4HERO | Play With the Changes | Milan Records
4heros 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. Thats allowed the venerated U.K. duo (Dennis Dego McFarlane and Mark Mark Mac Clair) to be both club-kid darlings (Hold It Down, from 2001s 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; thats praise.) Not that everything works: The cover of Stevie Wonders 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, theres 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 Whites best compositions. Its 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.