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Forgas Band Phenomena: Axis Of Madness / L’Axe Du Fou (Cuneiform Rune 282)

United States
“...there’s always a logical and organic flow, despite knotty and sometimes orchestral transitions.... Its combination of singable themes and rock rhythms will appeal to...all fans of improvisation within a richly composed context.” – All About Jazz

“...orchestral jazz-rock...of the kind scarcely made anymore; virtuosic, tasteful, and melodically pleasing.” – Exposé

18th March 2009 — Composer/drummer Patrick Forgas has been hailed as “the French answer to the Canterbury scene” ever since his debut 1977 release Cocktail (recorded with members of Magma and Zao). Since the late 1990s, as leader of the Forgas Band Phenomena, he has helped ignite interest in Canterbury-infused jazz-rock among a new generation of young French jazz musicians and fans. Besides Forgas, most of the musicians in the Forgas Band Phenomena are in their 20s or 30s, and they enliven his compositions with an energy and verve that make the music sound fresh. For Axis of Madness / L’Axe du Fou, his 4th Forgas Band Phenomena release (and his 2nd release on the American label Cuneiform), Forgas leads a 7 piece instrumental ensemble (sax, trumpet, violin, guitar, keyboards, bass and drums) through epic-length, complex and melodic compositions that mix ambitious progressive rock structures and intense jazz soloing. Fusing new jazz directions with the most adventurous rock of the 70’s, the music should appeal to fans of Frank Zappa’s instrumental works and such British Canterbury bands as Soft Machine and National Health, as well as to followers of Magic Malik and other new jazz-rock and fusion bands. “Jazzfusion, yes,” remarked Progression, “but with a degree of compositional content and integrity often absent in the genre.”

Patrick Forgas was born in 1951 in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. Self-trained as a drummer, he built his first drum kit from salvaged materials when he was a teenager. Forgas also taught himself to play guitar, bass and keyboards. The multi-instrumentalist could also sing. He began his music career in the late 1960s, playing in cover bands.

In 1975, Forgas recorded a demo at Barclay Records’ studio, with a trio that included bassist Didier Thibault (former Moving Gelatine Plates leader). He soon was signed by Gratte-Ciel, the label run by rock critic Jean-Marc Bailleux, a supporter of progressive music. Forgas’ debut release, called Cocktail, came out in 1977. One critic recently described it as “innovative music in the same vein as SOFT MACHINE or Robert WYATT…superb compositions, full of invention and melodic research.” The album marked him as France’s leading exemplar of the Canterbury school, a style of music that began with such English groups as Hatfield and the North and National Health, who fused rock and jazz in bucolic extended compositions. The musicians that Forgas assembled to play on Cocktail, which was released under his name, ‘Patrick Forgas’, included his long-time music partner, the then-up-and-coming keyboard player Jean-Pierre Fouquey, who later joined Magma as well as Christian Vander’s Alien Quintet and jazz trio. Other musicians were Zao members Gérard Prévost, Patrick Tillemann and François Debricon; American sax player Bruce Grant (a sometime member of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath); and another young prodigy, guitarist Laurent Roubach.

Following Cocktail’s release, Forgas formed a live band that included Roubach and Tillemann as well as new recruits Eric Bono (keyboards) and Philippe Talet (bass) (both later with French fusion band Abus Dangereux). The Forgas Band toured throughout 1978 and assembled material for a 2nd Gratte-Ciel album. The new album was aborted when the label declared bankruptcy, canceling the band’s nationwide tour; the Forgas Band soon dissolved.

Except for recording a few pop/novelty singles as a singer early in the decade, Forgas retired from music during the 1980s. Encouraged by journalist and Muséa collaborator Alain Juliac, he returned to the scene and recorded two solo efforts, L’Oeil (1990) and Art D’Echo (1993), which featured Forgas on keyboards, drum programming and vocals, and contributions by reedsman Didier Malherbe (formerly of Gong) and others. In 2002, he released Synchronicité, a solo album featuring electronic/new-age music.

The Forgas Band Phenomena has been Forgas’ main project since returning to music in the 1990s. He had begun assembling musicians for a live band in the mid-90s, and in March 1995, he led a group called Villa Carmen, which performed live. The Forgas Band Phenomena grew out of Villa Carmen, and fused his 90s music with material he wrote for his 1978 band. It released its debut CD, Roue Libre in 1997 on Cosmos Music, an independent label run by Aymeric Leroy and Olivier Pelletant. Dedicated to the Big Wheel, a huge Ferris wheel that dominated the Parisian skyline while providing popular entertainment for twenty years, the CD featured new pieces as well as a previously unreleased composition from 1978. Featuring a lineup that included guitarist Mathias Desmier (later of Jannick Top’s STS), mallet percussionist Mireille Bauer (ex-Gong), the band did a series of shows in 1998. In 1999, Cosmos Music released the band’s 2nd CD, Extra- Lucide, which included the epic-length “Pieuvre A La Pluie”, a reworking of a piece intended for the aborted 1978 album. The lineup featured Desmier alongside new recruits.

