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Antonio Forcione

Pizza Express, London (March 2006)

Seeing and hearing Antonio Forcione play live is one of those events that merely serves to confirm what you've already realised from listening to him on record: that he is a fantastically gifted and accomplished guitar player with an innate talent for stirring the emotions though his unique and inventive style of playing.

This much alone was evident at a recent concert I attended in London. However, the experience further demonstrated that this acoustic alchemist also possesses a lively sense of humour that emerges not only in his discourse with the audience but also in his spell-binding performance on the guitar.

He was playing before an obviously appreciative crowd in the basement of the Pizza Express in Soho with his quartet; four young, inventive and very capable musicians who seemed to inspire him to even greater heights of artistic wizardry. (Though, I have to say, his solo session that evening wasn't exactly what you might call unexciting.) Worthy of special note in this respect was cellist, Jenny Adejayan, whose fluid playing demonstrated a rare dexterity, not least for the speed and precision with which she tracked Forcione note for note during some of the music's most animated and technically challenging interludes.

A particular highlight for me was the band's funk-fuelled rendition of Maurizio's Party (from the album Ghetto Paradise, Naim CD 032) where, if you'd have closed your eyes, you could have imagined that the Doobie Brothers had taken to the stage and were readying themselves to swing into Long Train Runnin'. Similarly, during the encore, the band launched into a demonstrative homage to Deep Purple - Smoke on the Water - that would dispel any notions that Forcione was just a jazz musician as some see fit to describe him - he patently isn't; his far-reaching abilities stretch way beyond the contemplative and self-referential doodling of many from that genre.

As a demonstration of his mix of sensibilities he also treated the audience to a marvellous rendition of Marvin Gaye's I Heard it Through the Grapevine (from the album Antonio Forcione Live! Naim CD 054) in which he demonstrated his expansive array of percussive playing techniques alongside the complete repertoire of six-string trickery - tapping, pull-offs, hammer-ons, slides, bends and harmonics - all generated with his effortless but truly dazzling right and left-hand speed.

Another, entertaining highlight was provided during Sahara Rain (from the album Tears of Joy, Naim CD 087) by percussionist, Adriano Adewale who played a delightful solo on a set of tuned drainpipes using flip-flops as the beaters. Elsewhere his playing introduced an added dynamism to that of Forcione and the band, his more conventional array of instruments providing dramatic and forceful interjections to the event's very well-balanced and arranged sound.

In short, this thoroughly memorable event left me with a fresh perspective on Forcione: on CD he is impressive but live in concert - especially with this quartet - I found him to be truly awe-inspiring. The almost disdainful ease with which he exploited the vast palette of tonal colour, harmony and dynamic chiaroscuro available to him from his instruments was nothing short of breath-taking.  Malcolm Steward.

Antonio Forcione

New Zealand Festival (February/March 2006)

Antonio Forcione and his Quartet bring an astonishing array of sounds to the National Bank Festival Club this week, and they opened their five-night run with an electrifying performance on Saturday which had the audience alternating between gasps of astonishment and giggles of delight. The guitar virtuoso used every technique in the book to coax sounds from his instrument - and many that aren't even in the book yet.

From flameco fingerpicking to chunky slap funk, Forcione invigorates his sound with driving rhythm and absolute mastery of the guitar. He frequently uses the guitar as percussion, keeping the music's pulse by slapping the sides and top of his instrument. Through this combination of technical wizardry and unique showmanship, Forcione has become one of Europe's most highly respected purveyors of world music, opening for the likes of Phil Collins and Bobby McFerrin.

Forcione's origins as a solo performer and busker are evident in his ability to simultaneously play the drum beat, bass line, chords, and melody of a song. Perhaps his biggest crowd pleaser of the night was a solo rendition of "Touch Wood," taken from his 2003 album of the same name. Starting with a beat pounded on the body of his amplified acoustic with the heel of his hand, Forcione soon added cyclical, piano-like chords by "tapping" on the neck with his right hand. A melody emerged, played only by the sliding fingers of his left (fretting) hand. All along, the wily guitarist added more and more beats to his percussion pattern, slapping furiously on three sides of his instrument to replicate a multitude of drum sounds. The resulting song, though short on melody, was a fascinating study in rhythm and dexterity.

