All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Multiple Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


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

Nic Jones By

Sign in to view read count
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.

Fred Frith and Arte Quartett
Still Urban

Despite the formal origins of the music, there are times when the line between composition and improvisation is blurred to the point of non-existence. But that doesn't detract from the essentially austere nature of the scoring for saxophones, or the degree of reverence with which those players tend to perform. The result, as offered on part three of "Still Urban," is music which is perhaps antithetical to much of what is understood to be "jazz," even while the edges of that formalism are somewhat frayed by Frith's input.

But the point is a moot one. The music here is often unassumingly beautiful, just as it is on part five of the same piece. As such it might be said to be an individual take on the notion of ambient music, in the manner in which it hangs in the air even while it complements the quiet of a spring morning in England. But that might be to damn it with faint praise, for it's abundantly clear that Frith is, in his unassuming way, intent on undermining such glib categorization.

Those of an iconoclastic frame of mind would no doubt thoroughly question such functionality anyway, but it has its place—especially when as a suite the nine parts of the overall composition hang together in such a convincing fashion. There is undoubtedly an individual sensibility at work here and the burst of urban noise which frames the opening of part seven serves the purpose of undermining the music's surface sheen. The same goes for Frith's guitar on part eight, though here the intention is more overt, its heart set on kicking over the statues.

Fred Frith and Arte Quartett
The Big Picture

In this case, "The Big Picture" is something profoundly other than a contemporary cliche. If "Still Urban" is about the outward manifestation of an inner calm ruffled by periodic disturbance, then "The Big Picture" is about balance sometimes only precariously struck. Weber's piano playing, for all of its galvanising qualities, still has about it the impression of a player striving too hard for effect. The deftness of her touch on part two shows she's capable of a lot more, whilst on the sixth and final part her perhaps studiedly stilted contribution gives the music a depth it wouldn't otherwise possess.

The saxophone quartet again shows itself eminently suited to Frith's music, although the brief timings of these six tracks allow for no expansion. This can be frustrating, as it is on part four, where the music offers an intimation of something greater and more tantalising, before it breaks with no great continuity to become something else also fleeting.

The same goes for "Freedom In Fragments" as a body of work, but at least the suite's title as good as makes this known beforehand. Again the quartet shows real aptitude for Frith's writing, but the brevity of each piece doesn't allow for much in the way of a lasting impression to register. This is not however to suggest that worthwhile music only emerges with time, but here something like part three—"Hopsotch (For John Zorn)"—hangs incongruously in the midst of the music that surrounds it and the notion of programming is severely undermined. Against the unassuming logic and enigmatic austerity of the rest of the music discussed here, the lasting impression is that of a sketchy work which in this reading is far from fully realised.

Tracks and Personnel

Still Urban

Tracks: Still Urban Parts 1 - 9.

Personnel: Fred Frith: electric guitar; Beat Hofstetter: soprano saxophone; Sascha Armbruster: alto saxophone; Andrea Formenti: tenor and sopranino saxophone; Beat Kappeler: baritone and alto saxophones.

The Big Picture

Tracks: The Big Picture Parts 1 - 6; Freedom In Fragments Parts 1 - 15.

Personnel: Fred Frith: electric guitar; Beat Hofstetter: soprano saxophone; Sascha Armbruster: alto saxophone; Andrea Formenti: tenor and sopranino saxophone; Beat Kappeler: baritone and alto saxophones; Katrina Weber: piano (1); Lucas Niggli: drums (1).


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Piano Trios: 3x3 Multiple Reviews
Piano Trios: 3x3
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 20, 2018
Read Iluso Records: DIY from two dreamers Multiple Reviews
Iluso Records: DIY from two dreamers
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 17, 2018
Read Iglooghost Takes Brave Step Forward With Electronic EPs Multiple Reviews
Iglooghost Takes Brave Step Forward With Electronic EPs
by John Bricker
Published: September 17, 2018
Read Nouveau Fusion: Superette And Visitors Multiple Reviews
Nouveau Fusion: Superette And Visitors
by Doug Collette
Published: September 8, 2018
Read Two on Umlaut Records with bassist Sébastien Beliah Multiple Reviews
Two on Umlaut Records with bassist Sébastien Beliah
by John Eyles
Published: August 28, 2018
Read Forward Into The Past Multiple Reviews
Forward Into The Past
by Jerome Wilson
Published: August 19, 2018
Read "Jazzing Up Childhood Memories" Multiple Reviews Jazzing Up Childhood Memories
by Jerome Wilson
Published: April 4, 2018
Read "A Selection of Jazz on Sonorama" Multiple Reviews A Selection of Jazz on Sonorama
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: March 18, 2018
Read "Another Timbre Celebrates Its First Decade" Multiple Reviews Another Timbre Celebrates Its First Decade
by John Eyles
Published: December 9, 2017
Read "New and Notable Releases" Multiple Reviews New and Notable Releases
by Phil Barnes
Published: October 4, 2017
Read "A Sense of Place" Multiple Reviews A Sense of Place
by Geno Thackara
Published: October 12, 2017
Read "Old, Borrowed and Just a Little Blue" Multiple Reviews Old, Borrowed and Just a Little Blue
by Geno Thackara
Published: December 11, 2017