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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Forgas Band Phenomena

Live in Bethlehem, PA (NEARFest 2010), June 2010

Review by Julie Knispel

What is it about French and Belgian bands being led by amazing drummers?

When I ask that question, a few names pop immediately to mind.  Christian Vander is one, writing the majority of Magma’s material and leading them from behind the kit.  Also coming to mind is Daniel Denis of Univers Zero.  One name that doesn’t come up as often, but perhaps should, is that if Patrick Forgas, who leads the big band/jazz/Canterbury band Forgas Band Phenomena.  His band has slowly been building up a reputation as a purveyor of melodic and intricate long form compositions that show off commonalties with the jazzier side of Canterbury, as well as with Zappa and Jean-Luc Ponty.  His compositions are filled with melody, hooks and tight arrangements while giving musicians plenty of room to stretch out as needed.

The Forgas Band Phenomena was the second band to play on the first full day of NEARfest 2010, 19 June 2010.

For this performance Forgas assembled a septet of skillful young musicians, performing on saxes/flute, trumpet/flugelhorn, violin, guitar, keyboards, bass and drums, with the man himself holding down that vital final position.  Karolina Mlodecka would be one of several violinists to appear at NEARfest this year, and her skills are impeccable, showing admirable restraint and grace in motion, playing quick, mercurial lines every bit as cleanly as she does slower, legato melodies.  Benjamin Violet, guitar, was a joy, showing an effortless style on guitar that was not quite matched by his skills at the microphone, where he endearingly attempted to tell the audience about the tracks and albums when clearly English isn’t something of comfort to him. Kengo Mochizuki was a beast on bass, holding down the root but also stepping out with some very tasty lines of his own.


Bill Knispel
     
Mochizuki was joined on stage left by Sébastien Trognon and Dimitri Alexaline, on saxes and trumpet/flugelhorn respectively.  These two are responsible for so much of the band’s unique sound, being ever present in each Forgas Band composition, and they were put to amazing use, with Trognon shining on both tenor and soprano sax, while Alexaline’s trumpet and flugelhorn licks were alternately warm and inviting, then cool and reserved.  Both are fabulous brass musicians truly deserving of the acclaim they receive.  Igor Brover contributes keyboards to the mix, and while he’s not always as present as the Mlodecka or the brass players, I think he may be among the most responsible for the rich, full sound the band brings to bear on stage.

Finally, we have Patrick Forgas holding down the beat in the back.  He’s had a long and storied career, starting out with a band formed with former members of Moving Gelatine Plates (themselves a mainstay of the French Canterbury scene), then an album recorded with former members of Magma.  It wasn’t until the late 1980’s, however, when his older, progressive leaning material (he had all but stopped playing drums) started to get noticed.  Along with some encouragement from Robert Wyatt, he gradually worked back intot he French music scene, recording and releasing a series of albums that eventually had him itching to play drums, and play live again.  Thus was born the Forgas Band Phenomena, a sort of super group of lesser-known names that can rip with the best of them.


Bill Knispel
     
Interestingly, and much like The Enid, who would play the next day, Patrick Forgas and his band elected to open with a new, previously unheard composition, “Ultraviolet.”  You wouldn’t know that this was a new composition, as the band played it with effortless skill and panache.  While there wasn’t much in the way of showmanship or stage antics with the musicians, there wasn’t really enough time for it, as Forgas’ compositions require very precise playing.  You could see the concentration on the faces of his hand picked musicians, making sure every note was perfect.  They followed up with a superb rendition of “L’Axe du Fou,” the title track to the band’s most recent release on Cuneiform Records.  This would be one of 3 tracks excised from that album’s 4 compositions, all in the 10 to 15 minute range that showed what FBP can do in a “shorter form” composition.

One more new composition, the melodic “Feu Sacré,” followed on, with both of the new songs earmarked for the group’s forthcoming release, which they plan to have completed for 2011.


Bill Knispel
     
Bot L’Axe du Fou and the previous Soliel 12 albums received a large amount of critical acclaim on their release, rating high on year end “best album” charts.  For the NEARfest performance, Forgas selected a pair of compositions from the 2005 release Soliel 12, part of an extended suite of albums based around the Great Wheel that stood over Paris until 1921.  “Soliel 12,” the title track, is a jaunty composition with plenty of great violin playing from Karolina Mlodecka, telling through music the beginning of the end for this magnificent landmark of the French sky.  The second track selected from Soliel 12, “Eclipse,” then tells of its ultimate disappearance, and while this theme might seem to necessitate a slow, elegiac feel, here the mood is quieter, but not funereal.

Judging from audience response to their performances, the Forgas Band Phenomena may well have made a batch of new fans thanks to this concert.  A lot of attendees were heard expressing amazement at the material presented, and by the end of the festival it was harder to find their releases than almost any other band’s albums.  Hopefully this will result in future performances, even at showcase events like NEARfest, for this vastly talented band.

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Bill Knispel
     
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
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