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Fred Frith - Allies CD (album) cover

ALLIES

Fred Frith

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Syzygy
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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Subtitled Music for Dance vol 2, Allies is an album with a curious history. The music was originally commissioned and recorded in 1989 with George Cartwright (alto sax) and Tom Cora (cello) of Curlew, both regular Frith collaborators, Frith using a programmable drum machine alongside his regular arsenal of guitar, violin, bass and keyboards. The music remained unreleased for several years, and when it was finally scheduled to emerge as an album Frith decided he was unsatisfied with the drum sound and invited Naked City sticksman Joey Baron to re-record the drum parts.

The result is one of Frith's most enjoyable albums. Although he has worked successfully in many different musical contexts, he's usually at his best composing for a small ensemble; think of Henry Cow, Art Bears and the Gravity and Speechless albums. The arrangements here are comparatively sparse, and themes recur and mutate throughout the six pieces. The musicians weave in and out of the music as required, with Tom Cora's cello frequently underpinning things alongside Joey Baron's low key drumming - it's only really on two pieces that he plays anything close to a straightforward beat, and then only briefly - with George Cartwright's sax intervening, embellishing or gently tugging the music into a different direction. Frith adds some unpredictable guitar lines, washes of keyboard and occasionally picks up his violin to double up with Tom Cora. Although the music is deceptively simple there's a lot going on below the surface; it's rarely discordant, but melodies never resolve in a predictable manner, and as important as the rhythm is the beats rarely fall where you'd expect them to. Despite nominally being divided into six tracks, it's more like one continuous 40 minute composition in six sections. These are still strong enough to function as stand alone works; two of them also crop up on the excellent live retrospective Keep the Dog.

The overall feeling here is closer to chamber rock than to any other style, and fans of A Silver Mt Zion and similar bands may find it enjoyable, as will any RIO/Avant afficianados. One of Frith's gentler and more accessible releases, but also an album of great depth that rewards attentive listening.

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Send comments to Syzygy (BETA) | Report this review (#121447)
Posted Wednesday, May 09, 2007 | Review Permalink
Bonnek
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Prog Metal Team
3 stars Allies is a competent and accessible RIO album that could serve as a good appetizer for the darker matter that gets released in this style by bands such as Guapo or Univers Zero. Fred Frith creates a intriguing collection of slowly developing chamber rock songs with meticulously constructed rhythms.

Looking at the credits, the album has come a long way since its initial conception in 1989. It hasn't been released till 2004 but due to its warm organic sound, it still sounds fresh and crispy. The music was originally played and improvised to a drum computer. Later on the machine drums were replaced by live drums, but maintaining the persistent pace of the music. The rhythmic backbone is one of the most remarkable aspects of this album. Frith never resolves to predictable time-signatures. Every drum and snare seems to come at the point where you least expect them. The off-beat effect isn't certainly something I could dance to.

Tracks like Small Mercy 1 and Nenad come close to a Zeuhl sound, but mostly the classic instrumentation (violin, cello, sax) creates a reflective type of chamber rock, slightly minimal at first sight, but with intricate patterns and slowly building melodies.

While the album is solid throughout, the music appears much studied. It misses some bite and spontaneity to push it to 4 stars. This might not bother everyone of course, but just don't expect the intensity of Guapo or Univers Zero.

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Send comments to Bonnek (BETA) | Report this review (#266668)
Posted Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
snobb
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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is one of my beloved Frith album. Very minimalistic, mid tempo music, not too explosive or quirky. But - one the best his work in musical sense.

There are almost all usual components you expect from Frith - RIO, free jazz, some zeuhl, some folk... Zorn/Naked City's Joey Baron is very jazzy and minimalistic-simplified, but sounds very great in contest of this music. Fantastic cellist Tom Cora is excellent as usual and I really like less known (at least for me) sax player George Cartwright - he shows fantastic free jazz improvs in the key of John Zorn.

It's really interesting that music contains many avant elements, but at the same time stays very pleasant and easy accessible. For me ,it's that rare case, when simplicity could be named excellent idea for such kind of music: this release is one between not so many others avant albums on my regular play-list.

Listen to it - just don't expect something very different or shocking: there is really pleasant music, not so often could be found between this genre's albums.

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Send comments to snobb (BETA) | Report this review (#366769)
Posted Tuesday, December 28, 2010 | Review Permalink

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