Time is not, as popular legend now has it, a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. Rather, time is actually that which is needed for things to change. It speaks of movement from the past, into the present, and on into the future. It stands for chains and sequences of cause and effect, of the succession of events, of movement, of momentum, of constant and consistent transition. At its beating heart, time is all about progression.
When we listen to music we are, in effect, listening to time. When we listen to progressive music, we are listening to something where time is *the* absolute foundation of everything that happens. The elegant beauty of debut album Spatium & Tempus from Alta Forma is that it looks this reality straight in the eyes and revels in playing with all the consequences of just what this really means. Time, as the liner notes confess, “is a continuous and unavoidable fact for any musician.”
Antoine Fafard, the driving force behind Alta Forma, acknowledges that writing music is, for him, “all about the tortuous and difficult task of finding an original, unique and artistically satisfying chord progression.” Enshrining time in music is no easy task, but once the map of that beating heart has been charted, everything else, like rhythms and melodies, “naturally fall into place.”
As the perfect illustration, Never After is deceptively captivating. The easy fluid movement of the music is built around a circling chain of chord progressions which provide structure and direction whilst allowing for the emergence of novelty in the form of organic melodies which flourish and bloom because of them. Todd Suchermann’s exemplary drumming disguises a surprising 9/8 time signature, bringing a distinctive flavour and feel to the track.
Invisible Time is less subtle in the way a strong repeating piano progression anchors everything that takes place around it. One of the shortest tracks on the album at three-and-half minutes, it is wonderfully concise in emphasising brevity as all that is needed to make the point at hand. Although the piano is locked into a recurrent cycle, the drums – and in particular some impressive fretless bass work – have a lot of fun in playfully suggesting new possibilities with each repeating cycle.
Yet time, important as it is to the way this album unfolds, is not the only factor at play here. This is the first album in Fafard’s extensive career which features lyrics. Enter spatium: the introduction of vocals and the consequences this has for the placement and positioning of instruments. Across the entire album JK Harrison’s exemplary vocals provide the perfect foil for the instrumental energy surrounding it, allowing not just for the most thrilling and delicate interplays but casting its influence over the mix itself in terms of fleshing out the spaces within which melodic time occurs.
Time to Dive is again refreshing in its succinct approach, Harrison’s rasping voice carrying brave messages of transitory moments, new beginnings and uncertain journeys. Impossible Hero provides a glorious feast of nuance and delicacy, made possible by a returning shuffle groove which acts as a doorway to both instrumental dexterity combined with exceptional individual technical and creative mastery.
Climbing to Infinity is my personal favourite. The sheer variety of instrumental and vocal combinations is utterly scintillating and demonstrates exactly why this album is such a magnificent achievement. Shifting balances, variations of emphases, fluctuating sound levels creating echoing spaces in the soundstage which then become filled with new variations dancing to differing tones and pitches.
It is glorious primarily because, as I’ve said before, taken as a whole it appears so effortless. Yet the profound levels of craftmanship, imagination and innovation which weave and bind this deeply imaginative mosaic cannot be under-estimated. Space and time never sounded so seductively, so enticingly nor so alluring beautiful. Bravo!
01. Comfort Zone (4:32)
02. Impossible Hero (4:37)
03. Climbing to Infinity (4:43)
04. Never After (5:09)
05. Invisible Time (3:29)
06. Time to Dive (3:27)
07. Hear Now (5:00)
08. His Mind’s Universe (6:16)
09. Apocalyptus (6:24)
Total Time – 43:37
Antoine Fafard – Guitar, Bass, Synthesisers
JK Harrison – Vocals, Keyboards
Todd Sucherman – Drums
Record Label: Timeless Momentum
Formats: CD, Digital
Date of Release: 21st October 2022