Reviews that mention Fred Frith

October 11, 2017

Joëlle Léandre

A Woman’s Work…
NotTwo MW950-2

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp

The Art of Perelman-Shipp

Leo Records CD LR 794-799 and 786

Something in the Air: Music Appreciation as a Single Serving or Throughout Several Meals

By Ken Waxman

Marketing considerations aside, how best can a musician mark an important milestone or significant creativity? With recorded music the result is usually multiple discs. In honor of French bassist Joëlle Léandre’s recent 60th birthday for instance, there’s A Woman’s Work … (NotTwo MW950-2), an eight-disc boxed set. Almost six hours of music, the 42 tracks were recorded between 2006 and 2016 with one solo disc and the others intense interaction with such associates as trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo, tenor saxophonist Evan Parker, violist Mat Maneri, guitarist Fred Frith, percussionist Zlatko Kaučič, pianists Agustí Fernández or Irène Schweizer and vocalists Lauren Newton or Maggie Nicols. With improvisers from six different countries working alongside, the bassist’s charm, humor, vigor and adaptability are highlighted. MORE

August 16, 2016

MMM Quartet

RogueArt Rog-0063

Starting late in the past century and moving speedily into the new millennium the acceptance of Free Music has been such that what was formerly a so-called difficult subsection of Jazz and notated music has become a standard part of many musicians vocabulary. Improvisation is now taught at the post-secondary level, with symposia and revues dedicated to it

Acceptance doesn’t mean popularity however. While many musicians give lip service (sic) to the concept, few commit most their career to free playing. Observing profound improvisational strategies used by the MMM Quartet compared to some others is like comparing the exertions of young composition students to the achievements of Les Six. None of the veteran four are experimental music dilettantes. Plus, as another indication of the application of aleatory texture, not one was ever a straight-ahead Jazz musician. Alvin Curran, who plays piano, synthesizer and samples here is an academic and so-called classical composer, best-known for his membership in Musica Elettronica Viva; guitarist Fred Frith, now teaching at Mills College, is associated with Avant-Rock bands like Henry Cow. Over the years saxophonist Urs Leimgruber moved from the Jazz-Rock band OM, to concentrate on avant sounds alongside the likes of bassist Barre Phillips. Concurrently after specializing in the interpretation of compositions by John Cage and others, bassist Joëlle Léandre plungd full form into Free Music, hooking up musically with other explorers from pianist Irène Schweizer to reedist Anthony Braxton MORE

January 21, 2016

Lotte Anker/Fred Frith

Edge of the Light
Intakt CD 237

Lotte Anker

What River is This?

ILK 226 CD

Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker has been involved in a diverse cross section of musicians since she first began recording in 1985, from the Copenhagen Art Ensemble to sessions with the likes of pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Gerald Cleaver. One of the most fruitful of recent collaborations has been with British guitarist Fred Frith and these two discs show off Janus-faced sides of this combination.

Commissioned by Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and Copenhagen’s Wundergrund Festival, What River is This is an extended composition obliquely dealing with hypnagogia, the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep. Besides Anker and Frith, the ensemble especially formed exclusively for the performance includes clarinetist Anna Klett, violist Garth Knox, bassist Jesper Egelund, percussionist Chris Cutler, Ikue Mori on electronics and Phil Minton, singing words as well as producing expected verbal noises. Lighter in personnel, with only Anker playing soprano, alto and tenor saxophones plus Frith on guitar, Edge of the Light is also … well, edgier. MORE

January 21, 2016

Lotte Anker

What River is This?
ILK 226 CD

Lotte Anker/Fred Frith

Edge of the Light

Intakt CD 237

Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker has been involved in a diverse cross section of musicians since she first began recording in 1985, from the Copenhagen Art Ensemble to sessions with the likes of pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Gerald Cleaver. One of the most fruitful of recent collaborations has been with British guitarist Fred Frith and these two discs show off Janus-faced sides of this combination. MORE

January 6, 2016

On The Cover

Rova: Still Creative After All These Years
By Ken Waxman

Someone once described Rova as the Grateful Dead of Jazz. A comparison to the Rolling Stones would be more accurate. For more than 38 years, with only one change in personnel 27 years ago, the Bay area-based saxophone quartet has created high quality music. However unlike the venerable British rockers whose music hasn’t been cutting edge for decades, Rova continues to evolve and experiment.

