544

Fred Frith: The Happy End Problem

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Fred Frith: The Happy End Problem 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 The Happy End Problem, though it would be no less superficial and just as woeful a misrepresentation.



If anything, The Happy End Problem—two pieces written for Amanda Miller's Pretty Ugly Dance Company—is a fine summation of Frith's career to date: enigmatic beauty juxtaposed with near-minimalist tendencies; occasional passages of jagged but strangely appealing edges and unapologetic free play blending with cued compositional sections; and a confluence of cultural references that are unmistakable, even as they join together for a new, unified whole.



The nine-part, thirty-minute "Imitation" brings together the ancient and the new in its combination of Kikutsubo Day's shakuhachi, Frith's laptop instruments and Patrice Scanlon's electronic treatments. It marries pentatonic Oriental melodies with denser Western harmony, and oftentimes provides, through Frith's knotty but never over-considered writing, sharp contrasts in very short spaces. That the varied fragments of "Ukon" not only work individually but together as a slowly evolving landscape is demonstrative of Frith's unfettered mindset. Violinist Carla Kihlstedt's idiosyncratic, serpentine themes are separated by open passages where Day's shakuhachi is as textural as it is melodic; a repetitive, minimalist groove slowly emerging in ever-lengthening chunks, divided by obliquely encyclopedic classical references that make "Ukon" and the balance of "Imitation" a compelling—and, yes, oftentimes very melodic—listen.



The 21-minute "The Happy End Problem" manages to comfortably marry Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" (1919) with Frith's curious blend of gentle melodies, farmyard noises and still more Oriental references, with Wu Fei's delicate zither-like gu Zheng meshing with flautist Sheela Bringi, Scanlon's clarinet and cellist Heather Vorwerck. Somewhat less accessible than "Imitation," it remains an appropriate companion piece for its intrepid marriage of seemingly incompatible musical approaches. Still, there are passages of unembellished beauty, as fifteen minutes in Kihlstedt's Eastern European folk inflections combine with Fei's haunting arpeggios to dissolve borders of culture and style, leading into a closing passage of greater dramatic import.



The Happy End Problem may be more about the music and less about specific performances, but it's hard to deny Kihlstedt's charismatic presence throughout. Few can keep up with Frith's demanding, multidisciplinary writing, but Kihlstedt brings a personal presence to music that defies those who believe serious music must inherently be obscure and impenetrable. Though there's nothing lightweight about The Happy End Problem, it's equally about direct and, at times, unadorned lyricism. Not that there's anything wrong with that.


Track Listing: "Imitation": Ukon; Kira; Kio; Tan; Shi--o; Beni; Kasumi; Sumi; Hanabira. "The Happy End Problem": The Happy End Problem.

Personnel: Fred Frith: guitar, bass, laptop instruments; Carla Kihlstedt: violin; Patrice Scanlon: electronic treatments, clarinet (10); William Winant: percussion; Kikutsubo Day: shakuhachi (1-9); Theresa Wong: cello (1-9); Heather Vorwerck: cello (10); Wu Fei: gu Zheng (10); Sheela Bringi: flute (10).

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ReR Megacorp | Style: Fringes of Jazz


Related Video

Shop

More Articles

Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark CD/LP/Track Review The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Les Deux Versants Se Regardent CD/LP/Track Review Les Deux Versants Se Regardent
by John Sharpe
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Molto Bene CD/LP/Track Review Molto Bene
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read "And to the Republic" CD/LP/Track Review And to the Republic
by Mark F. Turner
Published: October 12, 2016
Read "Blues Revival" CD/LP/Track Review Blues Revival
by James Nadal
Published: August 18, 2016
Read "Hearts & Minds" CD/LP/Track Review Hearts & Minds
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 22, 2016
Read "Tribute to Andrezej Przybielski Vol. 1" CD/LP/Track Review Tribute to Andrezej Przybielski Vol. 1
by Karl Ackermann
Published: December 7, 2016
Read "Musings" CD/LP/Track Review Musings
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 2, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!