Gene Ess
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Gene Ess


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Gene Ess @ Blue Note

New York, New York, USA

New York, New York, USA

Gene Ess @ Make Music NY

New York, New York, USA

New York, New York, USA

Gene Ess @ Cachaca Jazz Club

New York, New York, USA

New York, New York, USA

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Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
Guitarist Gene Ess' Sandbox and Sanctum features eight of his complex originals performed by a top-notch quartet. It is post-bop jazz influenced but not derivative of John Coltrane. Ess, who recalls John Abercrombie in spots, is a fine player.
- All Music Guide

Cindy McLeod, Jazzreview
With the release of Sandbox and Sanctum, Gene Ess has firmly cemented his place as a major jazz artist of the new millennium. His post-bop work is delivered with adventurous spirit and intense ethos, offering a powerful, unique voice to the idiom. A guitarist of virtuosic proportions, Ess plays fluid chromatic lines sometimes reminiscent of John Abercrombie. His performance is simply stated, yet reveals stunning technical fluency, the signature of all true greats. There’s a delicious sense of tension/release with his performance riding over the rhythm section, Ess is a master of the art of creating dynamic interplay. Supple, sanguine, and superb are the three words that kept popping into my head as I listened, this recording knocked my socks off and will be in my CD player on a regular basis for many years to come.
For this quartet outing, Ess has enlisted a first-class ensemble with Gene Jackson’s drum set, bassist Harvie S and saxophonist Donny McCaslin. The four create a carefully constructed, masterful expression of the artist’s compositions, eloquently stated with a profoundly deep vision imbued with creativity and thoughtfulness.
Jackson’s drums synthesize with Ess’s guitar in the style of Coltrane and Elvin Jones, he kicks this musical venture into high gear with unbelievable speed and dexterity in his stick, brush and cymbal work. Bassist Harvie S puts in an astounding performance with a facile, melodic performance, creating a symbiotic interplay with drummer Jackson for a swift and assured bottom end. Grammy nominee McCaslin is a fine player who offers beautiful rich tone and sinewy sax lines to the overall sound, weaving amongst the voices of the other players in a seemingly effortless performance.
From beginning to end this recording is filled with delightful surprises in context, substance, and passionate expressiveness. There isn’t a single moment when one isn’t completely enthralled with the musical virtuosity, superb composition, and stunning production values, the whole of which transcends the music and takes the listener to another graceful dimension.
Understated and exquisite, Ess has brought these four masters together to fuse their individual voices into one glorious masterpiece. Highly recommended.
- Cindy McLeod

He swings solidly, delivering bursts of eight note lines, punctuated by tasteful use of space. Sandbox and Sanctum provides a glimpse into the musical mind of Gene Ess and
how he connects his writing and improvisation. The music is at once simple and complex, abstract and accessible. ~Clive Griffin, Jazz Improv, NY - Jazz Improv, NY

Karl Stober, Ejazz News
Depict if you can, the flow of raging rapids as it journeys through a mountains demanding ravines. It’s with that same natural poetic ecstasy that the hands of Gene Ess manipulate the frets of his instrument, an unnatural action for some. However, for Ess it is that specific gift that has the strings alive with vehemence. Ess’s new release Sandbox and Sanctum released on SIMP Records in 2005 showcases the acute talent of this man and his quartet, so far removed from the pack, equipped in sorts with a unique and diverse method of style. Sandbox and Sanctum is a capsule of original compositions put in motion to work in sync providing a philosophy set to music. In embracing this jewel box, allow yourself to flow with segues, tones, and arrangement variances, most amazing are the moments captured while you listen. This disk makes you feel many things all of which are personal. If you’re not familiar with the Ess design, you’re not alone. However, after experiencing Sunrise Falling (2003 AMP Records) and No One in Particular Rashied Ali Quartet (2001 Survival Records) it will help you understand the string work. Ess is one musician that invites innovation and exposes it to the world. Push play on “Baptisma Pyros” for it will demonstrate the precise string flow and movement of Ess’s style. Gene Jackson also keeps the piece together with the ease of his skin injections. Ess again comes out with a subtle dominance in “Sun Matsuri” but what I enjoyed in this cut was the sax appeal of Donny McCaslin, coming out with vibrant determination. However you slice this arrangement it is a special piece that states a strong message. Figure it out for yourself! So refreshing is this offering that I can just expand only on what I feel not what you should feel. Take the spin and it will have meaning for you…
- Karl Stober

It would be a bit foolish to say that in the vast world of recorded jazz, you still have to look for music of substance. Considering how much jazz is released on a regular basis, there’s more than enough music to go around, but sometimes they end up bring nothing but sonic clutter. Gene Ess is not clutter, in fact for some it may be the jazz album you’ve been seeking for for most of your life.

