Fonya’s Upper Level Open Space is the sixth release from an extremely talented composer and performer named Chris Fournier, a performer who not only composed and arranged all the tracks on the release but also plays every single note of sound on the CD as well. The artist’s style adroitly combines the best qualities of both new age and symphonic rock, focusing on the former’s trance-like sounds and the latter’s emotional aggressiveness with fantastic results. One minute you’ll be “zoning out” to a tasty dose of ambient keyboard passages, and the next minute you’ll find yourself snapped to attention by some prog rock guitar that amazingly doesn’t sound out of place amidst the new-agey digital backdrops. After you’ve finished listening through Upper Level Open Space it becomes clear that Fournier is not another “one man band” with delusions of grandeur; in fact Fournier moves from instrument to instrument with mindblowing skill and mastery.
Upper Level Open Space will consistently impress listeners from the wailing guitars of the opening cut “Stardaze at the Summit” to the beautiful closing passages of “Mountain of God.” Fournier shows his ability to rapidly shift gears by going from the inspiring guitar-heavy “Guadalupe from Sierra Diablo” to the Eastern-tinged rhythms of “Alpine Aquarium,” a track makes great use of stylish samples and textured percussion. Speaking of percussion, I didn’t see drums listed in the instruments played so I’m assuming that all the drums on the CD are programmed. If this is indeed the case, Upper Level Open Space contains some of the most convincing electronic drum tracks I’ve ever heard – while there are some spots where it’s obvious that the drums are programmed, there are also spots on the CD where I simply cannot tell.
Perhaps the highlight of the release is the opening cut “Stardaze at the Summit” which opens with some very pleasing acoustic guitar work, but gradually piles layers upon layers of emotional keyboard and electric guitar riffs until the track reaches critical mass at the 9 minute mark and slowly fades out into wind effects. “Stardaze” truly is a showcase for Fournier’s musical prowess, showing remarkable ability on both keyboards and guitars without feeling the need to show-off, rightfully giving the songs themselves priority over self-indulgence. The only track on the CD that is sub par is the quite repetitive (and far too lengthy) “Infinite Visions,” which sort of gets stuck in a sonic rut half-way through and never truly recovers. However, other than that temporary “bump in the road,” Upper Level Open Space is smooth sailing all the way to the closing track.
It’s not often that a one-man show comes along that can both play their instruments with both skill and subtlety, and it is even more rare when that artist can also compose and arrange with the same ability. Chris Fornier (Fonya) is one of these rare animals, and his Upper Level Open Space is definitely worthy to be on your musical short list. An excellent release from an incredible talented musician – one I hope to hear much more from in the future.
Track Listing: 1. Stardaze at the Summit (9:40), 2. 14,000 Feet (3:43), 3. Infinite Visions (6:55), 4. Guadalupe from Sierra Diablo (5:56), 5. Alpine Aquarium (4:21), 6. Sundog (8:07), 7. Acadia (6:37), 8. Enchanted Rock (5:26), 9. Mountain of God (10:41)
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.