Album review: ANTOINE FAFARD – Sphere

Antoine Fafard - Sphere

Timeless Momentum [Release date 01.09.16]

From the purposeful opening of ‘Renaissance Man’ – Gary Husband’s introductory synth and bristling drums lock in with Antoine Fafard’s fretless bass and guitarist Jerry De Villiers Jr.’s sonorous theme – we’re quickly into tension building jazz-fusion album that bristles with ideas and unrelenting energy. And it’s the trio’s imaginative resolution of those tensions that makes this album so interesting.

‘Sphere’s’ improvisational spark and focused solos are a direct product of Fafard’s compositions, rather than an end in itself. The trio nuance eloquent melodies and a wide range of emotions on several deep grooves. And that’s no mean achievement given the album’s recording locations.

There’s honesty at the heart of Fafard’s compositions that inspires the album’s exploratory style. The trio barely waste a note and given the fact that guitarist De Villiers’ parts were recorded on another continent, it’s a remarkably organic sounding album. You can feel the music breathe as the solos colour rather than clutter the compositions.

London based, Canadian bass player, composer and band leader Antoine Fafard dips into the past – think Cobham, Mahavishnu, Zappa,  Holdsworth, Tony Williams and Miles Davis – to explore some sparkling self-penned contemporary fusion.

It may be a self evident scissors and past affair, as it was recorded and mixed in the UK, Montreal and Italy, but there’s enough excitement and meaningful interplay to suggest that the rhythm section alone shared significant common ground, before Canadian Jerry De Villiers Jr.’s guitar parts and 3 co-writes were added to the mix.

The crisp solos, subtle layering and high sonic quality says much about Davide Sgualdini’s sound print. He glues everything together in a way that makes it difficult to realize the trio weren’t in the same room.

Fafard announces his own presence at the 1.40 minute mark of the opening ‘Reminiscence’, with a tension breaking bass line that subtly meanders in and out of the rhythm track. His calling card is full of tasteful, meaningful notes that drip with feel. Guitarist De Villiers slips into the groove with some angular soloing, while Husband expands the track with a synth break and shapes the track with snare bursts.

Fusion musicians too often fall into the trap of over-playing and improvising for its own sake, but that’s not the case here. ‘Sphere’ is full of meaningful compositions that expand into grooves as they search for a range of emotion and feel. There’s an emphasis on subtle textures and intricate dynamics, as evidenced by ‘Facta Non Verba’. The track blends Villiers’s weepy guitar tone, Fafard’s propulsive bass and Husband’s percussive muscularity.

There’s a lovely moment around the 3.50 mark, when the trio create the illusion of inspired interplay and instrumental clarity, while still ensuring a mellifluous flow.

And a feeling of flow is very much at the core of this album. The 9 songs sound almost interlinked, and while the album is not quite a linear progression, there’s a real ebb and flow to the music that draws the listener in.

Fafard’s compositional integrity – evidenced by his search for new ideas, different sounds and emotional depth – means the music has a real vitality, while Husband’s coherent phrasing and Villiers’s dexterity and rich tones stretch the songs to their full potential.

Gary Husband switch to piano on ‘Cherishing’ adds a new dynamic to an airy piece that glides beautifully and has real presence.

‘No Brainer’ is another notable highlight and evokes Zappa’s jazz fusion era. Fafard adds a two pronged bass solo that moves from the conversational to Stanley Clarke style intensity with a percussive attack over an acoustic guitar line, while Gary Husband’s synth squalls illustrates the trio’s perfect synchronicity.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra influenced ‘Celestial Roots’ is heavier and showcases an intense bass solo with stabbed synth squalls and a brief drum break,  either side of the open and closing theme. Unlike most of the song titles on the album it doesn’t make a readily apparent connection with the title.

Fafard saves his best composition for last, with the guitar-led ‘Bubonic Groove’, which has a tension building layered sound, rhythmic drive and is punctuated by intricately woven guitar lines. Gary’s sudden synth solo brings both intensity and contrast as Fafard’s rumbling bass moves into overdrive. His slapped solo emphasises the groove on a perfect finish to an exhilarating album.

‘Sphere’ is that rare thing, an adventurous fusion album with real heart, feel, emotion and lots of energy that reflects the collective commitment to exciting new music. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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