He was born Gene Shimosato, a cool enough name right there but that’s besides the point. For now he is known as Gene Ess, which in a way is cool in itself but that will leave potential listeners and fans to question “what’s Ess?” Now you know. He could’ve been Gene @, and people would’ve asked “at what?” At his music, that’s what, and his music is incredibly played and recorded on his brand new album, Modes Of Limited Transcendence (SIMP). Ess produced this alongside engineer Randy Crafton and mix engineer Sal Mormando, and on top of that, Ess mastered this disc himself. The Japanese tend to have a keen ear, and as I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Oliver Sacks Musicophilia I learned that there is a strong belief that some ethnicities do have a better sense of listening and comprehension, although it is uncertain still as to how this happened. Is it with the ear canal, or the hairs within the ear? That’s besides the point, for we are talking about Gene Ess.

Ess plays the guitar in a Pat Martino-style occasionally offering a few Pat Metheny touches, or at least this is what I hear. Whether it’s a luxurious solo or something that plays along the piano melody (courtesy of Tigran Hamasyan, he plays with such elegance and grace that you wished he would record more so you could buy his entire discography, or hopes he performs at a nearby jazz venue for two weeks so you could skip meals and check out whatever they play. Then there’s the incredible rhythm section of Tyshawn Sorey drums and Harvie S (no relation to Ess, on bass), and these guys play with the kind of finesse reminiscent of some of the best jazz albums of the 1970’s, when freeform could weave itself into bebop or bop while mellowing out in the ECM range. “Messiaen Shuffle” is a track that combines all of these elements into an energetic song where you can visualize the walk and strut created by Ess while the traffic and disgrunted faces (created beautifully by Hamasyan, S, and Sorey) are put in view. The tone that Ess has is most welcome, not distorted nor complex, not unlike Larry Coryell. The contrasts and coloring of these musicians are not so much precise, but… how do I say this, it’s an exciting listen to not only hear musicians play like this, but to hear it recorded and mixed so well.

Keen musicianships, keen ears, keen love of jazz and music, and creativity in general. If you welcome these things, welcome Gene Ess into your mental vicinity. One of the best jazz albums of 2008. ~RunOff Groove

- Runoff Groove

Modes of Limited Transcendence, Gene Ess.
Guitarist Ess was raised on an Air Force base in Okinawa and had many influences growing up, from classical piano to indigenous Okinawan music to jazz. He honed his craft at George Mason University and Berklee, where he was steeped in hard and post bop. He was no doubt influenced by jazz guitarists who preceded him, like Abercrombie, Scofield, Stern and Pat Martino. In a quartet setting, with Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Tigran Hamasyan on piano, and Harvie S on bass, Ess is free to play his own compositions, which range from the eclectic bop of “Ryo’s First Flight,” to the contemporary jazz waltz, “Discovery in Three,” and the introverted trance of “Gagaku Dreams.” There’s an undertone of eastern spirituality here, and the tunes are both accessible and slightly lofty. Ess’s soloing follows chromatics and cascading lines, but his compositions reach both backwards and forwards into jazz’s past and future to make for a musical vision that seems to be searching for something more.
2008, Simp Records, 65 minutes.

- JazzScene

Guitarist Gene Ess put together a quartet with saxophonist Donny McCaslin for his Sandbox and Sanctum (SIMP Music, 2005) . On Modes of Limited Transcendence he ups the harmonic ingenuity factor with a different quartet, replacing the horn with a guitar, to craft an often cooking, quartet-of-equals chamber vibe.

Ess began his musical journey as a pianist, but left the eighty-eight keys for the six strings. His chording cohort on the set, pianist Tigran Hamasyan, comps behind the leader with a sparkling zest, mixes and melds harmonies with the leader, and takes his own vibrant solo spots. Bassist Harvie S and drummer Tyshawn Sorey round out the quartet, squaring off with Ess and Hamasyan in a seamless dance that swings or funks out or relaxes into cool grooves on the eight tunes.

Like Sandbox and Sanctum, Modes of Limited Transcendence is a listening experience best enjoyed as a whole, with its empathic four-way interplay and collective inspiration. ''Discovery in Three" features of pretty and pensive piano solo with a gathering mometmum in front of whispering cymbals, leading into a solo by Harvie S., the bass man stepping out front with Ess shimmering behind him. Ess takes his turn with an eloquent rumination punctuated by cymbals splashes, buoyed by a lively piano.

"Gagaku Dreams" drifts in on a deft bass line that teams up with an amorphous and otherworldly ensemble mode that captures the surreal aspect of dreaming. "The Art of Nothingness" has a floating momentum, and "Trance Chant" is hard edged and energetic.

