Forq was originally a spin-off from the phenomenally successful jam-band Snarky Puppy and its propitious lineage pretty much guarantees an audience. The group’s first three albums were released by SP’s GroundUp imprint and featured the Puppies’ charismatic co-founder Michael League. Thomas and McQueen continue to be part of the larger ensemble’s ever revolving cast, and Hey’s credits include work with Theo Bleckmann, Rudder, Jeff “Tain” Watts and a spell alongside David Bowie as musical director of the stage play Lazarus. Bassist Kevin Scott steps in for the departing League. A regular with guitarists Wayne Krantz and Jimmy Herring, he is perfectly suited to the group’s hard-edged brand of fusion.
Self-released in CD, LP and digital download formats, 4 was recorded over five days at the Power Station studio in New England. Rather like Wayne Horvitz’s fondly remembered Zony Mash, Forq can trace a line back to The Meters. Heavy echoes of Medeski, Martin & Wood’s “illbient” esoterica are also at play, and ostensibly there is much to admire. Yet if I have a certain reticence towards Forq’s music, it is simply because it too often feels overly self-ironic.
The set opens brightly with Mr. Bort, retro keyboard washes anchored by a cheesy P-Funk bass line. Lacking in drama, tension or any real sense of musical development, it nevertheless sustains its knowing smirk with no lack of skill. M-Theory signals something altogether more brooding, and the powerful exchanges between Thomas and McQueen are among the album’s standout moments. Duck People cleverly superimposes a mock video-game soundtrack against a laconic soul-jazz groove, and as Lullabye shifts through the gears Hey’s post-bop piano really rips it up. Less convincing are Tiny Soul, which flirts with catchy electro-pop before descending into banality, EAV, which mines a mildly irritating 80s soft-rock vein, and the corny Times Like These, which has all the subtlety of crude slapstick.
Forq would probably be the first to admit that they’re a band that are best experienced live, and while this is an amiable enough set, it doesn’t ultimately stand up to close and repeated listening.
Mr. Bort; Grifter; M-Theory; Duck People; Lullabye; Tiny Soul; Rally; EAV; Lullabye Reprise; Times Like These; Whelmed (57.00)
Chris McQueen (elg); Henry Hey (kyb); Kevin Scott (b, elb); Jason “JT” Thomas (d). Power Station, New England, no dates.
Forq Music, no number