A thick tone can go a long way on a jazz guitar album. Gene Ess seems to sense this, making his compositions all about the tone and timbre of his playing. On Modes of Limited Transcendence, Ess presents compositions spanning the gaps between jazz fusion and contemporary jazz, with just a touch of smooth jazz. The compositions are quite good, finding the essence of each sound with surprising precision. However, it's the instruments that come out here, regardless of compositional intent. Tigran Hamasyan provides an outstanding piano throughout, twinkling a comp as needed (as in the intro to "Art of Nothingness") and pounding electrically as needed (as in "Trance Chant"). Ess himself plays similarly, working fast plucking into the extremely Chick Corea-like "Ryo's First Flight," growling like John McLaughlin in the Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Dance of Maya" in "Trance Chant," swirling and oozing sounds in conjunction with Hamasyan's Rhodes in "Gagaku Dreams." The album moves all over the place over its course, but it remains interesting regardless of the direction taken in any given piece. That's a fine credit to Ess' compositions as well as the ensemble's chops with a moving sonic target.
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AllMusic Review by Adam Greenberg