The Tantra Of Drum & Bass

The first CD is a guaranteed delight for fans of live jazz, '70s soul and spiritual rap.

It comes as no surprise that Two Pages is a double-CD. Not so

much because of its title as because of its genre: 4 hero are known for drum &

bass, and every drum & bass album is a double these days. Why? Who

decided that every single artist within one specific genre must deliver

up to two and a half hours of music even on their debut release? (It

would have taken the Beatles or the Stones five albums to get that far!)

Is there not a drum & bass artist brave enough to give us an hour of

music and leave it at that?

In fairness to the duo of Dego McFarlane and Mark Mac, 4 hero helped

found the whole double-album syndrome back in 1994 with Parallel

Universe -- which means they aren't simply following the current

trend -- and if any drum & bass album I've heard this year has

justified spanning two CDs, Two Pages is the, er, one.

"Page One," the first CD, is primarily vocal, features entirely "live"

instrumentation and is surprisingly soft on the palate. It opens with

"Loveless," on which Ursula Rucker, who also graced Josh Wink's recent

album, drops a half-spoken, half-sung but always rapidly delivered poem

about mother earth and our treatment of her, the general theme that runs

throughout Two Pages. Accompanied by exquisite jazz drums, a

gentle double-bass, a few keyboard pads and a touch of violin,

it's a subtle announcement that this album is not going to play by the rules.

Rucker is far from the only vocalist to guest on "Page One." Carol

Crosby takes the lead on both "Golden Age of Life," a midtempo number

dominated by grand-piano flourishes, and "Wishful Thinking," an overt

love song that heads toward a Philly soul vibe. Face sings two of the

album's most commercial offerings, "Escape That" and "Star Chasers,"

each of which uses heavenly metaphors to achieve dreamlike status. Ike

Obiamiwe sings "Cosmic Tree," which again plays to the preordained

lyrical concept, and, in an attempt to shift yet further from formula, "The

Action" features Ish on a rap that leans heavily into Jungle Bros./A

Tribe Called Quest territory. With such an array of vocalists and its

mature arrangements, "Page One" is a guaranteed delight for fans of

live jazz, '70s soul and spiritual rap.

"Page Two," meanwhile, is almost totally instrumental and completely

programmed on machines, the total opposite of the lush songs on "Page

One." Tracks like "We Who Are Not As Others" and "Mathematical

Probability" are harsh digital beats rescued from some future eon, the

music we might have expected more of on this album. But "Greys" and

"In The Shadows" are experimental electronica of the kind that would do

the Warped label (home of Aphex Twin and Autechre) proud.

Those enticed into Two Pages by the commerciality of the songs

on "Page One" may find its digital companion too intense for their

liking. Similarly, those who came purely to dance might deem "Page One"

too middle of the road. But those who come to the party with an open

mind, eager to hear drum & bass progress, will be captivated.

Perhaps even mesmerized. Two Pages is -- to borrow from its

spiritual theme -- a revelation.