Saturday, July 04, 2009
I'm going to cheat a smidgen. I bought this album when it originally appeared, in 1974 or '75 I think, but it was purloined a few years later. Eventually I replaced it on disc and that's what I'm listening to now.
I understand, post-AMM, that Frith doesn't come in for a lot of praise, at least as far as proto-EAI goes. Some of it's not quite his fault, ie, getting credited with many of the technical innovations actually created by Rowe simply by virtue of being far better known. Frith knew AMMMusic as a youth but the first time he actually saw Rowe perform was with People's Liberation Music in 1974 or so. Not what he expected and nary an extended technique to be seen! He maintains there was no direct copyage, that things like bowing the guitar, using alligator clips, etc. were "in the air" and I think it's reasonable to take him at his word.
He never followed any real AMM-like aesthetic either, presumably another reason he tends to be ignored by eai folk. And, to be sure, his work was never so consistent, at least to the extent I was able to follow it. But there are nuggets to be found.
As always, a large part of one's appreciation has to do with when one encounters a given artist. His first guitar solo album was also my first exposure to his work (not counting having heard some Henry Cow, I guess, in the record shop, but that didn't stick with me). It was quite a revelation. I knew Bailey already, though minimally (Music Improvisation Company and his duos with Braxton, I think that's all at the time) but that was probably as close as I came to this kind of playing, which is to say, not very. For that matter, I'm not sure if I'd heard a solo guitar record either. (? not that I can think of) He does sound fairly unique here--you can hear some Bailey, some Fripp, some Zoot Horn Rollo maybe, but I really don't think, plus or minus, there was much around like this in '75. If there's a certain clumsiness in play as compared to Rowe in AMM (though recall, at this moment, Keith was strumming away with PLM), there's also a kind of romantic beauty, a wistfulness in pieces like "Glass c/w Steel" and, especially, "No Birds" which, for this 21-year old listener, was a summa of experimentalism and knock-yer-socks-off bravura.
It was certainly one of the key ear-opening records of my yout'.
I think I picked this up in the Summer of '76. My copy has a circular green sticker on the front saying "Recommended Retail Price £1.59" so I'm guessing it was an import into the shop in Poughkeepsie where prog was king. Its noteworthiness for me isn't to be found in Frith's contributions (which are fine) but in Bailey. This would be my third exposure to him but the "purest" so far. It's one of those musical things I really kick myself for--I liked the three tracks very much but shortly fell into my "if it wasn't AACM-oriented avant jazz (or similar) I wasn't interested" period which included a general antipathy toward efi. I wouldn't really rediscover Bailey until his own Guitar Solos, vol. 2 in 1990. Three beautiful, short, gentle pieces by Bailey here, though, including one with voice, "The Lost Chord" that's just fantastic.
Frith's "Water/Struggle/The North" is actually quite good, maybe a step behind "No Birds" in solidity of conception though with a refreshing raggedness.
Whatever became of G.F. Fitzgerald? I take it there's a 1970 LP, "Mouseproof" (review of that disc hereand a duo with Lol Coxhill from '75 here). From the evidence here, he sounds like a rockier Frith, scattered ideas not really coalescing.
This was also my introduction to Hans Reichel, really my only exposure to him for probably 20 years. Again, silly me, as these are very attractive pieces and I thought so at the time. Not that Reichel records were easy to come by, even so. To this day, I don't own a Reichel album! Recs appreciated...
Tough not to smile when listening to this 1983 release, a collection of pop songs, more or less DIY with generic drum samples, (intentionally) cheap Casio tones, goofy vocals that nonetheless slide easily enough into the bitter (Some Clouds Don't [have a silver lining]", "Same Old Me", "One loving lick from a little pet dog can kill"). Not as slight an album as it might seem at first blush, very enjoyable to return to.
I'm guessing this isn't held in very high regard by experimental music fans with an appreciation for acoustic blues. Kaiser's rep is pretty low (often deserved) and two white guys tackling Skip James amidst mid-80s, drum machine, fractured avant-rock; well, not a formula for critical success. But I think this was my first taste of James, albeit second-hand and, though I'm still woefully laggard in updating my acoustic blues knowledge, it did open the door a wee bit. Those two James tracks (Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues and Special Rider Blues) aren't really so bad; honest attempts anyway. The rest--well sometimes they're little machines that chug along ok ("The Golden Eighties"), other time Beefheartian takes ("One of Nature's Mistakes); not bad, but not so interesting today.
Not sure why I have this filed here instead of "S" but because I like it so much, I'll play it anyway. One of my favorite avant-rock albums of the 80s, Frith with Tom Cora and Zeena Parkins. Lot of risks here, sometimes totally over the top, often gorgeously lyrical, almost always bitter, bitter, bitter. And incisive. (I didn't realize until just now that "Man or Monkey" was a Cassiber album/tune?
Eve didn't make a monkey out of man
She made a man out of a monkey.
Get down out of that tree!
Great mix of extremely catchy songs, folk melodies and noise. Quite an explosion of imagination in this context, a wonderful record, possibly the best work I've heard from all three involved.
Was never crazy about this one, from the 4th Victo festival in 1986. Still not. Way too much bravado, a lot of really aggravating vocalizing, drum machines, etc. Everything that was wrong with the extended prog scene in the 80s. Take it off.
This was the last Frith LP I bought. I did continue to follow his work up to maybe 2000 or so (Pacifica, on Tzadik, which I liked, is the last I've heard). From 1987, it's two LPs. The first a quartet with Zorn, Tenko and Christian Marclay, though it often sounds like solo, overdubbed Frith. It's ok, some of it works, but there's a stiffness in play that, to me, plagued a lot of Frith's work from here on in. He's such a great melodic player, especially on violin, that the kind of rigid, almost martial rhythms and lines here just fall short. I recall liking this pretty much back when but this is a good example of something just not holding up. Between the basement tech of "Cheap at Half the Price" and, presumably, more recent digital work, this period sounds like a gawky adolescent.
For the solo album, Skeleton Crew and other bits and pieces, I'm appreciative toward him. Thanks, Mr. Frith.