Esthema might be a hard band to categorize or label but their music is easy to enjoy. This six piece band from Boston are highly skilled musicians who perform and record exotic, explorative instrumental music. Each of their compositions is inspired by a story from real life and they take their listener through a journey, creating their sonic landscape with Mac Ritchey on electric and acoustic oud and bouzouki, Naseem Alatrash on cello, and Onur Dilisen on violin as much as with Andy Milas on guitar, Tom Martin on bass, and George Lernis on drums and percussion. Their third CD, Long Goodbye, offers the listener many pleasant and some dark but always exciting and intriguing journeys into sound.
As you’ve already gathered by the kind of instruments they utilize, this is a band unlike most others. Their eight tracks offer elements of gypsy music, Eastern European influences, Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms, all within progressive rock structures.
Esthema open their glorious album of expansive music with “Three Sides To Every Story, Part 1,” which has two sequel songs, parts II and III that follow it. An acoustic guitar speaks to the heart with its somber, contemplative melody while a violin sings a darker line that speaks of sorrow. A shift from electric to acoustic guitar and the song feels like its journey has begun. There is a sense of adventure in the guitar and bass progressions while other instruments create an exotic sound that travels on the surface of it. The work is structured so that each instrument finds an important role to play. Aggressive cello playing turns the brisk pace sharper and it feels like some kind of intense event is about unfold. It’s uncanny how Esthema can tell such a dramatic story using only music.
“Three Sides To Every Story Part II” commences with a sense of European exoticism on violin. There is a sense of mystery and darkness from the higher registers as the rhythm section plays a knobbier expression to keep the mystery and darkness rooted in something with a motor. The whole section feels like a train ride through the dark of night into barren territory between cities. One can almost picture the train tunnels as the tones take darker turns. An electric oud makes this feel like rock and roll while also flavoring the piece in Middle Eastern melodies.
“Three Sides To Every Story Part III” is a gentler turn from the violin, cello, and the rhythm section. “Fire And Shadow” is notable for its electric oud melodic line, like something exotic and familiar at once. It speaks steadily, sharply of an opposing force while a dancing violin line bobs and weaves with strident purpose here. Later, that violin sounds lifted, airborne, a quality of lightness that takes skill to invoke. Beneath it, the rhythm section conjures subtle magic of its own, a tender tug that one can feel in a knobby low end and a tastefully smacked drum progression.
“Reflections From The Past” is a sweet amalgamation of melodic lines from a variety of instruments. A foreboding bass line and tympani create a sense of mystery before an intense violin line ratchets up the intrigue. More importantly than the soundscape created is the emotion conjured by it. This band plays the soundtrack to the conscious and subconscious mind. They play in a way that tells the story of what someone is thinking, and they’re able to do that because their skill level allows them the freedom to go in any direction they chose and to conjure, in music, the challenges a person is facing.
“Without A Moment’s Notice” is a sly subtle piece that gently introduces itself to the listener with tender applications of an oud, violin, and drum work. It increases in dynamics yet remains gentle in nature. Exchanges between instruments and the band’s tighter ensemble moments are equally exciting and it’s refreshing to hear such gripping rock music played on string instruments and the Middle Eastern flavored oud. That oud has a way of making a long series of notes play in quick succession. It tugs at the ear.
“Reminiscence” could be a belly dancer’s movement score as well as an intriguing bit of rock and roll percussion. Exotic hand held percussion instruments flavor this piece like gypsy music, as does a violin that dances around the rhythms. The entire piece is based on the rhythm, so tightly wrapped around it that even the melodic instruments plays melodies that are loaded with rhythmic thrusts. The piece creates, at once, several sensations of movement, a whirling dervish of instruments. It’s also a lot of fun to listen to.
Title track “Long Goodbye” closes out the album with almost 12 minutes of intriguing music. Soft, moody violin lines and meditative drum work will hit the ear every few seconds with their undeniable emotion. A solidly strummed oud brings in the most incredible gorgeous tones as a dark, smoldering cello phrase captures the imagination, like a film character skulking in the shadows for yet unknown reasons. That cello becomes more prominent, and reminds of many things, old horror movies soundtracks, chamber music, and the classical instruments that have been included in some of the best rock albums.
Esthema are certainly a treat for the ears and an inspiration to the imagination. This third CD should garner them more acclaim, higher visibility, and, if everything is right with the world, a wider audience for their exciting, intriguing sound.