While Soleil 12 (Cuneiform, 2005) was the first album from French drummer/composer Patrick Forgas' Forgas Band Phenomena to receive international distribution, the group had in fact already released two records in the late 1990s on France's Cosmos Music label. Sadly, Roue Libre is out of print; but the group's sophomore effort, Extra-Lucide, is still available and bears revisiting, if for no other reason than providing a different perspective on the nearly twenty-minute "Pieuvre Ã la Pluie" that can also be found on Soleil 12.
Forgas has been active since the 1970s, originally travelling the same musical circles as Magma and Zao. But while he shares a similar penchant for progressive music, his vision has always been more closely aligned with the British Canterbury scene and bands like Soft Machine and Hatfield and the North. While it's a challenge to define exactly what the Canterbury scene represents, it is possible to define it as an improvisational cousin to jazz, but with its own distinctive harmonic sensibility. And while complex long-form composition is not foreign to American improvisers like Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, there has always been a more inherently detailed structural approach to the Canterbury scene and, consequently, to Forgas, who has been called "The French answer to the Canterbury scene."
This pre-Soleil 12 incarnation of Forgas Band Phenomena was a pared-down quintet that shared much in common with guitarist Phil Miller's post-Hatfield band In Cahoots. Bassist Juan-Sebastien Jiminez is a considerably more virtuosic player than Kengo Mochizuki of Soleil 12, closely mirroring In Cahoots bassist Fred T. Baker's intriguing mix of groove and linear acumen. And Forgas' approach to constant shifts in tempo and irregular meters echoes Pip Pylea longtime Miller collaborator and bandleader in his own right.
But equally, Extra-Lucide avoids the more idiosyncratic devices typical of Miller's work. While guitarist Mathias Desmier shares a similarly overdriven solo voice, he's a more direct player than Miller, who leans to more acroamatic lines. Keyboardist Gilles Pausanias' electric piano work bears comparison to Hatfield's Dave Stewartincluding a certain wryness of phrasingbut his voicings don't possess the same instant recognition factor as Stewart's.
Perhaps it's unfair to assess Forgas strictly by comparison. While the progressive music scene is experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to the internet drawing together a small but devoted international fan base, few groups demonstrate the kind of individuality and innovation that the aforementioned 1970s bands did.
Forgas Band Phenomena may have clear roots in the Canterbury aesthetic, but it's also one of the few bands to carry it forward into the 21st Century. Forgas' episodic compositions retain the kind of thematic foundation prevalent in the Canterbury scene, while the group's playersstrong soloists allmanage to avoid the chops-laden and self-indulgent bombast of the American version of fusion. Despite its inherent complexities, Extra-Lucide has terrific crossover appeal. This cerebral music holds interest to be sure, but never at the expense of memorable melodies and demanding yet appealing rhythms.
Personnel: Patrick Forgas: drums; Mathias Desmier: guitar; Juan-Sebastien Jiminez: bass; Gilles Pausanias: keyboards; Denis Guivarch: saxophone.