Album review

FORJ – ‘Our Space’

FORJ – Our Space
(Digital release only. Review by AJ Dehany)

FORJ play music the way you want it to be played, with a creativity resistant to running orders but respectful to form and playful with it, and rich in personal expression expressing a strong group identity.  Moment by moment, the personality of each player is asserted in this, their second album, through the personality of the group, and vice versa. The opening theme of is precisely written and crafted post bop played lightly but tightly. The improvisations border wild, teetering on cutting loose but retaining a group discipline as they phase in and out, reconvening on surprise collective moments of tight phrasings among an abundant playful raillery. 

FORJ Our Space album cover

On Bandcamp, comes up second but first on my flacbox with extra track Bish coming up second. These surely deliberate uncertainties recall the programming of “Skirfare”, the group’s previous album, which took an innovative approach to the problem of sequencing by allowing a click n’ collect approach, inviting the listener to select images on a website that then tailor a bespoke running order and different takes. It’s supposedly factorial seven combinations but with the other takes the possibilities for a “unique” running order seem to be gravely higher. With my downloaded files of “Skirfare” I lined up some of the takes and while they were different lengths they were broadly comparable and could be played synchronously. A surround sound installation version of the album with all of the takes phasing in and out around each other in the corners of your head would be a whole trip I think.

This is all to say, their playing is confident and free-spirited but the group is always on the same page, picking the same musical superbrain. 

With running orders and the group’s facility with dispensing with written material in an improvised format let’s return to the metaphor of fractal geometry: you can jump in at any moment and find the group’s overall modus operandus in the smallest operations, as well as expressions of their musical personalities as we encounter them in other groups and projects. 

Drummer Jonathan Silk binds the group to the tunes with a wealth of creative detail mostly on the cymbals and toms. Notwithstanding the title of The Unpickable of track four (or five?) he’s always picking away at the measure, and, as with the best, without losing the pulse. Saxophonist Joe Wright’s 2019 release “Saxophone and dynamic feedback solos” is a thing: the title alone will give you a flavour of his avant garde tendency in the sonic experimentalism of exploring the instrument, and he gives the group what I call ‘Pharoah notes’, those judiciously outside tones that add a splash of hot sauce to your gumbo. 

All “complete” musicians as they are, Josh Arcoleo is really known for it. He emerged seemingly fully formed with an album with another formidable quartet with Ivo Neame, Calum Gourlay and James Maddren. I-know-right – but while that album was precociously accomplished, it’s more in the jazz paradigm than FORJ, which with the benefit of experience and confidence pushes the envelope a bit further. The main difference though is just this sense of facility, that old cliché about making it sound easy. Nick Jurd’s bass playing shares the group modus of holding to the overall pattern but casually throwing in little surprises regularly. 

The album has a ragbag of quirky inspirations from Welsh country matters to the biomechanical embuggerances of dog ownership, but it feels like pure music, in the room and captured in a bottle. Or to play off the name FORJ, forged and hammered into shape, hot but quick to cool. It’s hard to fault, or maybe they’re just too good.

AJ Dehany writes about music, art and stuff: ajdehany.co.uk

LINK: Our Space on Bandcamp

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