Case in point: this month’s series of NYC concerts. From the 19th to the 24th, the band’s residency at The Stone offers a retrospective of classic Rova material as well as new works. Some sets will feature Rova and guest musicians, some of whom have never played with the band before. Before that, on January 17th at Le Poisson Rouge, an expanded Rove ensemble will perform Electric Ascension, a 21st Century re-imagining of John Coltrane’s classic work. Concurrently, RogueArt will release Channeling Coltrane, containing a live performance of Electric Ascension from the 2012 Guelph Jazz Festival on DVD and Blue-ray; a CD of the music itself; plus Cleaning the Mirror, a documentary that mixes the story of Rova’s Ascension adaptation with a history of the creation of Coltrane’s seminal session. MORE

October 1, 2015

Festival Report

By Ken Waxman

Multi-media, theatricalism and electronics were the motifs that kept cropping up during the Météo Festival (August 25-29) in this Alsatian city known for its textile industry and unique German-French flair. There were also plenty of intense improvisations in its venues, confirming the continued strength of the 33-year-old festival.

Artistic mixing was most prominent during Météo’s opening concert in the Italianate 19th Century Théâtre de la Sinne as the French Surnatural Orchestra interacted with a screening of Italian director Dario D’Aregento’s 1975 slasher film Profondo Rosso. Unlike most music-with-cinema programs where live playing is subordinated to the visuals, this bloody over-the-top Hitchcock-Goddard-Fellini pastiche was frozen at various junctures for limber solos by a dancer, a speaker’s pseudo-pretentious film analysis, a scream from the stalls, cabaret style singing and a Second Line march through the audience. Still, no sonic moments stood out, and the exercise could be liked to someone decked out in full Carnaby Street fashion surmounting the outfit with a Viking helmet. MORE

September 6, 2015

Fred Frith/Evan Parker

Hello, I Must Be Going
Victo cd 128

Mary Halvorson Trio

Ghost Loop

ForTune 0010/010

Ingrid Laubrock Anti House

Roulette of the Cradle

Intakt CD 252

Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up

After All Is Said

482 Music 482-1089

Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Room

From The Region

Delmark DE 5017

Something In The Air: Many musical Interconnections at 2015’s Guelph Jazz Festival

By Ken Waxman

As the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) settles into maturity, dependable musical choices and the vagaries of touring means that a few of the performers at this year’s bash, September 16 to 20, are featured at more than one ensemble. The happy end result is that the audience gets to sample some musicians’ skills in more than one challenging setting. MORE

June 1, 2015

Fred Frith/Michel Doneda

Vand'Oeuvre 1440

Fred Frith & John Butcher

The Natural Order

Northern Spy Records NS 060

Four decades after he made his name in so-called AvantRock with the bands Henry Cow and the Art Bears, Sussex-born guitarist Fred Frith now spends more time immersed in experimental music as composition professor at the Bay area’s Mills College as well as in improvising situations with international associates. Nonpareil Frith improv, as has become evident over time, involves leveraging away from song and/or Rock influences while performing with no more than two or three associates. MORE

June 1, 2015

Fred Frith & John Butcher

The Natural Order
Northern Spy Records NS 060

Fred Frith/Michel Doneda


Vand'Oeuvre 1440

Four decades after he made his name in so-called AvantRock with the bands Henry Cow and the Art Bears, Sussex-born guitarist Fred Frith now spends more time immersed in experimental music as composition professor at the Bay area’s Mills College as well as in improvising situations with international associates. Nonpareil Frith improv, as has become evident over time, involves leveraging away from song and/or Rock influences while performing with no more than two or three associates. MORE

April 26, 2013


Unit Records CD Nr. 4435

Ten years is a long time, but it’s been that protracted period since the exceptional Swiss-British improvising ensemble Whisperings has put out a CD. Luckily this session rectifies the situation, quickly proving that the quartet’s sympathetic interaction has only intensified over the years. On these four instant compositions British guitarist Fred Frith plus keyboardist Michel Wintsch, drummer Lionel Friedli and soundsinger/electronics manipulator Franziska Baumann – all Swiss – demonstrate a luminous intensity that unites suggestions of rock, jazz, improv, notated and electronic music into a satisfying whole. MORE

October 7, 2012

Festival Report

The Guelph Jazz Festival
By Ken Waxman

A spectre was haunting the 2012 Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF), but it was a benign spectre: the ghost of John Coltrane. The influence of Coltrane, who died in 1967, was honored in direct and indirect ways throughout the five days of the festival which takes places annually in this mid-sized college town, 100 kilometres west of Toronto.

This year’s edition (September 5 to 9), featured two live performances of Ascension, Coltrane’s free jazz masterwork from 1965, one with the original instrumentation by an 11-piece Toronto ensemble at the local arts centre; the other on the main stage of the soft-seated River Run Centre concert hall featured the Bay-area ROVA saxophone’s quartet reimaging of the work, scored for 12 musicians adding strings and electronics to the basic ensemble. MORE

September 16, 2012

MMM Quartet

Live at the Metz Arsenal
Leo Records CD LR 631

Stone Quartet

Live at the Vision Festival

Ayler Records aylCD 124

Two high-quality CDs, recorded in a live setting with French bassist Joëlle Léandre as the unifying factor, are superficially similar in intent and personnel. Yet the multiple strategies each quartet brings to the extended selections demonstrate how unique sounds can result even in the most comfortable of surroundings.

