‘Standards’ rearranged by like-minded musicians and producers.
Lara Bellini 2009
Just a little over a decade has passed since 4hero’s MOBO award for Best Drum & Bass Act. It’s a good time to look back on the journey taken, and to release a compilation of some of their original tunes – from their 1995 album Parallel Universe, via Two Pages, Creating Patterns, to 2007’s Play with the Changes – albeit as takes on their own ‘standards’, completely rearranged by like-minded musicians and producers.
Extensions can be savoured in its own right, although knowing the originals might help. Most rearrangements give new clothing to the original pieces, often subverting the mood (the dramatic Planetaria, turned to an atmospheric bossa by Christian Prommer's Drumlesson, is a pearl). Full marks go to Humans, morphed by The Sub Ensemble from the full-on electronic original to a breezy nocturnal fusion, with a slightly noisier build-up at the end.
If the opening Universal Love is as stylish as 4hero can be, with its lush strings, the dramatic fully fledged orchestration by the Sonar Kollektiv and ever meaningful lyrics, and the closer Star Chasers tackled in the only possible way, miles from the beautiful original (here turned to a languid folk/jazzy tune by [re:jazz]), it is Third Stream that tops them all. It’s a virulently intelligent jazz rearrangement, a total syncopated joy intensely rendered by pianist extraordinaire Robert Mitchell with his 3io. It’s absolutely this compilation’s vibrant heart.
The chosen tunes, each with a distinctive newly acquired personality, are sequenced to create a flawless balance, undisturbed by the one odd one out. The rendition of Cosmic Tree sounds flat and rigid: a bare, undeveloped six-beat replaces the original drum & bass, overwhelming the structure and stifling its fluidity (the intention behind such an arid soundscape is not clear). But in context, it works as breathing space between the lavishly baroque disco-diva Sophia and the Cuban-vibed People Always Criticise Us.
One for the pedestal is drummer Luke Parkhouse, whose sensitive, articulate playing and highly recognisable sound has accompanied 4hero in their journey: here he puts his signature to Blank Cells. Overall, Extensions is an excellent album.