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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Forgas Band Phenomena

Soleil 12

Review by Julie Knispel

Patrick Forgas has a career in music stretching back over 30 years.  Over the past dozen or so years, his focus has been on the Forgas Band Phenomena, a large-ish group consisting of brass, violin, keys, bass/guitar/drums that plays Forgas’ jazzy, Canterbury inflected compositions.  Each of his albums has been a leap forward in compositional complexity and musical skill, with 2005’s Soleil 12 a high water mark in his long career.

The album was the final part in a trilogy of albums that explored the impact of the Great Wheel, a huge Ferris wheel that stood over the Parisian skyline from 1898 to 1921.  The first album in this series, 1997’s Roue Libre, told the story of the wheel’s grand opening, while 1999’s Extra-Lucide explored the environs surrounding the wheel.  As every story must have an ending, the tale of the wheel’s fading, dismantling, and eventual disappearance would be told through Soleil 12.  For this release, recorded live at the famous Le Triton on 15 March 2005, Forgas would be joined by seven musicians, two of whom remain with him to this day.  Igor Brover (keyboards) and Kengo Mochizuki (bass) have continued to play with Forgas up through the band’s most recent shows, while Sylvain Ducloux (guitar), Frederic Norel (violin), Stanislas De Nussac (saxes), Denis Guivarc’h (alto sax) and Sylvain Gontard (trumpet/flugelhorn) have all moved on.  Lest one thinks this is due to a lack of musicianship, one listen to Soleil 12 will put that belief to rest quickly.  There is no lack of individual musicianship on Soleil 12, with everyone stepping out at least once among the four extended compositions that make up the release.  The pieces are filled to overflowing with melody, grooves and energy, even during more laid back, slower sections.  At the heart of it all is Patrick Forgas’ drumming, metronomic in its ability to keep time, but always with a just right flourish or fill to add a bit of spice to the pot.

It’s hard to say who Soleil 12 is best recommended to, because I think it is an album that can and will appeal to a wide range of listeners.  Fans of fusion, jazz, Canterbury music, or anything that features lots of horns and strings, will find a veritable treasure trove of material to dig into.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Soleil 12

Soleil 12 opens with its title track, and from the onset listeners will have a good idea what they are in store for.  Frederic Norel tears the roof off Le Triton with some fantastic violin playing while the band jams behind him.  Forgas and Kengo Mochizuki lock into each other, playing a tight groove for the band to blow over.  The head written for this piece is very hooky and it’s easy to get lost in the band’s playing, whistling along as they float effortlessly over the tight rhythms.  Sylvain Ducloux lets rip with his own impressive solo, fleet fingered playing shifting to long sustained lines, all with a slightly overdriven tone that seems both just slightly out of place and yet perfectly natural for the music at hand.  At just over nine minutes in length this piece, which would very nearly be an epic for many bands, is one of the shorter pieces the band has released, yet it’s packed full of intensely melodic playing.

Coup De Théâtre
At 34:47, this is not only easily the longest track on Soleil 12, it’s possibly among the longest tracks on a progressive music album not released by an electronic musician.  Following on from a statement of the main theme, Sylvain Ducloux gets the first solo spot, with a heavier sounding solo that’d not be out of place on most rock albums.  The two horn players riff together in tight harmony, leading into a pleasant electric piano solo from Brover, then one from violinist Norel.  Over the course of the rest of the track, themes and solos will play off each other, and despite the 34-plus minute length, the song never feels or sounds stale, nor does it feel like a never ending series of statements.  There’s development and drama musically, and the piece actually feels like a tightly composed musical statement, not a long-winded opportunity for the band to show off.
Éclipse
The album proper ends with the disappearance of the Great Wheel in “Eclipse,” following on from the gradual dismemberment and disassembly told through the lengthy “Coup De Théâtre” preceding it.  The song opens in a more restrained way, heralding none of the pomp evident in the release’s true epic, with horn lines sounding sorrowful and mournful even as Brover’s keyboard lines have a chiming, brighter feel to them.  Norel’s violin spotlight about two minutes in gives him a chance to show off both quick, saw like playing and quieter, more melodic lines.  The trumpet bits that follow from Sylvain Gontard are also especially pleasant, and then as the song builds in intensity throughout, one gets the feeling of a new beginning arising from the ashes of the old.
Pievre à la Pluie
This composition was originally released on the band’s previous album, 1999’s Extra-Lucide.  As it was recorded live at the same concert that yielded the main material for this release, the band decided to add it on as a bonus track.  Additionally, as it was part of the material originally written in 1978 for a failed follow up to his release Cocktail (two long form pieces were to be recorded for that album; the other was eventually reworked into ‘Coup De Théâtre’), its release here brings together all of the material intended for that fated release.  It’s a driving instrumental composition with fantastic horn and bass work throughout, and it closes out this release with flair and style.
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