Canadian, now Californian-based drummer Anthony Fung grabs your attention with his album title even before hearing the first note. The insertion of the parenthetical ‘u’ rather obviously denotes that it’s his fourth album as a leader, yet ‘forth” owes to the advice bestowed on him by the late drummer Ralph Peterson – “Onward and upward. Forward. Forth.” The album features his longtime trio of Luca Alemanno (bass) and Michael Ragonese (piano) joined by tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. The eight tracks include four originals written for Turner, two drum interludes, one Monk tune, and a piano trio lullaby written for the bandleader’s father.
The opener “The Valley” is about Rung’s recent move to L.A. where he does film scoring, hence it’s cinematic sheen. If you’ve ever been to the area, you know that many folks are reluctant to leave the city’s environs to cross over the hills into the San Fernando Valley where it is typically much hotter. The major film studios are located Fung resides there. So, the tune has multiple sections – upbeat and positive in Turner’s solo and a little cloudier and dark in Ragonese’s piano statement. Film also inspires “A Second Chance,” where the uplifting melody was inspired by dystopian movies and one this writer hasn’t seen that sounds intriguing, Alice In Borderland, where a meteorite hits the earth and everyone goes straight to limbo.
“A Drummerlude” is the first of the album’s two solo drum tracks, the second being the title track. Here Fung puts to use his many lessons with Peterson with an accent on the cymbals while in the latter he has Peterson in mind as well as Max Roach, Tony Williams, and Philly Joe Jones.
“Utopia” resembles “A Second Chance” but is more spacious, a vehicle for Turner to demonstrate his soaring mastery of the upper registers of his horn. Ragonese jumps in with an authoritative statement that he builds dramatically but never quite resolves, reflective of many intangible ideas and concepts we might associate with such a place. In the ballad “The Upside Down,” Turner’s emotive, lamenting melody offers a nice contrast to his previous expressions. Agan Fung sources from television and film, in this case the TV show Stranger Things, in which the Upside Down is a shadowy alternate reality, ridden with vicious monsters and positioned in mysteriously parallel relation to the normal world. The pianist is more deliberate in this one, carefully choosing the color palette Fung is aiming for.
“Fo(u)rth” segues seamlessly into the lone cover, Monk’s “Boo Boo’s Birthday,” the final piece with Turner, who explores every nook and cranny of his horn, shifting between breakneck tempo and lilting sequences. Monk wrote the tune for Art Blakey, Peterson’s major mentor so again Peterson’s spirit is very much present. Interestingly, given that Monk was a pianist, the tune is rendered without that instrument as Ragonese sits it out. As such, it brings into clearer focus the tight synchronicity of Fung and Alemanno. The closer, “Hero’s Song” is also a trio piece with Ragonese back on the ivories. Given its somber tones and lack of improvised solos, positioning this at the end of the album was the only wise choice. The melody is a bit brighter than most elegiac tunes, and, in fact, Fung was going more for a lullaby vibe in commemorating his father who passed when the drummer was just four years old.
This is rich, colorful, and at times transportive music that attests to Fung’s compositional strengths.
- Jim Hynes
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