CD REVIEW: Antoine Fafard - Sphère

Antoine Fafard - Sphère
(Timeless Momentum - TM20161A. CD review by Rob Mallows)

Ah, the joy of discovery! It always gives a fillip to come across an artist and an album right in your listening strike zone, but of whom you’ve heard nothing before. For me, this week, that artist was Canadian-born, London-based bassist Antoine Fafard, and that particularly enjoyable album has been Sphère.
All original material, it is bought to life by the addition of two super musicians, the UK’s own jazz swiss army knife Gary Husband on drums and keyboards, and Jerry De Villiers Jr on lead guitar and co-composer with Fafard of three of the tracks. This trio creates a satisfying sound offering up a range of musical emotions: intense note-smithing, mournful minor-key moments and achingly beautiful progressions.

This album is contemporary jazz-fusion at its tastiest, with a strong mix of great harmonies and hot melodies that spit and crackle like a roasting pig. Across nine tracks, I got the story that Fafard is trying to engender with his music. Bass-led albums can sometimes over-burden themselves with four-string excess, such as unnecessarily intrusive slapping and popping or unnecessarily long soloing that remind you, incessantly, that the composer’s a bassist. I didn’t get that with Fafard, whose playing, while excellent, is understated enough to propel the music without dominating it.

Polished, but not over-produced, the album has more grooves than a workman’s bench and offers up some powerful, beautiful soundscapes. For fans of the fusion end of jazz’s spectrum, it’s all meat, little filler. Opener Reminiscence comes out punching with a heavy sixteenth-note bass pattern over which De Villiers Jr paints the simplest of three note phrases, developed bar-by-bar until it explodes into a chaotic solo, bringing to mind Yorkshire’s Allan Holdsworth in his synth-guitar prime.

Facta Non Verba showcases De Villiers’ tendency for the epic and bombastic, his warm guitar tone using just the right amount of effects to spice up a great solo in the middle that is beautifully book-ended by simple melodic ideas. On every track, not least fourth cut Fur & Axes, Pt. II (I can only assume part one missed the cut), the creative energy from Gary Husband’s keyboard and drum work shines through. Never over-egging the pudding on his drums, he nevertheless creates fascinatingly insistent, foot-tappingly-infectious rhythmic patterns that provide the reinforced steel superstructure on which Fafard and De Villiers build.

Husband excels here in his keyboard work, just as he did on the two solo albums, Dirty and Beautiful Volumes 1 & 2 from earlier this decade. It’s the flux capacitor to De Villiers’ guitar DeLorean, super-charging his sound and providing a colourful counterpoint that raises both above the ordinary.

The keyboard solo halfway through eighth track No-Brainer (LINK TO VIDEO) and the infectious (excuse pun) last track Bubonic Groove are cases in point. Brooding, lightning fast and totally right for the track, it shows how creative great jazz-fusion - sometimes sniffed at by the purists - can be. Add in Fafard’s spirited, efficient playing and you have some great tracks to enjoy.

Fafard is no newcomer: he has released three previous albums over the last fifteen years, each one featuring various luminaries from the fusion world such as Dave Weckl and Scott Henderson. Credit card, this might hurt us both...there is urgent catching-up to be done.

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