2004 marked a new incarnation of the Forgas Band Phenomena. With a new, 8-piece lineup, the group appeared in June at Paris’ Le Triton for Les Tritonales, a progressive music festival that was also featuring Magma, Zao and Univers Zéro,. The Forgas Band Phenomena’s Tritonales’ performance marked the debut of “Coup De Théâtre”, a 35-minute piece based on ideas for Forgas’ 1978 album. Cuneiform representatives at the festival signed the band, and in March 2005, Forgas Band Phenomena returned to Le Triton to record the’ epic-length “Coup De Théâtre”, two new, shorter pieces, “Soleil 12” and “Eclipse”, and a new version of “Pieuvre A La Pluie” for a

Cuneiform release. Soleil 12 was the Forgas Band Phenomena’s 1st Cuneiform release, and certainly the band’s strongest work thus far, a dynamic fusion of jazz soloing and rock structures, and of music from the 70s and the current day. Performed by a large band composed of some of France’s best young jazz musicians, it proved not only that “Canterbury music is alive and well in France” [Exposé], but also that a style of jazz/rock first formulated in the 1970s, could remain vital and relevant as an alternative direction for jazz today.

For their new album, the band this time decided to record in a studio rather than live setting. “La Clef” and “La 13ème Lune” have both been performed regularly since 2006, as well as a longer incarnation of “Double-Sens” which appears here in a radically reworked version, alongside Forgas’ latest compositional effort, the intense “L’Axe du Fou”. Unlike the Soleil 12 material which for a large part was reworked from unused 1970’s material, the music on the new album was all written in the past three years, with the sole exception of the intro to “La Clef”, which originally belonged to an unrecorded composition from the Roue Libre (1997) period.

The lineup of the Forgas Band Phenomena that appears on L’Axe du Fou / Axis of Madness has been together for the past 18 months, and includes Forgas (drums) as well as six younger musicians, including Igor Brover (keyboards), Kengo Mochizuki (bass), who had both already appeared on Soleil 12, plus newer recruits Benjamin Violet (guitar), Karolina Mlodecka (violin), Sébastien Trognon (saxes & flute) and Dimitri Alexaline (trumpet & flugelhorn). In addition to regular appearances in France, in late September 2008, they went on their first outing abroad - in Seoul, South Korea, no less!

Japanese bassist Kengo Mochizuki (age 30), originally influenced by heavy-metal, began to play bass at 19 at the Hosei University, then moved to France and studied jazz bass at Paris’ Atla Music school under former Forgas collaborator Bernard Weber. There he met guitarist Sylvain Ducloux who introduced him to the Forgas Band of which he is the longest-serving member, having entered the fold early in 2004. He is also a member of the French rock band Gaston, and backs singer-songwriter Mathieu Hamel.

Keyboard player Igor Brover (age 42) received his formal training in both classical and jazz piano. In demand as a player, Brover has toured since the early 1990s with countless jazz, fusion, and pop outfits and especially with Latin bands, including Al Samba Tribe, the Brothers Maldonado, Barrio II II, Bazz Latin. He has also led his own groups, including the Septet Serenata. He has been a member of the FBP since 2004.

Saxophonist Sébastien Trognon (age 34) studied saxophone at the Conservatoire International in Paris, then embarked on musicology studies in Dijon. His main influences are Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Jan Garbarek and Branford Marsalis. He is endorsed by Jupiter saxophones and flutes, and has a wide experience ranging from jazz to pop and world music. He has recently played on a CD by bassist Pascal Mulot and will be featured twice on the upcoming Tribute to Magma “Hur”, both with the Forgas Band (covering Univeria Zekt’s “Africa Anteria”) and Olivier Wursten Olmos (son of Magma’s guitarist Claude Olmos). He joined the FBP in late 2006.

Polish-born violinist Karolina Mlodecka (age 35) won first prize in jazz violin at the Aubervilliers CNR in 2006, studying under Pierre Blanchard. She has worked in various musical styles as well as theatre, and recordings include a string ensemble performance by David S. Ware, and participation in a History of Jazz project with notable guest soloists such as Dominique Pifarély, Sylvain Beuf, Steve Potts, Stéphane Guillaume and Philippe Sellam.

Trumpeter Dimitri Alexaline (age 26) studied trumpet at the Boulogne CNR, winning first prizes in trumpet and cornet. He then obtained a PhD in musicology, while continuing his musical studies under Yves Torchinsky, the former double bassist of the ONJ (French national jazz orchestra).

Guitarist Benjamin Violet (age 23) started out studying classical violin, winning first prize at the Toulouse CNR, then switched to electric guitar, resuming his music studies at the Paris CNSM then the Atla school where his teacher was former Forgas Band Phenomena member Mathias Desmier. He is the FBP’s latest recruit, having joined in July 2007.
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