I first saw the guitarist Antonio Forcione (an Italian living in London) shortly before my son was born – and my son is now nearly 18. It was a joy to see Antonio once again for what I reckon was the 15th time, playing with Brazilian virtuoso percussionist Adriano Adewale (who also plays in the maestro’s quartet.) And, as the pics indicate, I was so close I was practically on stage with these two fine musicians.
If you’re not familiar with Forcione or his music, he is not that easy to summarise. Descriptions like “the Hendrix of acoustic guitar” certainly don’t tell you the full story about his flair or versatility with stringed instruments, though they might hint at the ability to play every inch of his instrument. For example, while Forcione is certainly the master of conventional guitar technique, he does not merely strum in the conventional pattern; expect also to witness string tapping in the manner of Stanley Jordan, use of the body and strings as percussion instruments, and more variations besides – though not yet playing with teeth or setting the instrument on fire.
Neither does he fit conventional categories: some of his music may suggest jazz roots, while at other times you could be enjoying a classical gig, folk, rock, Motown, Flamenco, blues and pretty much anything else you care to name. On this occasion, music inspired by and dedicated to Africa was well to the fore, including the jaunty tribute to Nelson Mandela, Madiba’s Jive, not to mention African Dawn, Africa and Sahara Rain – amid material providing a full range of light, shade and mood. A few Antonio standards added to the fun, such as the very Spanish Alhambra, The Cool Cat, and Heartbeat – the first piece I ever heard him perform.
It takes a rare talent simply to play this well, but Forcione is also a fine showman and entertainer, such that you rarely come away from a performance without a big smile on your face. On this occasion, his antics included picking out a tune with a small hand-held fan, resulting in a sound akin to a mandolin. The other aspect of Forcione’s playing is that he is very generous in his collaborations, such that you could easily find him jamming on stage with friends from anywhere in the musical world (his quartet comprises players from Italy, Nigeria, Australia and Brazil!) A few months ago I was fortunate to witness a richly rewarding evening at the self-same 606 Club where Forcione duetted with the gloriously smoky-voiced contralto of Sarah Jane Morris (they will shortly be bringing out a new album together.)
Adewale, who comes to stage with plenty of instruments and objects but nothing so prosaic as a drum kit, is another fine player, one of few capable of matching Forcione’s guitar blow for blow. Nowhere is his prodigious skill better witnessed than at the end of this performance, when Adewale, equipped only with a tambourine, responds to a blistering guitar solo with a breathtaking display of moves you never thought possible on such a humble instrument. The electric atmosphere of that moment contrasts with a vocalisation call-and-response with the audience, somewhere between his native Brazilian music and scat singing.
As with every occasion when I’ve seen Forcione and Adewale play, this was fabulous entertainment as well as a spellbinding display of cutting edge musicianship. The only thing that surprises me is that their following is apparently restricted to cult audiences who appreciate talent, but then I should think myself lucky. Worth saying that Forcione works best in compact and intimate cabaret venues like the 606, the Jazz Cafe and similar. The music would certainly not translate well to vast arena’s of the type beloved by mega rock bands, and I suspect Antonio and Adriano like it that way.