Album preview: Stratøs’ Hohenheim Suites
Van Hohenheim is a fictional character from Hiromu Arakawa’s epic manga series Fullmetal Alchemist who becomes immortal in an act that sacrifices hundreds of thousands of souls. Hohenheim is left to wander for centuries trying to defeat the entity that made him that way.
It’s that part of a larger story that has haunted the composer, musician, producer and film photographer known as Stratøs from a young age. The day before the album’s release on May 6, he spoke to Cara Lieurance about the album’s creation.
“I had always been a saxophonist… [but] I had ideas of what I was going to be. So I decided to make this record to figure out those feelings and connect with the story that had been part of my life for so long,” says Stratøs.
Stratøs says he began composing Hohenheim Suites at the culmination of his graduate studies at Western Michigan University. Jazz faculty members Andrew Rathbun (who co-produced), Matthew Fries (piano) John Hébert (bass) and student performers Negar Afazel (violin), Harmony Kelly (violin), Carlos Lozano (viola) and Andrew Gagiu (cello) all participated in the sessions which were recorded in the spring of 2020. The sixth track, “Heavenly Virtues,” was recorded by the New York-based JACK Quartet after it was chosen to be featured by the New Sawdust National New Works Commission.
Another source of inspiration for Stratøs was listening to Kenny Wheeler’s album Other People, written for trumpet/flugelhorn, string quartet, and piano. That orchestration, plus bass, unifies The Hohenheim Suites and freed Stratøs to explore a place where improvisation and art music meet. Another theme he brings to the whole work is duality: each movement represents Hohenheim or his nemesis.
The release, which is available as a download and on vinyl, precedes the next chapter in his life, which is leaving Kalamazoo to put down roots in the Los Angeles arts community.