583

Cosa Brava: Ragged Atlas

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Probably the most curious reaction guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith's Cosa Brava, when it debuted at the 2008 International Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville, was that it was "too melodic." Detractors of that show will likely be equally nonplussed by the group's overdue debut disc, Ragged Atlas, but it'll be their loss, as Frith's first "rock band" in far too many years may possess a decidedly lyrical bent, but is no less profound for it. Cosa Brava finds the perfect nexus between his more accessible yet still left-leaning music for dance, including 2006's outstanding The Happy End Problem (ReR Megacorp), and the more challenging structures of his 1970s work with Henry Cowell, broadly represented on its 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set (ReR Megacorp, 2009).



Collecting a group of people with whom he's collaborated increasingly over the past several years—notably violinist/vocalist Carla Kihlstedt (Tin Hat) and keyboardist Zeena Parkins (Björk, Tin Hat)—Frith has fashioned a group as capable of subtle interpretation as it is more aggressive stances. Use of electric instruments, including Frith's occasionally overdriven guitar, and some ratcheted-up energy—not to mention drummer Matthias Bossi's occasional pulsing rhythms—may make this a rock band by tenuous definition, but even potentially applicable terms like "progressive rock" only apply in the sense that this music is, indeed, forward-reaching. Broad dynamics, a blend of acoustic and electric instrumentation, fine compositional detail, and surprisingly memorable melodies make Ragged Atlas' largely continuous, 13-song suite best absorbed as a whole.



There are unmistakable high points to be found. Only Frith could write a song like "Falling Up (For Amanda)" where, amidst interlocking, minimalism-informed parts, a vocal chorus gradually reduces its time signature one beat at a time through regular and irregular meters, lingering long after the song is over. It may be mathematically precise, but it never feels considered, as The Norman Conquest's sonic manipulations gradually augment and expand the group's real-time sound. Elsewhere, the opening "Snake Eating Its Tail" acts as Ragged Atlas' fanfare; its knotty, serpentine unison melody punctuated with sharp percussive stops and starts, and a gradually expanding soundscape, courtesy both of Frith's arrangement and (once more) The Norman Conquest's aural enhancements.



But Ragged Atlas' greatest success is its ability to transcend time. Folkloric melodies abound, bolstered by the sound of Kihlstedt's violin and Parkins' accordion, and yet Frith's contrapuntal approach and shifting bar lines speak to his experience writing in a New Music environment. Instrumentals like "Round Dance" suggest how Renaissance Music might sound, had it evolved, without diversion, into the present millennium.



Despite Frith's clear leadership, and the defining presence of his angular yet eminently approachable playing—in addition to Kihlstedt, who has emerged as one of the past two decades' most intriguingly boundary-busting violinists—Cosa Brava is a group. Its overall conception may be Frith's, but its sound would be unmistakably altered were any of its members replaced. As a debut of music that transcends time and genre, Ragged Atlas stands as one of 2010's most auspicious debuts.


Track Listing: Snake Eating Its Tail; Round Dance; Pour Albert; R. D. Burman; Falling Up (for Amanda); Out on the Town with Rusty, 1967; Lucky Thirteen; Blimey, Einstein; The New World; Tall Story; For Tom Zé; A Song About Love; Market Day.

Personnel: Fred Frith: guitar, bass, voice; Carla Kihlstedt: violin, nyckelharpa, bass harmonica, voice; Zeena Parkins accordion, keyboards, foley objects, voice; Matthias Bossi: drums, percussion, sruti box, voice; The Norman Conquest: sound manipulation; Anantha Krishnan: mridangam and tabla (4).

Title: Ragged Atlas | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Intakt Records


Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Another North CD/LP/Track Review Another North
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Gledalec CD/LP/Track Review Gledalec
by John Sharpe
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Flux Reflux CD/LP/Track Review Flux Reflux
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Christmas With Champian CD/LP/Track Review Christmas With Champian
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Harmony of Difference CD/LP/Track Review Harmony of Difference
by Phil Barnes
Published: October 18, 2017
Read No Answer CD/LP/Track Review No Answer
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 18, 2017
Read "Destinations" CD/LP/Track Review Destinations
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: June 18, 2017
Read "My Foolish Heart" CD/LP/Track Review My Foolish Heart
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: March 28, 2017
Read "Overseas V" CD/LP/Track Review Overseas V
by Troy Collins
Published: March 30, 2017
Read "Chase The Light (Excursions in Soul, Reggae, Funk, and Dub)" CD/LP/Track Review Chase The Light (Excursions in Soul, Reggae, Funk, and Dub)
by Joe Gatto
Published: June 24, 2017
Read "Looking Forward" CD/LP/Track Review Looking Forward
by Geannine Reid
Published: September 6, 2017
Read "NJO 40" CD/LP/Track Review NJO 40
by Jack Bowers
Published: July 1, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.