Philadelphia’s Chris Forsyth has long proven himself a skilful and inventive modern guitarist, one whose combination of hard-won chops and dazzling natural ability can easily awe the sort of people who maintain Tumblr pages devoted to photos of pedal boards. It’s always been pretty clear that the guy, to borrow a phrase, knows the literature. However, on the new double album ‘The Rarity Of Experience’, Forsyth proves himself to be equally as adept a composer and bandleader as he is guitar stylist.
Though the album may be loosely divided by a more frenzied and fiery first half and a mellower, more idiosyncratic second act, to view ‘The Rarity Of Experience’ as merely two sides of a coin would be inaccurate, as Forsyth’s Solar Motel Band, over the course of nine originals and a cover of Richard Thompson’s ‘The Calvary Cross’, sustains momentum while evoking a wide range of moods.
The Solar Motel Band is Forsyth’s not-so-secret weapon: the dynamic rhythm section of bassist Peter Kerlin and drummer Steven Urgo, whose sensitive and powerful contributions continue to establish the firm foundation upon which the group creates its unique synergy; non-touring member and frequent Forsyth collaborator Shawn E Hansen adds variety and verve to the Solar Motel Band’s guitars / bass / drums format with his expansive and expressive use of Sequential Circuits’ new Prophet 6 synthesizer; second guitarist Nick Millevoi, the newest member of the group, proves a crucial ingredient and a perfect foil, complimenting Forsyth’s Stratocaster slink with flashy passages of tremolo picking and a distinctly raunchier, more robust tone.
Forsyth knows how good his band is, which is probably why he has chosen to revisit two of his previously released tunes, both originally released on 2012’s ‘Kenzo Deluxe’ as solo pieces. The ‘Rarity Of Experience’s reimagining of ‘Boston Street Lullaby’ is a clinic in tension and restraint, while ‘The First Ten Minutes Of Cocksucker Blues’, replete with the hand drum patter of percussionist Ryan Sawyer and the spacey tenor sax and trumpet of the New York ecstatic jazz stalwart Daniel Carter, becomes a groovy flux that evokes Getatchew Mekuria sitting in with Amon Duul II.
Cecil Taylor once observed that “the roots [of a musician] show more in maturity than in youth.” If this is true, ‘The Rarity Of Experience, Pt. 2’ may provide the album’s most revealing glimpse into Forsyth’s teenage playbook, pitting the arachnidan guitar wanderings of ‘The Days Of Wine And Roses’ against the rhythmic lurch of ‘Remain In Light’. Similarly, on the gorgeous ‘Harmonious Dance’, Forsyth’s bubbly auto-wah, combined with Hansen’s saturated synth twinkle and the rhythm section’s slippery minimalism, flashes back to Tortoise’s jazzy period circa ‘TNT’.
Few modern groups would sound equally at home onstage at the Fillmore East circa 1969, CBGB’s circa 1977, and Lounge Axe circa 1996, but The Solar Motel Band of ‘The Rarity Of Experience’ is such a band. It unequivocally places Forsyth at the top of a very short list of modern bandleaders worthy of carrying the torch of the masters.
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