Talkin’ Loud Records
4 Hero is one of those groups that is difficult to categorize, and it is their eclectic output that has made them one of the most interesting and dynamic artists out there today. Their latest release, Creating Patterns, takes them in a direction even further away from their drum ‘n’ bass roots and into more of an acid jazz mode. The results are just as impressive as their seminal hardcore breakbeat tracks in the early ’90s that influenced the likes of Goldie and Roni Size.
Formed way back in 1989 in London, the group had four members for only a short period in their beginning stages, as most of their creations have come from the duo of Dego McFarlane and Mark Clair, also known as Mark Mac. Their debut LP In Rough Territory was a precursor to some of the dark side producers that jungle would produce years later. Ironically, they did not produce much jungle during its breakout years, around ’94 and ’95, though their influence is apparent and respected as one of the godfathers of the scene. Instead, their second album Parallel Universe, had a sound more reminiscent of mid-’80s Chicago house and Detroit techno, a definite deviation from their earlier work.
During this time, Dego also introduced his Tek 9 project, which was more on a hip-hop/acid jazz tip, with the occasional breakbeat included. The duo then worked under the name Jacob’s Optical Stairway, which saw them return to a more progressive galactic breakbeat dance style. The next 4 Hero work, entitled Two Pages, gained popular attention in the U.K. and resulted in a remix album, Two Pages: Reinterpretations.
Confused? Perhaps these boys from Dollis Hill want you to be at least intrigued by their multitude of musical forms. But regardless of 4 Hero’s meanderings on the creative path, there is only one thing one needs to know about Creating Patterns, and that is that it simply rocks (in the positively “non-rock” sense).
Closer to Jazzanova than Roni Size’s “It’s Jazzy,” there are plenty of strings, percussion, and smooth vocal stylings to make this more appropriate at the lounge than dance club. But the groove is there, though more discreetly, and often in the style of the rare groove or northern soul scenes that were so huge in the U.K. Perhaps it takes going beyond being entrenched in homogenized American musical culture to completely appreciate this body of work; at this point, one has to, since, unfortunately, Creating Patterns does not currently have a known U.S. release date, making it only available only as an import for the time being.
“Conceptions” sets the tone right away with its sweeping strings, gentle sitar plucking, and drifting beat. That cut leads perfectly into “Time, with the red hot Ursula Rucker lending her vocals and poetic lyricism. Innovative fusion of breakbeats, dark retro synths, and droning sounds create the manic soul of “Golden Solitude.” That same mood continues with the rolling beats and groove bassline of “Twothesme,” with its screeching horn samples that strangely sound like voices at times.
Jill Scott just wants to enjoy life and break out of the daily grind in “Another Day,” gently crooning, “I don’t want to go to work today, I just want to stay home and play video games.” “Hold It Down” is driven by some future jazz broken beats, with Philly’s Lady Alma doing some authentic seventies soul. “Unique” and “Something Nothing” are along the same vein, though at a less frenetic pace. “Ways Of Thought,” like “Hold It Down,” is also reminiscent of some harmonized Kruder & Dorfmeister production. “Eight” uses some soft electro-style beats with wandering strings over the top, while “Blank Cells” is some straight up ’70s jazz-fusion funk.
The track “2-Bs-74638” is another solid instrumental. It prepares us for the first single off the album, “Les Fleur.” This cover version of the Minnie Riperton tune features Carina Anderson singing, in epic fashion, over a 16-piece string and brass section, with production surely influenced by Burt Bacharach compositions in the late ’60s, though pumped with some adrenaline. What else do you need besides this?
“Day of the Greys” features rare groove legend Terry Callier, in a song that is also reminiscent of some of Bacharach’s sound with its melodic vocals that tell of world unity. Another vocalist from the ’60s, Mark Murphy, does a solid fusion piece, “Twelve Tribes,” about the wisdom of the ancients. It’s rare that an album sounds this well-crafted and beautifully produced and arranged; anybody who doubts the musical legitimacy of dance music producers should hear this album.
The record continues the jazz fusion direction that has been evident since the Tek 9 album It’s Not What You Think It Is!?!! and some of the work on Two Pages. And indeed, this is not what you think it is. One gets the feeling after a couple of listens that this is a theme album of some kind, but you’re not sure what the theme it is. You don’t really care, because it works as a soundtrack for life, or at least those moments when you’re unsure of where you are in the world. Indeed, the biography on their Web site is actually a description of Creating Patterns itself, explaining that: “These tracks are an exploration of acoustic sounds guided by strings, vibes, flutes, and a mixture of Eastern and African sounds … But then the album jumps from pattern to pattern, Creating Patterns, introducing electronic fusions intertwined with live sounds and the vocal talents of some amazing guest artists.” ‘Nuff said.