Jazz is one of America’s most indigenous art forms and can often be the most misunderstood. As one examines jazz's rich heritage and history as a medium of interpretive artistic impression, the genre can be considered somewhat of a chameleon. Historically speaking, jazz has adapted, adjusted and transposed itself into over 100 distinctively different colorful styles, all of which have exhibited varying characteristics musically. But the inference has always remained the same, one of artistic impressionism coming from the intuitive creative spirit that comes from within.
Over the last 16 years, smooth jazz has dulled the senses of many connoisseurs. However, every now and again an idealistic presence appears on the horizon to continue a tradition of artistic impressionism. With that in mind, as well as looking to another generation for continuity, bassist Franc O’Shea has seen fit to present his own voice of reason to a world clouded by the somber activity of smooth jazz.
Alkimia is O’Shea’s fifth release and is recorded on the Azulah Record Label. The release is best described as a finely tuned amalgamation of fused Eastern, European and African musical influences that draw upon the purity of compositional thought processes. The CD contains seven dominant tracks that draw upon the cultural aspects of a variety of musical instruments to include cajons, tinajas, talking drums and tablas. In addition, Franc has also seen fit to stay close to the traditional melodies and percussive patterns often heard throughout those styles of music. According to Franc O’Shea, "Alkimia is a place where Flamenco meets hypnotic African rhythms, haunting harmonies with a melancholic wisp of Irish Folk and fiery improvisations."
With that in mind, Franc incorporated his electric bass with the beauty of a Spanish guitar, subtlety of a flute and the decisively panoramic nature of the violin to record one of the most acoustically correct albums of its kind. The result of his varying influential sojourn into fusion became the basis for this culturally rich style of jazz. Alkimia’s richness is found in the depth, scope and spirituality that Franc has chosen as a reference point for his music. The CD is a highly effective and stylized form of jazz that bears within its tracks music that satisfies the listening palate without the redundancy of overstated melodies. At various moments, Alkimia is rhythmic in response as it intertwines symbolism and instrumentation into compositional thought.
Much of the album’s zeal comes from O’Shea’s choice of musicians. Each one has a voice that is distinctive and melds well with the album’s musical diversity. One track in particular entitled "Anam Cara" is a tribute to a group of villagers who drowned in 1828 during a trip to Galway City. It begins with the sound of a haunting wind fueled by a penny whistle. On the surface, the tune sounds like a Gaelic folk song, but what O’Shea does with the rhythmic percussive aspects of the tune is amazing. The incorporation of Irish, African and Spanish influences helps to fuel a multitude of inferences. Other songs such as the title track "Alkimia," "Dream Catcher" and "Enchanted" merely expand upon the relevance of what Franc O’Shea has presented.
Although Alkimia is unconventional and non-traditional in approach, Franc O’Shea has taken fusion jazz to an entirely new realm of interpretation. Though sometimes subtle in style, the mystical aspects assigned to the album’s interior are progressive in perspective. This CD may not appeal to die hard smooth jazz enthusiasts; however, listeners may find a kind of enthused reverence within the deeply personal introspective thoughts that are invoked from individual metaphysical experiences. What transpires in the end is a musical journey into a form of jazz that is not only captivating, but also draws from the quintessential ideas of Franc O'Shea.