Fonya - Upper Level Open Space

By 1999, Chris Fournier had grown very comfortable with his Fonya disguise. Yet, despite a few old habits, he delivered one of his strongest albums that year. Upper Level Open Space is almost everything instrumental prog rock should be with only a little of what it should avoid. The album is loosely themed around the great outdoors, particularly mountain climbing. It gives way to aerial melodies and a feeling of grandeur. The album opens with the majestic Stardaze at the Summit, a beautiful theme stated on electric guitar and repeated over the better part of the ten-minute duration while the arrangements below keep on changing. Slightly overlong, the piece nonetheless ranks among Fonya’s best cuts. The heavy bass riff in Acadia and the epic Mountain of God provide the other highlights. Guadelupe from Sierra Diablo could have been in that category too, but Fournier went overboard in the drums and keyboards departments, overdubbing too many tracks. There is a naïve feel to his melodies that fits the general theme well, but some will see in them the influence of new age masters like Jean Michel Jarre and Kitaro. Never mind, the album remains mostly a rock endeavor (yes, that’s a pun). The artist cannot shake all of the coldness that comes with this kind of one-man, programmed instrumental music, but he made a commendable effort putting in the human factor, thanks mostly to his guitar work, strongly recalling Richard Pinhas. This CD is a summit in Fonya’s discography and a must for fans of the genre. [allmusic]

Instrumental but powerful, this album has the punch of Steve Howe’s Turbulence but more varied and less riff driven. At times it’s very reminiscent of Steve Hackett, especially mid-to-late era. The music is complex enough that you don’t miss the vocals at all... I’m usually skeptical when a one-man show like this comes along..., but Upper Level Open Space is really impressive and has changed my mind for good. The album has the power to put you in another time and place - a wind-swept mountaintop, flying through the clouds, driving alone at night, wherever it sweeps you along to. [Exposé]

The nine tracks on Upper Level Open Space take us on a journey around the earth. Melodies are ample, rich. They develop slowly to occupy all the sonic landscape, revealing unseen mountains and rivers as the listener is watching high above the ground (14,000 Feet and Infinite Visions are breathtaking in that matter). Stardaze at the Summit is the perfect example of what Fonya/Fournier is capable of: an uplifting melody upon a solid rhythm section. Fonya’s musical themes are evocative without falling into description. There are no geo-ethno-musical references here. Fonya offers an instrumental progressive music that is a cut above what is usually done in this field, mostly because of Fournier’s use of guitars and percussion, avoiding the coldness inhabiting keyboards-only projects. This music breathes, it has a beating heart. To throw some references, one can think of Djam Karet (in the guitar melodies and use of e-bow) and Ozric Tentacles (but without the hypnotic pulsating rhythm), or even Mike Oldfield for the quieter moments. This record is strongly recommended to any fan of instrumental music and spacey prog. [Francois Couture, Delire Musical, CFLX]