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Fred Frith - Keep the Dog - The House That We Lived In CD (album) cover

KEEP THE DOG - THE HOUSE THAT WE LIVED IN

Fred Frith

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This double set is probably the perfect introduction to Fred Frith in his RIO mode (as opposed to free improv, contemporary classical, soundtracks and anything else he's turned his hand to).In the late 80s Frith assembled a band to perform selections from his post Henry Cow career. This turned out to be something of a RIO dream team, featuring Jean Derome, Rene Lussier, Zeena Parkins, Charles Hayward and Bob Ostertag, all of whom had worked with or would work with Frith in various projects. The recordings on this album were made in 1991, although they were unreleased until 2003, and they give a good overview of the first decade of Frith's solo career.

The repertoire includes compositions from his solo albums, Massacre, Skeleton Crew and his collaboration with Henry Kaiser. Cheap at Half The Price is the most strongly represented of his albums with 3 tracks, and in all cases the pieces have been substantially rearranged with plenty of space for improvisation. All of the band are excellent, with Bob Ostertag using his sampler to play any parts that were otherwise unplayable and to add all kinds of interesting sounds to the mix. A good example of this approach comes at the end of disc 1, when Walking Song (from Cheap At Half The Price) is built around the rhythm of Frith's breathing, Charles Hayward adding a mournful melodica refrain which plays against Frith's wordless vocal and the whole piece gradually building up before segueing into a gloriously uptempo reading of Some Clouds Do. Elsewhere Skeleton Crew's Foot In Hole gets a similarly intriguing makeover, extended to more than double its original playing time. Band members create bizarre vocal sounds which are treated by Ostertag (with a brief sample of the dog for good measure) before the piece proper is taken at a more stately tempo than previously, playing Parkin's accordion against baritone sax rather than the cello that featured on the original version. And the same is true throughout the album; Frith's compositions are cherry picked, reworked and played with enormous verve and skill.

There are a couple of minor gripes. Frith is here as a multi instrumentalist, switching between guitar, bass and violin and sharing lead guitar duties with Rene Lussier, so fans of his inspired lead guitar work will find comparatively thin pickings. The playing time - a tad over 96 minutes - isn't overly generous for a 2 disc set, but on the other hand quality is generally preferable to quantity. Anybody who enjoys Sammla Mammas Manna or The Muffins' combination of eccentricity, good humour, instrumental dexterity and brain achingly complex compositions will love this, as will any fans of the Canterbury sound wishing to dip a toe into the RIO/Avant prog scene. An absolute gem and essential listening.

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Posted Monday, February 05, 2007 | Review Permalink

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