While Forcione's solo pieces had a wonderful air of playfulness and dazzling finger acrobatics, the addition of his backing trio lended a gorgeous depth of emotion and mystery to the sound. Accompanied by Nigerian cellist Jenny Adejayan, Brazil's Adriano Adewale on an array of drums and percussion, and rock-steady Australian bassist Nathan Thompson, songs from Forcione's most recent albums painted an evocative landscape of desert nights, smoky Indian cafes, and sprawling Moorish palaces.

The melodic highlight of this concert was a spellbinding rendition of "Indian Café," taken from Forcione's 1998 fusion album Ghetto Paradise. Played on a fretless guitar to which six short harp strings had been added, the song wound a gorgeous Indian melody around the circular walls of the Festival Club, wrapping the audience in a thick shroud of hypnotic bass and smoky guitar. At times, Adewale played his percussion set like a drum kit, pounding the pulse on a djembe with his left hand; alternately, he sent washes of cymbals and shaker over the music, evoking earthly sounds of crunching leaves and flowing water. Adejayan often harmonized with the guitar melody on her cello; her dry, resonant tone and flawless intonation showed years of classical training combined with an ear for non-western technique.

The second set of the concert began with a duet between Forcione and Adewale, who accompanied the guitarist with only a tambourine. The slap-happy, modern funk tune got everyone's head bobbing. Indeed, the guitarist himself seemed to count the beat by nodding and doing the "chicken-neck." When the funk got deep, the pair flawlessly segued into a tease of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster (Jammin)", which many in the crowd acknowledged with laughs of "Oh, I've heard that one before." The tease then turned into a full on cover version, with Forcione ripping a solo over the chord changes jazz-style, converting Wonder's pop-reggae into a hot swing number. Forcione and Adewale then began trading phrases between the guitar and tambourine, mimicking, dueling, and eventually playing each other's instruments without losing a single beat.

Forcione's wonderful showmanship and charisma were on full display throughout the night, no doubt founded on his studies in Italian mime. When displaying some extraordinary guitar chops, Forcione would occasionally put on the classic "something smells funny" face, his curled nostrils and knit brow mimicking countless rock guitarists who make things look harder than they really are. Of course, this look would quickly turn into "something smells funny, and I can't stop doing the chicken-neck."

The culmination of this vast array of influences and techniques came with a stunning version of "Sahara Rain," from the 2005 release Tears of Joy. Combining eastern tonality with classical technique and a compelling beat, the song seemed to embody all of the sounds which make up Antonio Forcione's musical being. The song began with a fascinating ostinato pattern played by Adewale on a row of plastic pipes, slapped at the mouth by a pair of jandals. Explaining the technique before the song began, Forcione said "I don't know what you call these here. Flip Flops? Thongs?" To which the crowd responded enthousiatically, "JANDALS!" The song wound through a lyrical combination of African "high-life" music and soaring middle eastern melody, bouncing along to the beat of Adewale's deep djembe.

The sound and magic of the Antonio Forcione Quartet whisks the listener on a journey around Europe and Asia, with moments of dazzling technical wizardry and heart-warming comedy. This unique fusion group is not to be missed - the opportunity to see musicians of this caliber in the cozy confines of the Festival Club is rare indeed. Reviewed by Tyler Hersey.

“A performer of world class status ... forceful and with an enviable technique, he takes the guitar to new levels of expression combining its melodic powers with dramatic percussive effects. Forcione boldly goes where no guitarist has gone before and the results are quite spectacular ... miss him at your peril”. The Stage

“Forcione plays unstringed parts of the guitar other players can’t hope to reach” The Independent

"Forcione must surely be considered one of the most dynamic and imaginitive guitarists on the contemporary scene" Jazzwise