Venue 505, October 31
Reviewing by resort to comparison always seems lame, but Forq defeats me. It’s not that the band overtly copies anyone specific, but rather that the whole concert flares with sounds and ideas you’ve heard before. Happily they are often ones you don’t expect to hear in the same musical sentence, so even as they bombard you with echoes of times past, Forq’s members scratch their own initials on the mighty trunk from which grow the tangled branches of r&b, rock, blues and jazz.
Led by keyboardist Henry Hey, New York’s Forq is completed by guitarist Chris McQueen, bassist Kevin Scott and drummer Jason Thomas. All are exceptional players, with McQueen standing out for his sheer versatility and Thomas for his virtuosity.
When jazz and rock first enjoyed pre-marital sex in the mid-60s, two flirtations happened more or less simultaneously. US jazz musicians embraced rock’s sounds (distorted guitar, courtesy of Larry Coryell, and a cracking back-beat), while the jazz-literate British rock musicians of Robert Wyatt’s Soft Machine opened up rock’s harmonies and rhythms to increase its improvisatory potential.
The history lesson is relevant because often Forq reminded me of Soft Machine and its sibling bands, in that where the US jazz-rock acts swiftly placed a premium on virtuosity and complexity, the British ones tended (initially, at least) to be more playful. They seemed to want to enchant, surprise and amuse, rather than pummel you into submission with string-quartet precision at heavy-metal volume.
Forq bolsters this overt playfulness (notable on McQueen’s surf-washed Cowabunghole) with a flair for the sort of ferocious funk that socks you in the solar plexus first and asks musical questions later. You also hear carefully crafted dynamics and even moments of dreamy, under-water beauty, alongside weird juxtapositions, like Elmore James is jamming with Pink Floyd, or Booker T & the MGs with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. McQueen emerges as the band’s crowning asset, and the unevenness of the compositions its weakest link.