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Forgas - 1977/2009 - "Cocktail"

(73.00, Musea Records)


*****+
                 
TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Automne 69 0:49 
2.  Monks 4:24 
3.  Reflet d?Ail 1:06 
4.  Coeur Violon 1:05 
5.  Orgueil 1:38 
6.  Vol D?Hirondelles 1:28 
7.  Cocktail 3:42 
8.  Rituel 1:18 
9.  Rhume Des Foins 5:35 
10. My Trip 18:24 
+ (b/t):
11. My Trip Demo 6:32 
12. Cocktail Middle Section 1:38 
13. Cocktail Main Theme 3:18 
14. Plein les Poches 3:58 
15. Paris-Londres 2:43 
16. Nos Cheveux Emmeles 2:37 
17. Magie Major 1:42 
18. Comme Un Hibou 1:36 
19. Poursuite 3:16 
20. Elle Qui Attend 1:34 
21. Arrete-Toi 2.10
22. Espoir 2.04
23. Descendez Pour Vous Rhabiller 0:29

LINEUP:

Patrick Forgas – vocals; drums; bass, guitar; keyboards
Jean Pierre Fouquey – keyboards 
With:
Gerard Prevost – bass (1-8, 10)
Laurent Roubach – guitars (1-4, 6-8, 10)
Francois Debricon – sax, flute (2, 3, 7, 9, 18)
Patrick Lemercier – violin (1, 3, 4, 6, 21)
Patrick Tilleman – violin (1, 2, 10, 12)
Dominique Godin – keyboard; sax (11)
Bruce Grant – saxophone (10)
Didier Thibault – bass (11)

Prolusion. Often referred to as the “French Robert Wyatt”, multi-instrumentalist Patrick FORGAS is a veteran of the French progressive rock scene. His musical career started in the early Seventies, when he played drums with various bands before releasing his debut album “Cocktail” in 1977, on the independent label Gratte-Ciel. After a lengthy hiatus, he made his comeback in the Nineties as a solo artist, and then with a new band, called Forgas Band Phenomena. This CD is the reissue by Musea Records of Forgas’ debut, recorded with the contribution of some of the finest musicians of the French prog scene. Besides the 10 tracks originally featured on the album, there are 13 other songs included, most of them previously unreleased.

Analysis. As any self-respecting prog expert will know, the so-called Canterbury scene is not a phenomenon limited in space or time. Much as the original bands of the movement were firmly rooted in the soil of the south-eastern English county of Kent (also called ‘the Garden of England’), it is also true that the Canterbury bands’ trademark blend of quirky humour, keen sense of melody, experimentation and outstanding technical skill has found an equally receptive ground in other European countries, and even in the United States (though much more marginally), with bands like Picchio Dal Pozzo and Supersister achieving results easily as impressive as those of the original acts. Patrick Forgas’ debut album, “Cocktail”, as the colourful, cartoon-like cover artwork immediately suggests, would not be misplaced among the output of other non-English Canterbury bands. This is not the kind of music that takes itself too seriously, in spite of a display of technical proficiency no less brilliant than that of the more ‘serious’ acts. Some of the song titles are quite revealing of this light-hearted attitude, so typical of the subgenre – an endearing blend of humour and romance, so distant from what many perceive as the overly pompous, self-important attitude of a lot of traditional prog. Forgas’ vocals (though undeniably a bit of an acquired taste), with their quintessentially French air of sophisticated nonchalance, add to this relaxed, feel-good atmosphere. The first ten tracks, most of which are no longer than a couple of minutes, are those featured on the original version of the album. In a way, the 18-minute suite My Trip (whose title quite aptly describes the nature of the song), strategically placed in the tenth slot, comes somehow as a surprise. The album’s undisputed highlight, it is one of those compositions that are almost impossible to describe systematically, given the multitude of twists and turns that characterises its structure. All the instruments contribute to the build-up of a seriously engaging ride, but the real star of this track is Gerard Prevost’s bass. A former member of Zao (as well as a renowned sessionman), Prevost really makes the difference on this composition, and his stunning performance is the glue that holds an otherwise rather fragmented track together – one which begins in classic jazz-rock fashion, more reminiscent of Bruford than Soft Machine, then turns more experimental, with Forgas vocalising in scat-like style, and lyrical violin strains that can recall Geoff Richardson’s use of the viola with Caravan. The bass is also at the forefront in the brisk, uptempo Orgueil, coupled with a beautifully tinkling guitar sound; while Monks is built upon a steadily weaving main theme, underpinning the interaction between violin and flute. This track also features Canterbury’s trademark fuzzed-organ sound at the beginning. Forgas’ precise, elegantly measured drumming is a core feature of all the tracks, and enhances even very short offerings such as Reflet D’Ail or the fluid Vol D’Hirondelles. His peculiar singing style (a falsetto that can sometimes recall The Northettes, even more than Robert Wyatt) fits the nature of the compositions, which blend classic Canterbury stylings with funky influences (check the almost danceable rhythm and vocals of Rhume Des Foins), besides the more obvious jazz ones – very prominent in the title-track, whose smooth, almost lazy flow seems to reflect the carefree attitude projected by the album cover. The thirteen bonus tracks include alternate versions of some of the original songs, as well as previously unreleased material, ranging from the poppy, oddly infectious tune of Magie Major to the darker, more experimental atmosphere of Arrete-Toi and Espoir, both of which feature electronic keyboard effects. None of those tracks, with the sole exception of the demo version of My Trip (which lasts only one-third of the original one), is longer than four minutes, which can come across as frustratingly piecemeal. Quality-wise, while all adequate, they are not what I would call indispensable, and in a couple of them Forgas’ voice sounds somewhat annoying, almost childish in tone. The bass-driven Nos Cheveux Emmeles, with its relaxed, lounge-jazzy pace and Canterbury-style organ in the background, is the only song that actually stands out. In spite of Cocktail’s undeniable strengths, its excessive length is a serious weakness which cannot but affect the disc’s overall rating. 73 minutes is really way too long for the average listener’s attention span, in particular for those who (like me) prefer to listen to albums in one sitting. Much as it can be interesting to get hold of unreleased material, 13 bonus tracks are undeniably a tad too many, especially when not all of them can be said to be up to scratch. On the other hand, I believe Musea Records deserves praise for having rescued this album from oblivion – though it may not be a masterpiece, is definitely worth a listen, and possibly more than one.

Conclusion. Highly recommended to fans of the Canterbury scene and of classic jazz-rock/fusion, as well as to those who love an outstanding rhythm section, “Cocktail” is a very uplifting album (something that, in this particular historical moment, is always a positive factor), showcasing that kind of progressive rock that can engage the mind and the ears without becoming too earnest. Definitely worth checking out, even if you may need to be selective as regards the bonus tracks.

RB=Raffaella Berry: December 24, 2009
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Musea Records
Forgas


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