There has been a relatively short gap between Forgas Band Phenomena's L'Axe du Fou and Soleil 12 (Cuneiform, 2005)four years, as opposed to the six between Soleil and the out-of-print Extra Lucide (Cosmos, 1999)but plenty has happened. Drummer Patrick Forgas' longstanding group has been almost completely revampedonly bassist Kengo Mochizuki and keyboardist Igor Brover remainand with the departing altoist Denis Guivarc'h, his octet has trimmed down to a septet.
With Soleil's captivating material dating back a considerable number of yearsin some cases as far back as the '70sL'Axe du Fou's four tracks, on the other hand, represent some of Forgas' most recent writing. And while the annoyance of dealing with personnel changes delayed the music from being recorded, it was ultimately a good thing. The already lengthy "Double-Sens"nearly 14 minutes of episodic, smooth yet irregularly metered lyricism with solo features for the all-around impressive trumpeter Dimitri Alexaline, saxophonist Sebastien Trognon, pianist Brover, and violinist Karolina Mlodeckais a far cry from its original, massive 35 minutes. Sometimes recording in the studio as opposed to live provides the opportunity to assess the music and adjust it before letting it out, making L'Axe du Fou Forgas' most concise and streamlined writing to date, with little in the way of excess or overstatement.
While FBP has always been stylistically compared to the British Canterbury sceneand rightly soin fparticular with groups like Hatfield and the North, National Health and Phil Miller's In Cahoots, L'Axe du Fou does begin to widen the gap, lending FBP a more singular and distinctive voice. A greater reliance on horns and violin with less on the more conventional guitar-keys-bass-drums line-ups of many Canterbury groups (though horns are by no means strangers to some), FBP has always been a playing band, and even in the more sterile confines of the studio, it proves capable of the kind of energy more normally associated with live performance. Forgas and Mochizuki form a relentless rhythm section capable of navigating the drummer's knotty compositional twists and turns, as well as firm grooves that support energetic solos from everyone including guitarist Benjamin Violet, who demonstrates a chameleon-like ability to turn from clean, supporting arpeggios on the brisk yet brooding "La Clef" to searing rapid-fire phrases at the end of the 16-minute title track.
While brief moments of extreme are peppered throughout L'Axe du Fou's nearly 50-minutes, the emphasis is on strong melody, driven by ever-shifting rhythmic and harmonic foundations that ensure plenty of solo space. If new music from Forgas is as good as this, let's hope he continues the winning streak and, with the ability to retain a consistent line-up, continue to produce music this full of vim and vigor.
Track Listing: La Clef (The Key); L'Axe du Fou (Axis of Madness); Double-Sens (Double Entendre); La 13eme Lune (The 13th Moon).
Personnel: Patrick Forgas: drums; Sebastien Trognon: tenor and soprano saxophones; Dimitri Alexaline: trumpet, flugelhorn; Benjamin Violet: guitar; Karolina Mlodecka: violin; Igor Brover: keyboards; Kengo Mochizuki: bass.
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