Traffic Continues represents the latest contemporary, neo-classical/improv disc from the estimable guitarist, composer and often-brilliant improviser, Fred Frith. Along with - new music - iconoclasts “Ensemble Modern”, Frith segments this offering into two primary themes consisting of various miniatures, aptly titled “Traffic Continues” and “Traffic Continues II: Gusto (for Tom Cora)”. Throughout, Frith serves as music director or perhaps – traffic director for the 21 musicians who comprise “Ensemble Modern” while Franck Ollu conducts the musical proceedings on “Traffic Continues” (tracks 1-8). Some of the concepts applied here involve the musicians performing – fragments of written music as Ollu makes the decisions regarding the improvisational and composed sequences. Additionally, a third tier of musicians are “designated as Wild Cards” who are given carte blanche to jump right in and perhaps alter the course of the flow and musical direction. Essentially many of these notions and practices are not entirely new which is evident on the recent “EMANEM” release featuring the “London Improvisers Orchestra” (see AAJ review) yet, when in the able hands of a resourceful and shrewd mind, it would be difficult to predict a deterministic outcome. Needless to state, Fred Frith is one of the preeminent improvisers of the modern music age while deriving inspiration from many of our beloved musical pioneers and visionaries while continually displaying a penchant for post-modern invention.
Frith’s “Traffic Continues” (1-8) intermingles stirring improvisation and loosely envisioned structures marked by a variable intertwining current in tandem with short bursts of unison choruses from the large ensemble amid lively movements and lots of sprightly activity. An air of unpredictability shrouds the proceedings akin to a mystery novel while the music also mimics the sounds of the streets in cyclic or unending fashion. Brief interludes elicit thoughts of Copeland, Zappa or perhaps minimalist pioneer Terry Reilly entangled in some sort of imaginary or better yet, unlikely collaboration yet Frith’s distinctive imprint or persona decisively prevails throughout the entire proceedings.
“Traffic Continues II: Gusto (for Tom Cora)” features samples of the late, great cellist Tom Cora serving as the foundation for the ensemble’s rich textures, alternating patterns, counterbalancing of harmony and melody along with support from guest artists, harpist Zeena Parkins and drum machine practitioner, Ikue Mori. With this series of works, the addition of Parkins and Mori offers an indescribable flavor consisting of abstract tonalities, surprising accentuation and an otherworldly vibe while Frith’s animated electric guitar voicings often parallels the complex yet implied meter or oscillating course.
Traffic Continues is a fine and noteworthy edition to Fred Frith’s extensive catalog and ongoing legacy. Besides possessing a remarkably individualistic voice as a powerful and quite influential technician, Frith’s perceptive intellect shines forth on this multifaceted and curiously interesting recording. Yet, the composer brings much more to the table than a steadfast diet of heady instrumentals as the serious-minded intentions and presumed austerity is offset by the lighthearted or playful tactics that parallels the investigative spirit in all of us.......A spirit or paradigm that we should never abandon!
* * * * 1/2 (out of * * * * *)
Fred Frith; Guitar, Music Director: Franck Ollu; Conductor (tracks 9-21): Ikue Mori; Drum Machines (tracks 9-21): Zeena Parkins; Harp, Electric Harp (tracks 9-21). Ensemble Modern; Strings, Woodwinds, Horns, Percussion, Basses, Piano
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I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.