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Forebrace: Steeped

John Eyles By

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Steeped is the second album release from Forebrace, the welcome follow-up to Bad Folds (Copecod, 2013). For those who delighted in that album, the good news is that the quartet's line-up remains unchanged, and the balance between composed and improvised music is as before—composed pieces credited to Forebrace's leader and clarinetist, Alex Ward, alternating with improvisations credited to the whole group. The big difference between Steeped and its predecessor is that this album was recorded live in concert (at Cafe Oto in February 2016 and the Vortex in July 2014) rather than in a studio.

Although Bad Folds was not lacking in energy and excitement, the live contexts give Steeped extra edge and irresistible immediacy. Tellingly, Ward is now credited with "clarinet and amplifier" rather than just clarinet, the amplification no doubt being necessary in concert so he can be heard alongside Roberto Sassi's electric guitar, Santiago Horro's electric bass and Jem Doulton's drums playing full-on, take-no-prisoners riffs. The stark contrast between those riffs and Ward's improvised clarinet is at the heart of Forebrace's music, supplying it with tension and dynamism. That clarinet is easily recognisable as being compatible with Ward's other recordings, be they solo, in duos or otherwise.

Some commentators have mentioned Forebrace in the same breath as Last Exit or Prime Time, doubtless because of those groups use of electricity. However, such comparisons do no favours to Forebrace, whose music is more rhythmic and energised than either of those two ensembles, and also includes far more improvisation than them. Whether by skilful editing or planning, the transitions between composed and improvised pieces are seamless, as in the changeover from the improvised "Planetesimals" into the composed "Stalks" where a bass riff from the former carries over into the latter. Such blurring of the boundaries makes the composed/improvised distinction irrelevant and means that the album can be enjoyed as an integrated whole.

Steeped demonstrates that Forebrace have come of age and are a potent force to be reckoned with. On this showing, their live gigs deserve to be just as popular as their recordings. This recording whets the appetite for more. We must hope it is not another three years until their next recording emerges.

Track Listing: Hive; Planetesimals; Stalks; Crest; Grains; Home Stretch; Bolt.

Personnel: Alex Ward: clarinet and amplifier; Roberto Sassi: electric guitar; Santiago Horro: electric bass; Jem Doulton: drums.

Title: Steeped | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Relative Pitch Records

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