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Fred Frith - Guitar Solos CD (album) cover


Fred Frith



3.05 | 17 ratings

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3 stars Fred Frith's debut solo set was recorded in just 4 days and delivers exactly what is promised in the title - guitar solos. Not in the sense of 'the bass and drums hold down a beat while I shred all over the place' or 'listen to my intricate multitracking create a veritable wall of sound' (nothing wrong with either approach, by the way; this is just to let you know what to expect) but Frith, playing his guitars, live, alone and unedited (mostly; 4 notes were removed from one track, and on another the sounds of his feet and breathing are part of the piece).

Frith began his career as a guitarist playing the acoustic in folk clubs, and once he started playing electric guitar he became fascinated by the possibilities of modifying the sound. He wasn't the first British guitarist to take this approach - fellow Yorkshireman Derek Bailey and AMM's Keith Rowe had been attacking electric guitars in unorthodox ways for a decade or so on the outer fringes of the avant jazz scene - but he was part of the first generation of rock musicians to get seriously into free improvisation.

The album opens with the cheery, upbeat (yes, really) Hello Music, a short piece recorded on a guitar with a pick up fitted at the machine head end as well as in the body, which generates 2 notes simultaneously. What sounds impossible for a single guitarist is simply the result of playing around with basic technology. From here we're defintely into dark, RIO territory; Glass c/w Steel and Ghosts are low rumbles, both recorded on prepared guitars and frequently sounding like almost anything else. 'Out of Their Heads (On Locoweed)' is a similarly brooding piece, but the pace picks up a little here and shards of recognisable guitar melodies make their presence felt, especially when an echo delay system is deployed in the second half - the entry of fuzz guitar is almost blood curdlingly shocking. Vinyl listeners woud then have had to turn the album over, but as this is a CD we move straight into Not Forgotten, a brief acoustic or possibly semi acoustic piece that sounds like it was played in conventional tuning. As sparse as some of the other pieces are dense, here Frith is happy to keep it simple and demonstrate just how good his technique was. Hollow Music is another acoustic interlude using 7th and 12th fret harmonics as the basis for an improvisation that soon builds up to a feverish pace. Heat c/w Moment is an intense, close miked piece where the tapping of his feet, the sounds of his breath and even the impact of plectrum on strings are as loud and important as the guitar itself. And so to the closing piece, No Birds. This piece uses (presumably) modified guitars played through echo delay and reverb units and creates a sound world as intense and involving as Henry Cow's monumental piece Ruins. Many of the ideas heard elsewhere on the album are brought together here, and the piece comes to a satisfying conclusion with a series of simple, melodic, interlocking guitar figures.

As good as it is, and at least half of the album is highly impressive indeed, Guitar Solos sounds more like a showcase for Frith's approach to the guitar than a coherent, fully realised album. It's also something of a specialist album, although if you're looking for an introduction to free improv on the electric guitar you're unlikely to find anything better than this. 3 stars, and add an extra one if you're a diehard RIO fan.

Syzygy | 3/5 |


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