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Two Sides of Fred Frith

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From the very start of his musical career, guitarist Fred Frith has been equally at home as an improviser, a songwriter or a combination of the two. His first group, the legendary Henry Cow, always featured a balance between songs that were used as a springboard for improvisation and free improvisations. In contrast, his debut solo album Guitar Solos (Caroline, 1974) featured eight tracks of unaccompanied improvised guitar, including prepared guitar; Frith's innovative, experimental approach to his instrument was highly influential, and the album was hailed as a landmark. Its sequels Guitar Solos 2 (Caroline, 1976) and Guitar Solos 3 ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Frith: Clearing Customs

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Over the decades of his solo career, Fred Frith's music has grown more reflective of the range of his musical interests. As well as being an improviser of significance he has also shown an interest in a diversity of folk musics, with initial signs showing up already, in his work of the late 1970s. Clearing Customs might, in a sense, be a culmination of the process started back then. An unusual instrumentation enhances the singularity of the single hour-long title piece, and the deployment is something else. The eruption of sound at the 3:24 mark has the ...

INTERVIEWS

Fred Frith: Mapping the Further Reaches

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Multi-instrumentalist/composer Fred Frith occupies a unique niche. As a charter member of Henry Cow, a band for which improvisation was always an integral part of musical expression, he was partly responsible for some of the most radical music ever to have emerged from beneath the rock umbrella.So much so, in fact, that the discontinuities between that band's albums will always be more pronounced than their continuity. Any notion of music in a state of flux that this might imply has been indicative of Frith's work in the decades since that band split up. Now that he ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Frith: Nowhere / Sideshow / Thin Air

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His sixth album of music for dance, Nowhere / Sideshow / Thin Air continues multi-instrumentalist/composer Fred Frith's longstanding collaboration with Carla Kihlstedt. The violinist was heard most recently on Frith's previous dance disc, The Happy End Problem (ReR Megacorp, 2006), and in performance as part of his well-received Art Bears Songbook, with Art Bears percussionist/lyricist/co-founder Chris Cutler, and Cosa Brava, a new rock-oriented group with a debut disc due out in 2010. It's clearly a fruitful relationship that has seen the intrepid duo explore everything from the avant-tinged to the painfully beautiful. Even when he's being lyrical--as he seems to ...

MULTIPLE REVIEWS

Fred Frith: To Sail, To Sail, Pas de Deux & The Big Picture/Still Urban

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Fred FrithTo Sail, To SailTzadik2008 Fred Frith, Danielle Palardy RogerPas de deuxActuelle2008 Fred Frith and Arte QuartettThe Big PictureIntakt2009 Fred Frith and Arte QuartettStill UrbanIntakt2009 There are very few musicians as versatile yet as instantly recognizable as Fred Frith. These four discs demonstrate the many facets of his craft as an improvising composer, blurring timbral and compositional boundaries ...

MULTIPLE REVIEWS

Fred Frith and Arte Quartett: Still Urban / The Big Picture

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Alongside a career as an independently-minded improviser, guitarist Fred Frith has maintained a track record as a “formal" composer. Whilst these two roles might on the surface appear contradictory, Frith has over the years managed effortlessly to maintain them. Thus, the composed content on Still Urban and The Big Picture is for the Arte Quartett, on saxophones, augmented by Frith on guitar and, on the title track of The Big Picture, Katharina Weber on piano and Lucas Niggli on drums. The music runs the gamut of interpretation both composed and improvised, and the results yield their secrets only slowly.

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Frith: The Happy End Problem

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Since emerging in the early 1970s with Henry Cow, multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith has created a large, stylistically diverse body of work and a reputation for being both a fearless improviser and composer--fearless because he has steadfastly avoided any trappings that might lead to predictability, stylistic or otherwise. When he played at the 2008 Festival International de Musique Actuelle Victoriaville with his marvelous new Cosa Brava band and the eagerly anticipated Art Bears Songbook, an almost unbelievable criticism of Cosa Brava was that it was too melodic. As incredible as such an observation might seem, the same might be said of ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Darren Johnston / Fred Frith / Devin Hoff / Larry Ochs: Reasons for Moving

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Reasons for Moving is what an improvised session should sound like: thoughtful, seamless, dynamic, comfortable. “Dawn & The Flat Irons" begins as a conversation between trumpet (Darren Johnston) and bass (Devin Hoff). When drummer Ches Smith comes in, the tune branches off, allowing Smith, Fred Frith (electric guitar) and Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones) to play more sparsely. The softer tracks on the CD are more effective. In “Deep North," Smith and Ochs create an intense quiet that lends depth and gravitas to the entire album and forces the listener to contemplate each ...

