Saturday, 22 March 2014

Antoine Fafard - A Hidden Track

Album Review
Antoine Fafard - Occultus Tramitis
Genre: Progressive/Jazz

When I first read the Press Release for this album, I was intrigued. There are some heavy hitters in the line-up, and even though I hadn't heard of Antoine Fafard himself, the fact that he comes packing with some big names would seem to suggest he’s a musician’s musician. Someone people want to work with.

His first solo album, entitled Solus Operandi, (Latin for “working alone”) came out in 2011. I haven’t had the chance to listen to it yet, but after taking an earful of the latest work, I think I might have another project ahead of me! The new one is called Occultus Tramitis, (Latin for “hidden track”). If you think of music, you might wonder if Hidden Track means there’s some sort of secret, special-access-only track listing to be found somewhere in the project. But one look at the album cover tells you it’s a path, a potential destination, something that might not be visible at first glance. I like it.

The musicians involved in the project are:

Antoine Fafard: Bass, classical guitar
Sylvain Bolduc: Bass
Denis Labrosse: Bass
Emmanuelle Caplette: Drums
Gavin Harrison: Drums
Magella Cormier: Drums
Martin Maheux: Drums
Simon Phillips: Drums
Dave Weckl: Drums
Terry Bozzio: Drums
Chad Wackerman: Drums
Jerry De Villiers Jr: Electric Guitar
George Hayes: Electric Guitar
Scott Henderson: Electric Guitar
Jerry Goodman: Violin
Jean-Pierre Zanella: Saxophone

They don’t all play together, of course. Heh, heh. That WOULD be a lot of basses. Not that this wouldn’t be nice. (ahem) The musicians are featured on various tracks within the entire album. When featured, each musician brings his own unique flavor to the work.

Okay, first of all, let me get this out of the way. Fafard started on classical guitar. He transferred his skills over to the bass, and typically plays the thunder-maker in the style of a classical guitar. Some people might say this means he’s not a REAL bass player; he’s simply playing classical six-string on a bass guitar. I believe this is entirely true, and I think it sounds magnificent. If I was to define the bass guitar as something ONLY to be played as a grinding lower-end to rock music, I’d never be able to sit back and enjoy the subtle, melodic music of Zander Zon or Alberto Rigoni. You know what a REAL bass player is? Someone who plays the bass. They bring to it their own musical soul; frankly, the style - whether a rock-solid bassline or a sweeping harmonic symphony - works if you play what you feel.

Occultus Tramitis is an hour-long collection of eleven songs that gave me shivers to the bone. It’s mysterious, haunting, and flowing with atmosphere. It swings from busy to quiet in a heartbeat and never lets you off the hook. The videos available for the music add to the mood in awe-inspiring ways. For example:

When I first started listening, one of the things that really kept me on my toes was that the songs are all written in some pretty interesting time signatures. I tell you right now, I am not qualified to rate this music based on its time signatures or technical musicianship. As always, I simply gave it my EARS, and came away with a feeling of breathlessness.

To me, it’s basically a progressive album, with a lot of classical influences There’s a sense of fusion jazz in places, too. All in all, it’s a hard one to slot because every song has its own identity. The songs are blended and well-formed; they snake around basic themes and then shoot off in different directions. Rich, full moments, stark silences, it’s all about placing things where they best serve the ears.

Instead of doing what I might normally do, which is to take a look at each song through a detailed review, I decided instead to use a free-association approach - something that matches the mood of the project. Beside the name of each track are a few of the words that came to my mind immediately upon first listen. From the gut, prog style.

1. Peace for 4: 5:24. Haunting, atmospheric. Fretless bass, amazing drums. Crying violin. On the FAVES list.

2. The Chamber: 5:01. Lively, aggressive, progressive, experimental. Heavy bass and guitar. Great licks!

3. 13 Good Reasons: 6:23. Moody, syncopated. Weird time signature. Beautiful saxophone fill. Bass has great range.

4. Sum of Six: 6:15. Sax leading. Guitar and sax together. Impressive fretless bass solo - classical Jazz?

5. Holding Back Time: 5:55. Ominous drum opening. Weepy guitar. Bass as thunder. Bass as melody in the fill. Fusion, almost improv. Like the video - spacey.

6. Fur & Axes 5:04. Instruments play off each other. Guitar, drums. Bass creeping in. Relaxing in places, unsettling in others. Lightning fingerwork.

7. Funkevil 5:42 - A real bass number! Dark, heavy, growling. Violin owns the high registers. Excellent six-string electric! Just how I like it. Slides, distortion, effects. On the FAVES list. Slick and tasty number!

8. Tree O: 5:18. More serious bass. Dark, but very melodic. Very low registers. Makes me smile. Woof! Cool breaks of complete silence. More unbelievable fingerwork.

9. Slydian: 5:28. Fafard’s classical influences show here. Fantastic bass. Slap & Tap. Almost not hearing the other instruments because of the bass. Impressive. Nice guitar toward the end.

10. Methamorphosis: 5:54. Check that spelling! Effects start the song. Very scattered feeling. Hectic. Almost a “soundtrack” feel. Not my fave, but it serves its title well.

11. Prelude No.2 in C Minor: 1:49. Bach on bass. Video is a MUST! Outrageous performance. This is what Fafard is all about. A classical guitar transferred on down to the bass. Listen to this and tell me it doesn’t work.

Whew. This free association stuff is tough. You have to think on your feet. But this is what this album is all about. You hear staccato bursts of energy, followed by quiet passages jammed full of feeling. If you like your bass full of range, depth, and melody, this one’s well worth a listen.

© 2013 C.L. Seamus for Thunder Row

Visit Antoine's WEB PAGE, and the STORE where you can purchase this album (he's offering autographed copies), as well as his first release.

As well visit and LIKE his Facebook Page to keep up with concert dates and events.

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