courtesy of Naxos of America
About two weeks ago the Zürich-based Intakt Records released its second album of the Fred Frith Trio. Like the first album, it consists of nine tracks without any separating breaks. Unlike the first album, the title, Closer to the Ground, is much less provocative (although, as I observed at the time of the first album’s release, neither Amazon.com nor Google seemed to be “provoked” by his use of an adjective with an F-bomb as its stem).
Once again, the trio’s approach to improvisation tends to focus more on sonorities than on the playing-out of riffs on easily detected themes or motifs. Frith has been teasing fascinating sonorities out of his electric guitar for as long as I can remember, which, for me, dates back to the Eighties, by which time he had become well established in what the English were calling avant-rock. Basically, Frith appeared on my radar when I began to listen seriously to the imaginative work of the likes of Brian Eno and John Zorn.
For his new trio album Frith occasionally departs from his guitar in favor of an organ, whose primary function seems to be to introduce chord progressions that would not fit so clearly on guitar. Once again Jason Hoopes alternates between electric bass and double bass, and Jordan Glenn avails himself of an imaginative assortment of percussion instruments.
When I wrote about the first album, I tried to single out individual tracks as a “parsing” of the entire session. On Closer to the Ground I felt less inclined to do so. Indeed, I would seriously conjecture that the album began with a recording session at which the trio jammed for a little longer than 50 minutes. Tracks and titles came later. Indeed, I would also conjecture that track definitions were the result of the entire group listening to the full session and agreeing on where boundaries made the most sense.
As to the titles, I found myself reflecting on when I had interviewed the choreographer James Waring back when I was writing about dance for Boston After Dark. We were in a room with a table, and Waring asking to sit at one end of the table and write a list of ten questions. He then sat at the other end (where he could not see what I was doing) and wrote a list of ten answers! He then said that I just had to align the order of the answers with the order of the questions, and that would be the interview.
By way of a variation on that technique, I would conjecture that, once the trio had decided that there would be nine tracks, they came up with a list of nine titles (two of which happened to be in German). Each was written on a slip of paper, and all of those slips were tossed into a hat and shaken. They were then taken from the hat, one by one; and the order of their removal became the order of the track titles.
In other words all that really signifies is that this is an album “about” 50 minutes of free jazz improvisation. There is never any doubt that, over the course of those 50 minutes, all three players are aware of what they are doing and how it relates to what they are hearing from the other players. Whether or not there is any alignment between what the listening experiences makes of it all and what the performers were making of it while creating it is probably not an issue. The listener comes to these 50 minutes of music the same way a visitor to a gallery might come across a completed abstract sculpture or mobile. Personally, I see no reason to ask for anything more; and I shall be more than content to return to this “document of jamming” for future listening experiences.