Live at the Vision Festival captures the triumphant performance of what might be called Léandre’s New York quartet, filled out by trumpeter/flutist Roy Campbell, pianist Marilyn Crispell and violist Mat Maneri. Although recorded in France, Live at the Metz Arsenal, joins the bassist with two colleagues who teach at California’s Mills College – Alvin Curran on electronics and piano, best known for his notated work and membership in the MEV ensemble, and guitarist Fred Frith, whose entry into improv came through his Art-Rock bands like Henry Cow. Although MMM could stand for “MillsMusicMafia”, some Continental spice joins the West Coast greenery in the presence of Swiss soprano and tenor saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, who has been in other bands with Léandre, including Quartet Noir which also included Crispell. MORE

March 21, 2012


contretemps etc…
In Situ IS 244

Just because Jazz introduced improvisation to the modern era – an approach rediscovered by so-called Classical music, and latterly adopted by Rock – it doesn’t means that notable sonic creations won’t arise from representatives of all three genres. At least that’s what happens on this CD.

Recorded in Besançon, during that city’s festival of Jazz and Improvised Music, contretemps etc… combines the talents of a trio of veteran players for a six-movement suite of unique sounds. Oldest of the three participants is Bordeaux-born percussionist Jean Pierre Drouet, 76, who besides composing for dance and theatre companies, works both with experimental musicians from the Legit – composers Luciano Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen – and Jazz fields. Guitarist Fred Frith, 63, who now teaches at California’s Mills College, has collaborated with Improv stylists such as saxophonist Larry Ochs, and yet is also known for his membership in Rock bands like the Art Bears. Meanwhile Lyon-based bass clarinettist and soprano saxophonist Louis Sclavis, 59, plays folkloric-inspired Improv, often in the company of guitarist Jean-Marc Montera. MORE

September 13, 2008

Maybe Monday

Intakt CD 132

Expanding the long-running Maybe Monday (MM) trio to seven musicians – most of whom manipulate electronics as well as acoustic instruments – adds an additional layer of polyphony to the proceedings, creating distinct and unique dimensions. Still, the five instant compositions here are only memorably realized because the septet members are canny enough to place waveform pulsation into an already established context.

Anchor for these tracks is the initial trio, which has been together since 1997. Voltage expression was organically introduced to MM before this CD, due to the electric guitar adaptations from Fred Frith plus the electronics linked to Miya Masaoka’s 25-string koto. Although sopranino and tenor saxophonist Larry Ochs is the only acoustic hold-out, he has demonstrated his familiarity with electronic interface in his past orchestral works and often as a veteran member of the ROVA saxophone quartet. MORE

November 2, 2007


Reasons for Moving
NotTwo MW 779-2

As well as trumpet solos which range from the elegantly muted to raucous plunger work, Burlington, Ont.-native Darren Johnston seems to have contributed sly local references to this notable co-op session, recorded in his new Bay area hometown,. Some of the tune titles are “Deep North”, “Distant Cities” and “QEW” [!].

Yet this CD of 10 instant compositions impresses even more, since the trumpeter’s skills are judiciously integrated among the trills, pops and honks of Larry Ochs’ saxophones; the crunching reverb and distorted runs from Fred Frith’s guitar; plus Devin Hoff’s thick bass chords and the rumbling back beat of Ches Smith’s drums. MORE

August 21, 2006


The Compass, Log And Lead
Intakt CD 103

The Art of Improvisation
Mutable Music 17523-2

By Ken Waxman

Welcoming a variety of non-traditional influences, both these string-oriented CDs confirm that 21st Century improvisation has become catholic enough to accommodate more than stereotypical roots influences.

While fiddler Leroy Jenkins is a long-time members of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), jazz’s paramount musical collective; veteran Rich O’Donnell is from the legit side of the fence, having spent 43 years as principal percussionist with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, been head of Washington University’s percussion department and director of its Electronic Music Studios. Chinese-born Min Xiao-Fen frequently brings the classical textures of the pipa, or four-stringed Chinese lute to jazz and New music; while prepared piano player Denman Maroney adapts his percussive techniques and intervallic playing to jazz/improv with bassist Mark Dresser and elsewhere to notated music. MORE

October 10, 2005


Electric Ascension
Atavistic ALP159CD

Giving the symbolic finger to the museum-quality preservationists who make up most of jazz repertory companies, Rova, the Bay Area sax quartet, has audaciously created its own version of “Ascension”, John Coltrane’s seminal work from 1965. Then as further nose-thumbing to the crowd that prefers polite Duke Ellington or Miles Davis-Gil Evans style recreations, the band plus eight helpmates, has conflated the piece still further into a noise and electronic extravaganza.

