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Fractal Guitar
(2019 - MoonJune Records - USA)

It is a almost a sin for music to be this great. 'Fractal Guitar' is a collection of masterful pieces that not only create extraordinary images, but exude an ultimate and unique kind of math music, which carries both the musician and the listener to places beyond the known.

On this solo by Stephan Thelen, he unselfishly invited a selection of other mighty guitar craftsmen to participate. With a pedigree of players like David Torn (on tracks 1/5 : who has been a member of Thelen's SONAR for the last two releases - which are stunning as well), Markus Reuter (all tracks), Henry Kaiser (track 2 : who was a former producer and member of SONAR), Jon Durant (track 1), Bill Walker (track 2), and Barry Cleveland (tracks 3/4), the results are as amazing as the names would suggest. Of course Stephan is in the midst of it all, with his invented portion of fractal guitar (and tritone guitar) method. For all those interested in a clear explanation of fractal guitar as Thelen uses it, I spoke to the man himself and asked him to speak about it. Here is what he said: "Fractal Guitar is a name I use for a  method of playing guitar that uses a time delay (or echo) system in a special, rhythmically precise way. In most delay  units, it is possible to adjust two parameters, the « delay time » and the « feedback » of the delay. For the Fractal Guitar effect, the delay time must be set so that it is exactly 1.5, 2.5 or 3.5  times the length of a beat, or – in other  words – if a quarter note is the beat of a piece, then the delay time will be  either 3, 5 or 7 eighth notes. The  feedback must be set very high, which  means there will be a very large amount  of repetitions of each note that is  played. The clearest example of this is  in the beginning of the piece 'Fractal  Guitar' where the guitar plays four notes (heard on the right channel) which are  immediately repeated on the left channel, in a 5 beat pattern, which then very slowly fades away. By continuing to play on top of these delay patterns, new patterns are added and a cascading flow of notes is created that remind me of fractals in mathematics. There are some guitarists who use a similar kind of effect for 3 beat patterns, like for example U2’s guitarist The Edge, but I’m not aware of any guitarists who use this effect with a 5 or 7 beat pattern in the  way I do."

With this dazzling project, Stephan also brings in SONAR drummer Manuel Pasquinelli (on 1/2/4), Matt Tate (U8 touch guitar/bass), percussionist Andi Pupato (3), and Benno Kaiser (drums on 3/5). Stephan Thelen plays 'sky blue guitar' (2/4), granular loops (2/3), organ/samples (5), tritone guitar (1) and fractal guitar on all tracks. Each of the five symmetrical compositions are extended, ranging from 18:37 (the longest) to 8:42 (shortest), giving a gracious amount of time to explore, express, and impress!  Impress they certainly do!  

Thelen said after all the SONAR recordings, where his philosophy was not to use effects, that this time he felt the desire to use them extensively. Perhaps David Torn's superlative mastery of them influenced Stephan to delve into it. Some of this album reminds me of the SONAR live recording I put on my TOP CHOICES OF 2018 ('Live at Moods'), with unequaled rhythm section, and Torn soaring, diving, and twisting his lead guitar into orbit and elsewhere. 'Fractal Guitar' has the same qualities, but even more maneuvers from the grand parade of axe kings involved.

The grandiose music is deceptively accessible, with milky grooves, polyrhythms galore, and cerebral arrangements, all in and around the center foundations. The thoroughfare that the opening song generates is so multi-dimensional, it instantly opens a new window every moment. In fact, every piece is constructed in such a brilliant fashion, to give a runway to the music, to take flight at any measure. All tracks were written by Stephan Thelen except 'Briefing for a Descent into Hell' by Stephan Thelen and David Torn (title taken from Doris Lessing's book), 'Radiant Day' by Stephan Thelen and Markus Reuter, and 'Urban Nightscape' by Stephan Thelen, David Torn and Markus Reuter.

This easily makes my TOP CHOICES FOR 2019 list. Stephan Thelen has done it again, with this canny decision to bring a gathering of his own crafty league of guitarist together, for a recording that can only be called magical and full to the brim with marvel. The physical CD comes in a sweet 6 panel digipak with luring artwork and bountiful information. GIGANTIC RECOMMENDATION!

  ©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 3 - 16 - 2019

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