emotionally gentle sequences and harder edged, dramatic ones. An intriguing journey through musical landscapes that, at least for those more accustomed to Western European music, comes across as exotic and new, even if it is based on old, if not to say ancient, traditions.

Conclusion. While one could describe the music of Esthema in a number of different manners, I guess world fusion is the description that gives the best indication about what to expect from their latest album "Long Goodbye". A production that blend jazz- and Balkan folk-inspired music with tones and scales of a more exotic Middle East origin, with a good balance between the gentle and haunting and the firm and dramatic. Those who find this to be an appealing description or have a general interest in music described as world fusion, may regard themselves as a key audience for this album.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: July 17, 2015
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