Blending jazz and rock forms with frenetic excitement and masterful control, multi-reedist Forebrace quartet with Roberto Sassi (electric guitar), Santiago Horro (electric bass) and Jem Doulton (drums) run the gamut on exultantly virtuosic improvisation, here recording live at Cafe Oto.
Forebrace (Ward / Sassi / Horro / Doulton)
Label: Relative Pitch
Released in: USA
"There are jazz references all the way through, tempered with rock, funk and even the odd ethereal section, where the intonations can be heard clearly and effectively. Exploration is felt but as a shared journey, not as an observation. Forebrace's Steeped engages, gives the sense of live interaction and it works incredibly well. In the music, particularly tracks 1 and 3, you can hear references to many greats like Ornette Coleman and Anthony Bailey with the intricacy and dextrous little asides which you hear clearly on the second or third listen. But it all makes perfect sense, and imitation is not the theme here: These musicians have their own way of delivering. The final track is possibly the best, but there is not much to choose between them all. Forebrace have the making of a long runner, and Steeped is simply great music."-Sammy Stein, somethingelsereviews.com
"Forebrace is one of Alex Ward's groups - the one he's pitched most decisively left-field of Last Exit. In it, he plays clarinet rather than the other instrument he's best known for, the electric guitar (cf. N.E.W., or Deadly Orgone Radiation), but, since he puts the clarinet through an overdriven amp, it's not a Gershwin vibe he's going for (I'm reminded rather of Patti Smith, wailing away on clarinet to the accompaniment of Ornette Coleman's band, with Flea on bass). And there's electric guitar in the mix anyways, courtesy of Roberto Sassi.
Sassi plays in other bands (Vole, Snorkel) that, like Forebrace, really don't fit into any of the standard pigeonholes. Ditto electric bassist Santiago Horro (Nøught, Luke Barlow Band), and drummer Jem Doulton, Ward's long-term tag partner in Dead Days Beyond Help. But Forebrace is the more exceptional for combining jazz-prog or noise-rock with the rigour of Ward's composer's instinct (cf. his 'chamber improv' pieces, such as Glass Shelves and Floor.)
Steeped (Relative Pitch), is the group's second album, recorded live, mostly at Cafe Oto, London, in February 2016. It kicks off with an urgency never quite bordering abandon but loose enough to allow the spark of abrasive intensities, as when "Hive" ends in pileup backbeats, Horro's bass grinding away in the depths while Sassi picks out a needling pattern and Ward trills in agitation, only to run right into "Planetesimals": electric bass as abstract rummage, and Sassi looping fretwork into electronic code, clearing the way for a surprisingly sensitive clarinet/percussion duet, which in turn sets the tone for collectively subdued textural interplay.
The album's crammed with such sudden shifts, keeping faith with the free imperative of improv while maintaining the its directness through sheer force of impact. And it's not as clear as you might expect, which pieces are Ward compositions (all the odd numbers), and which are the interstitial collective improvisations.
The leader's "Stalks" has a regular rhythm, driven by gritty bass and brisk backbeats, tipping into a steamy collective workout to a shuffle groove with choppy wah guitar licks - a rationalisation, perhaps, of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time or Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society. Horro wraps this one up with some inventive electronic bass treatments, ahead of the even more foursquare "Crest", on which the group effectively pounds along behind Ward's soloing, then collectively drops out to give only sensitive support on an extended segue into the initially abstract/amorphous "Grains" (echoes here of Bill Laswell's Axiom Ambient project).
"Grains" ultimately builds to a stirringly intense finale, but much of the album's mettlesome urgency has been replaced by an investment in the sort of extended noise textures that leach into the scuzzy strings-riffing and agitated kit drumming that carry Ward's warning siren clarinet through "Home Stretch" to a more rhapsodic concluding solo.
The last cut, "Bolt", an excerpt from an older, 2014, live recording, was well saved to serve as this album's bruising, helter-skelter locomotive finale.
Steeped actually manages to convey much of the urgency and excitement of the Forebrace live experience, and that's no mean feat."-Tim Owen, Dalston Sound
• Show Bio for Alex Ward
"Alex Ward was born in 1974. He is a composer, improviser, and performing musician. His primary instruments are clarinet and guitar, and he has also performed in public and on recordings on alto sax, piano/keyboards, bass guitar, and as a vocalist. He was based in Oxford from 1992-2000, and since then has lived in London.
His involvement in freely improvised music dates back to 1986, when he met the guitarist Derek Bailey. As an improviser, he was initially principally a clarinettist (sometimes also playing alto sax), but since 2000 he has also been active as an improvising guitarist. On both instruments, hIs longest-standing collaborations in this field have been with the drummer Steve Noble.
From 1993 to 2001, most of his activity as a composer took place in collaboration with Benjamin Hervé, mainly in the context of the rock band Camp Blackfoot. From 2002-2005, his writing was mostly done solo, and was primarily focused on songs. Since 2006, he has been heavily involved in both solo and collaborative composition, predominantly (though not exclusively) of instrumental music. Much of his writing and performing during this time has been done with Dead Days Beyond Help, a duo with drummer Jem Doulton. He also currently leads a number of bands including Predicate, Forebrace, The Alex Ward Quintet/Sextet, and Alex Ward & The Dead Ends.
He has been a member of many other groups including ensembles led by Eugene Chadbourne, Simon H. Fell and Duck Baker, and has also done various work as a session musician and in collaboration with other media. Since 2005, he has co-run the label Copepod Records with composer/performer Luke Barlow. He does the recording, mixing and/or mastering of most of his own music, and for many of the groups he plays in."-Sites.Google.com (https://sites.google.com/site/alexwardmusician/biography)
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Label: Relative Pitch
Catalog ID: RPR1052
Squidco Product Code: 22584
Recorded live at Cafe Oto in London, England, on Feburary 8th, 2016, by Shaun Cook.
Alex Ward-Clarinet, electronics
Roberto Sassi-electric guitar
Santiago Horro-electric bass
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1. Hive 7:07
2. Planetesimals 5:35
3. Stalks 7:56
4. Crest 6:17
5. Grains 8:01
6. Hone Stretch 4:30
7. Bolt 5:23