What’s more, this is the second time the Rova crew has honored “Ascension”. In 1995, adding a rhythm section and additional stellar soloists such as trumpeter Raphe Malik and the late tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman, the band created a lengthy acoustic version of Trane’s original suite. Still convinced that “Ascension” is a master work that deserves to be played even more often, Rova members Larry Ochs and Jon Raskin decided on another go round, radically changing the instrumentation without losing the composition’s essence. MORE

May 2, 2005


Recommended Records ReR/FRO 07

Glimpses of the figurative talent that would later allow him to score films such as Rivers and Tides, ALLIES is a six-movement soundtrack initially commissioned from Fred Frith by Bebe Miller for her dance company in 1989.

Finally mastered in late 2004, the CD is short (just under 40 minutes), and closer to rock music than the sort of work Frith does today. Still it’s an engaging bagatelle, especially since it provides another look at what the guitarist was doing in his post Art Bears period, before he was as strongly committed to open-ended improvisation. MORE

November 24, 2003


Tempted to Smile
Spool SZ-SPL120-CD

Rivers and Tides
Winter & Winter 910 092-2

Of all the musicians with a non-jazz background who have embraced improv over the past few years, British-born, California-based guitarist/composer Fred Frith seems to have brought the most to the table by using freer impulses to amplify his own versatility.

During his 20-odd years in the United States he’s forged alliances with musicians as different as East Coast saxophonist John Zorn and West Cost kotoist Miya Masaoka. A founding member of Henry Cow, Britain’s original Art Rock, band, he keeps his rock chops up playing with the likes of Canadian guitarist René Lussier, while his ongoing European connections have included compositions for film, theatre and dance. MORE

August 25, 2003


In the North
Between the lines btl 026/EFA 10196-2

Accretions ALP-030 CD

Usual and unique treatments of guitar sounds mixed with a forefront brass instrument plus others, characterize these two experimental sessions. Both are a long way from the standard six-string showcases and offer much to attract the truly adventurous. But both have downsides as well, when the apparent need to play something different moves past the exploratory to the self-indulgent. MORE

November 18, 2002


North America
Cuneiform Rune 167

Retrospectively Curlew got a raw deal.

When these tunes were briefly released -- only in Germany -- in the mid-1980s, the band’s mixture of jazz improvisations, R&B licks and compact pop hooks was ignored in favor of music performed by groups more closely allied to any one of those idioms.

Listening to this vastly uneven collection, however, shows that the band made up of dedicated New York downtowners, was groping towards the sort of non-idiomatic fusion many younger, more sophisticated groups revel in today, whether they be from the so-called jazz or so-called pop/rock side of the equation. MORE

September 16, 2002


Open Songs
Altrisuoni AS 108

RecRec Music CD 75 EFA 05179

Swiss pianist Michel Wintsch posses a streak of romanticism that’s a mile wide and just as deep. How else would you explain the inclusion on his trio session of tunes by chansonniers Jacques Brel, Gilbert Bécaud and other Continental sentimentalists?

Sure by the time he’s finished with a tune like Bécaud’s “Et Maintenant” -- which English-speakers know as “What Now My Love” -- he’s deconstructed it into a potent improv exercise. But many times at the beginning or middle of standards or his own lush compositions, he appears to be reigning in his emotions just before he stumbles into André Gagnon or Roger Williams territory. MORE

July 6, 2002


Digital Wildlife
Winter & Winter 910 071-2

Ozzy Osbourne to the contrary, it’s still possible to forge a creative life as a former rock musician, just as long as you maintain your proficiency and inventiveness.

British guitarist/composer Fred Frith, 52, is living proof of this. Now professor of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., he’s arguably created more interesting music in the past 15 years as a free improviser than he did in his heyday as co-founder of cult bands Henry Cow and the Art Bears. Calling on the contacts he’s developed during his time in England and North America, he now moves from writing for dance, film, theatre and musical ensembles to playing in a wide variety of contexts. He works as bassist in John Zorn’s Naked City, violinist in Lars Hollmer’s Looping Home Orchestra, and guitarist for folks as different as The Residents, Brian Eno and in his own Guitar Quartet. MORE

July 22, 2000


It's A Brand New Day
Knitting Factory KFW-271

Tom Cora's death, at 44 in 1998, not only robbed music of one of its few improvising cellists, but also of one versatile enough to move seamlessly between jazz, rock, improv and something resembling "ethnic" music. But, after all, what would you expect from a musician whose playing partners including everyone from guitarists Eugene Chadbourne and Fred Frith to composer/saxophonist John Zorn and singer Catherine Jauniaux?

This memorial CD, made up of performances recorded at the New York's Knitting Factory between 1989 and 1996, highlights his versatility. And that's its strength as well as its weakness.