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Janet Feder & Fred Frith: Ironic Universe

Nic Jones By

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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 solo work; that feel is perhaps best caught on his Clearing (Tzadik, 2001).

"Short Story," played as a solo by Feder (as is half the programme on the CD included in this package), is perhaps the best example of how she reconciles conventional and unconventional techniques, and its lyrical strain calls to mind a kind of less expansive, quasi-minimalist John Fahey. Feder's approach to anything akin to Americana is, however, entirely her own, and when all is said and done, her use of such materials and her evocation of such moods amounts to nothing more significant than a reference point. Certainly on "Waking The Day," her work seems purged of overt influence.

Frith pulls off that most difficult of tricks, working as an acutely responsive player who at the same time loses nothing of his own identity; the idea of Frith's work as the musical equivalent of DNA is acutely pertinent here, just as it is on "Closing," where two musicians think as one.

The DVD that comprises the other half of this package documents solo performances by both musicians, and in many respects the minimal visual record of Feder in action confirms many of the points made above. This musician has conventional technique in abundance, but it's clear she regards that as anything but an end in itself. Frith, featured exclusively on acoustic guitar for his performance, takes perhaps a more inclusive approach to the instrument, utilising the body as a percussion instrument and supplementing the sound vocabulary of the six strings through the use of various tools.

Overall, the slightly disjointed results—a combination of six Feder solos and six duets with Frith, plus a DVD of two entirely separate performances—is a little frustrating, but the six duets are the overall highlights. Perhaps next time the two musicians could properly get together. That minor gripe aside, there's still plenty here for both the ears and the eyes.


Track Listing: Audio CD: Opening; Heart Beat Faster; Torn; Short Story; See You on the Beach; Loose Slots; Six of One; Cricket; Hover; Waking the Day; Blue State; Closing. DVD: Fred Frith live solo performance, duo performance and Janet Feder live solo performance.

Personnel: Janet Feder: guitars; Fred Frith: guitars.

Title: Ironic Universe | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Ad Hoc Records


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