There is a Japanese word, "Shukumei." It means, roughly translated, "the life you ought to have lived." With Modes of Limited Transcendence Gene Ess delves deeper into his "Shukumei," and creates the art he has to create. ~ Dan McClenaghan


Gene Ess
"Modes of Limited Transcendence"

AUGUSTA, GA - With a gentle touch that shines through on every track, Gene Ess takes his quartet into the new horizon with "Modes of Limited Transcendence."

A brilliant exploration of ideas, this records speaks to the desire to know, to feel, to believe in something more, something beyond the apparent day. In this regard, Ess offers eight modes / tracks for the listener to devour in a splendid display of craftsmanship.

Love, learning, spirituality, knowledge, evolution, fellow men, dreams / other world, and reason speak within the bounds of unlimited possibility. Within this framework, songs like “Ryo’s First Flight” and “Gagaku Dreams” speak to the desires beneath swelling, needing to burst forth.

Furthermore, the compact resonance of songs like “Hero to Wizard” and “Discovery in Three” offers a view of the simple intricacy hidden in the steps of a journey. Finally, the pure beauty of the “Messian Shuffle” provides an opportunity for listeners to embrace a wonderfully crafted rhythmic expression of sweet belief.

With a talented set of hands and band mates, Gene Ess brings forth a record that truly speaks to the desire behind the world of art.~J.Edward Sumerau

- MetroSpirit

Gene Ess - MODES OF LIMITED TRANSCENDENCE: Something I rarely do is review the same artist twice in an issue, but when I sent my review of Gene's "Sandbox and Sanctum", the promoter told me that this one was "on the way"... it arrived the morning after her email... so, it must have been a "sign", eh? The other reason for loosening up on that policy is that Ess's compositional skill is so superb that if you're in the neighborhood for the 4 January 2009 release party (Blue Note in NYC), you'll surely want to drop in to hear what he's got to offer! "Trance Chant", the 3rd cut on the album, is my favorite piece, in great part because of the piano intro by Tigran Hamasyan, but guitar from Mr. Ess will have you enthralled as well! "Ryo's First Flight" clearly illustrates the extreme talent your ears are being treated to... definitely my second favorite piece on this CD. Gene's dedication to "all who strive to transcend the “horrors of humanity” and to live a heroic and magical life in spite of it all" struck me as particularly fitting for the transcendence we are about to embark on with the demise of one of the most horrible politicians on the face of the planet, especially when you consider that Mr. Obama's message is clearly one of life/hope... "Modes" inspires that kind of hope & gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me! Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

- Rotcod Zzaj

Gene Ess Releases Modes of Limited Transcendence

Guitarist Gene Ess draws the traits that identify his style with firm brush strokes. On the one hand, we have his jazz streak, and on the other hand, his exquisite sensitivity with the guitar, and as a final complement, his taste for sophisticated rhythms. On January 4th, Gene will present his "Modes of Limited Transcendence" Quartet in an album release performance. The music from Gene's latest album "Modes of Limited Transcendence" brings a journey of transcendence within each compositional passage.

Guitarist Gene Ess brings his award-winning musicianship from a very diverse background. He grew up playing the classical piano and his early years were filled with the classical sounds of Beethoven and Chopin. Simultaneously, Gene was receiving a mix of influences: he was exposed to the indigenous music of Okinawa-Japan, and - growing up on a US Air Force Base- to the pop and jazz music coming out of the clubs for the American soldiers. All this amounted for an early obsession with music.

Gene performed in clubs and festivals all around Okinawa at the age of 14 playing popular music. The popular music did not satisfy Gene and after high school graduation, Gene left for George Mason University, where he pursued classical music studies. There he studied with Larry Snitzler, a prominent concert guitarist who was once Andres Segovia's disciple. Gene also began studying orchestral composition under Dr. Glenn Smith.

Downbeat magazine presented Gene's performance of Lennox Berkeley's 'Theme and Variations' with the 'Outstanding Performance Award' in 1983. Consequently, Gene received a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he continued his musical quest and was heavily influenced by the music of John Coltrane. During those years, Gene continued performing and started leading his own bands that included, among others, pianist Danilo Perez. The Guitar Player Magazine described the performance of Gene's composition by his group as "electrifying fusion, played with solid technique and soul". After studies with Jerry Bergonzi and Charlie Banacos, Gene graduated from Berklee with honors in 1989 and moved to New York in 1991.

Gene has performed his music in Europe, Asia, and the United States, both as leader of his own group and as a sideman. Gene lists Arthur Schopenhauer and Charlie Banacos as major influences in his art/music.

To this day, it is impossible to list all the outstanding musicians that Gene has worked with. Some of them are: Al Foster, Rashied Ali, Ravi Coltrane, Danilo Perez, Harvie S, Santi Debriano, Gene Jackson, Donny McCaslin, Mika Pohjola, Reggie Workman, Slide Hampton, Cindy Blackman, Archie Shepp, Eddie Henderson, Greg Tardy, David Binney, Yamashita Yosuke, and Carlos Santana.