LIVE REVIEWS

Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 2 - May 16, 2008

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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5

Tim Brady / Fred Frith Cosa Brava / John Zorn MoonchildFestival International Musique Actuelle VictoriavilleVictoriaville, Quebec, CanadaMay 16, 2008

Outside, as it is, of the conventional summer festival season, one might think the highly unconventional Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville would have even more challenges than other festivals when it comes to programming. But with a reputation that's evolved gradually over the past 25 years, FIMAV is a favored destination by many of the on-the-edge (and, sometimes, ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Darren Johnston / Fred Frith / Larry Ochs / Devin Hoff / Ches Smith: Reasons for Moving

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Darren Johnston (trumpet), Fred Frith (electric guitar), Devin Hoff (bass), Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones) and Ches Smith (drums) stamp their class as improvisation and free jazz explode in aural splendor and imaginative propulsion on this collaboration. Each has established an undiluted reputation as a forward thinker in taking improvised music into new realms. Change for them is a constant challenge, one they meet on-the-go as they play with their own bands and with other musicians who answer to a similar calling.

Composition has a certain place in their vocabulary, but the larger attributes come when they ...

MULTIPLE REVIEWS

Fred Frith: From Metal Head To Space Cowboy

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It is impossible to pigeonhole the music of guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith. His early work with Henry Cow and Art Bears asked to be collected in the prog-rock bin, yet its improvising nature signaled the avant-garde. Later he was to be a member of Skeleton Crew with Tom Cora and Zeena Parkins, Curlew, Bill Laswell's Material and John Zorn's Naked City.

Frith has written music for dance, film (Step Across The Border), theater and for his sextet Keep The Dog. His long list of collaborations includes The Residents, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Christian Marclay, Alvin Curran, Anthony Braxton and Brian Eno. He ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Frith/Chris Cutler: Issue Two

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This addition to the Frith/Cutler catalogue was recorded during the Henry Cow reunion weekend at New York City's The Stone in December, 2006; for those familiar with the recent working methods of both musicians, the only surprise is how rich and full this document sounds. Consisting of one 50-minute track, the duo creates the illusion of a trio, quartet and sometimes an even larger aggregate. When legendary British genre-busters Henry Cow disbanded in 1978, it became clear that all members still had much to say in those gray areas where improvisation and composition cancel each other out. ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Janet Feder & Fred Frith: Ironic Universe

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On the basis of this evidence, Janet Feder is as concerned with the intrinsic qualities of the acoustic guitar as an instrument as she is with technique, correct or otherwise--and this is borne out by the fact that she chose to perform duets with Fred Frith, whose journey of sonic exploration has been going on for decades now. Both players seem to opt for an accomodationist strategy, and the resulting music is amongst other things the product of a healthy democratic spirit.

The duos have a reflective air, which perhaps unsurprisingly bears a superficial resemblance to some of Frith's earlier ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Janet Feder + Fred Frith: Ironic Universe

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Janet Feder and eminent guitarist/improviser Fred Frith perform twelve duet pieces on audio disc one of Ironic Universe as vacillating undercurrents, utilizing atypical tonal contrasts and implementations such as tapping sounds. With folk-ish overtones and similarities to the late John Fahey's complex chord phrasings, the duo also intertwines avant frameworks into this congenial set. At times it seems that the artists are using some sort of mic-generated processing techniques to produce reverberant effects and chord-based strings swashes. Nonetheless, there are some truly fascinating passages throughout.

The companion DVD offers a solo live performance by Feder, filmed at a ...



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