Wednesday, Feb 28 2007

4HERO | Play With the Changes | Milan Records

4hero’s epileptic beats, synth overlays and glimmering strings have always had something of a traditionalist structure: a backbone of musical scholarship and studious attention to detail beneath experimental genre-foraging. That’s allowed the venerated U.K. duo (Dennis “Dego” McFarlane and Mark “Mark Mac” Clair) to be both club-kid darlings (“Hold It Down,” from 2001’s Creating Patterns CD) and music-critic favorites. On their new CD, Play With the Changes, their DJ-based fusion of electronica, hip-hop and jazz is puréed into a mellow brew, harking back to ’70s-style smooth jazz. There are still their trademarked stuttering drum patterns here and there (notably on “Bed of Roses,” featuring Jody Watley), but this is no longer music that requires a seat belt for the bracing shifts of its ?aural landscapes. You sink com­fortably into these. (The duo now bear more than a passing resemblance to In­cog­nito; that’s praise.) Not that everything works: The cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Super­woman” hews too closely to the original and is utterly pointless. On the upside, McFarlane and Clair continue their trademarked fruitful collaborations with strong women: In addition to Watley, there’s Jack Davey, Carina Andersson and frequent 4hero cohort Ursula Rucker (whose true-to-political-form spoken-word track, “Awakening,” is a highlight). Still, the best track is the instrumental “Sophia,” which has the sinewy sweep of Barry White’s best compositions. It’s a too-short jam, limber but focused, beautifully driven by strings that breeze over a glistening high-hat and horns. You just want it to go on and on.

—Ernest Hardy

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