Thursday, December 15, 2016

Fred Frith Goes Back to Jazz Improvisation (in his own way) on his Latest Intakt Release

I feel a bit guilty for not having written more about Fred Frith. Checking my records, I see that the only time I wrote about him at length was when Other Minds released a digital download of a performance by his Normal duo with electro-acoustic artist Sudhanshu Tewari that had been recorded during Other Minds Festival 11 on February 25, 2005. In that article, which had appeared on my national site, I described Fred Frith as “the English rock guitarist,” which I fear was selling him unduly short, particularly in the context of the sorts of improvisations that he had cooked up with Tewari. Anything else I had previously written was simply a citation of a song he had contributed, first to the album On Cold Mountain: Songs on Poems of Gary Snyder and more recently for his participation in the They Would Have Been So Beautiful project produced by Paul Dresher and Amy X Neuburg.

However this past June Intakt released a new recording in which Frith went back to the basics of free jazz improvisation, leading a trio whose other members were Jason Hoopes, alternating between electric bass and double bass, and percussionist Jordan Glenn. The title of the album (which does not seem to have made any provocative waves with either or the Google search engine) is Another Day in Fucking Paradise; and, if all of the background and review pages about this album that I found through Google did not make a big deal out of the provocative adjective, than neither should I! The album consists of thirteen tracks without any separating breaks, suggesting that the entirety was captured a single improvisatory session. (Recording took place this past January in Oakland, California, engineered by Scott Evans.) The longest of these tracks, “Yard with Lunatics,” is about eleven and one-half minutes; and it is followed by the six-minute “Only Light and Shadow.” All of the other tracks are less than four and one-half minutes in duration; and three of them are less than two minutes. The overall impression is thus one of an adventurous exploration that can be “parsed” into a sequence of episodes, some of which entail more opportunities for improvisatory invention than others.

Frith’s technique in improvising around sonorities, rather than thematic or motivic “seeds,” reminded me, somewhat painfully, of just how short-sighted that “English rock guitarist” description was. Indeed, what is most compelling about this album is how few of those sonorities coming from any of the trio members amount to tropes with any familiarity whatsoever. (That includes some of Frith’s vocalizing, which may or may not have involved a text in Japanese.) The “Editorial Reviews” material on the Amazon Web page cites any number of familiar sources, including Pink Floyd, George Harrison, Muddy Waters, and Tony Williams’ Lifetime. Those who know any of those sources will probably recognize their connection; but, as is the case in botany, they are seeds that in no way can predict the nature of the plant that will grow from them.

This is an album for whose who like their free jazz improvisations out on the bleeding edge; and it is best appreciated as a session that fills the entire disc, rather than through isolated listening to individual tracks.

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