Players and Instrument Played
Gene Ess – guitar
Tigran Hamasyan – piano (1st place 2006 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition)
Harvie S – bass (Stan Getz, Mike Stern, Jim Hall)
Joey Saylor – drums

- Kari-on PR


Modes of Limited Transcendence - SIMP 2008
Sandbox and Sanctum - SIMP 2005
Sunrise Falling - AMP Records U.K. 2003
No One In Particular - Rashied Ali - 2001
Prayer for September - King Records 1995

Radio and streaming airplay are all available. Currently #15 on CMJ Radio Jazz charts. (Jan 2009)



A letter to you, the LISTENER:

During the last 2 years, I have spent a good portion of my time here on Earth preparing for what you have in your hands. And for 2 days in June of 2008, I got together with Tigran, Harvie, Tyshawn, and the staff at the recording studio to document the music. Sal Mormando and I mixed the music in August; in September, I finally mastered it.

Now, it is time for you, the listener to be a part of the musical process. This piece of work will come alive and the process completed only with you listening AND HEARING it!

This artistic experience has fulfilled me greatly as a human being. I hope it prompts you on your own journey, where we can meet as souls again and again. The album is titled “Modes of Limited Transcendence” and is dedicated to all who strive to transcend the “horrors of humanity” and to live a heroic and magical life in spite of it all. A great philosopher said “we all live in the same horror but some of us are looking up”. Indeed, this is very true.

“Ryo’s First Flight” – This piece was written for my son. As I have seen him grow and strive to become a vibrant and beautiful 5 year old, it is my humble Thank You to him. He has brought so much happiness and wonder to both my wife and myself.

“Discovery in Three” – Discovery has been a constant in my life. I find it immensely satisfying to discover new things I did not know, musical and otherwise. I am very drawn to physics, philosophy, electricity, math, music, astronomy, and everything to do with human spirituality and the quest that is required of the individual.

“Trance Chant” – The main theme is a 12-tone row. For the musically inclined, you will hear how the “chant” swings from major to minor. Most of the music is in 7 meter and for me, it creates a trance-like drive with the piano motif/pattern. I wrote this thinking no matter what your beliefs may be, spirituality is an important part to transcendence.

“Art of Nothingness” – Nothing is everything. Everything is nothing.

“Hero to Wizard” – Nowadays, becoming a “hero” is accepted as the epitome of greatness. I believe this to be an infantile stage of thought; we need to evolve beyond just being great on an individual level. Hence, the wizard. To make ourselves able to help others and make magical things happen for others. To help heroes become wizards! Be the “Yoda” instead of “Luke”, know what I mean?

“Messiaen Shuffle” – This piece is in both 4 and 5 simultaneously. A blues type of music with some interesting “sounds” surrounding it. Dedicated to Olivier Messiaen.

“Gagaku Dreams” – Gagaku is the Japanese classical music performed in Imperial Courts. It literally means “elegant music”. One night I dreamt that I was to perform with my jazz group along with an ensemble of Gagaku musicians. So here it is, my take on my Japanese heritage and music in 2008.

“Sufficient Reason” – My musical expression of the “principle of sufficient reason,” to which great thinkers like Gottfried Leibniz have made great contributions. It tries to answer the question “why it should be rather than not be”.

Love, learning, spirituality, knowledge, evolution, fellow men, dreams/other world, reason. These are the 8 modes I have depicted musically as I continue on my path.
I call it “Modes of Limited Transcendence” as I think full transcendence is only attained when we cross to the other side whenever/wherever that may be for all of us.

Finally, thank you for listening.

Gene Ess
Queens, NYC

“The artist alone sees spirits. But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Award winning guitarist, Gene Ess, draws upon a diverse background to form his unique style. Studying classical piano, Ess’s early years were filled with sounds of Beethoven and Chopin. Growing up on a US Air Force Base, Ess was simultaneously receiving a mix of influences: he was exposed to the indigenous music of Okinawa and - to the pop and jazz music coming out of the clubs for the American soldiers. All this amounted for an early obsession with music.

Considered a child prodigy by fellow musicians and instructors, Ess performed in clubs and festivals all around Okinawa at the early age of 14. After graduating high school, not satisfied, Ess left for George Mason University. There, Ess pursued classical music studies with Larry Snitzler, a prominent concert guitarist who was once Andres Segovia's disciple and orchestral composition under Dr. Glenn Smith.

Downbeat magazine presented Ess’s performance of Lennox Berkeley's 'Theme and Variations' with the 'Outstanding Performance Award' in 1983. Consequently, Ess received a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. There he continued his musical quest and was heavily influenced by the music of John Coltrane. During those years, Ess started leading his own groups, which in