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FRED FRITH

RIO/Avant-Prog • United Kingdom


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Fred Frith biography
Jeremy Webster Frith - Born February 17, 1949 (Heathfield, East Sussex, UK)

Multi instrumentalist, composer and improviser Fred Frith is one of the most prolific and versatile musicians of the last 50 years. Born in 1949, he first came to prominence as guitarist/violinist/pianist/xylophone player and one of the principal composers in the seminal RIO band Henry Cow. While working with Henry Cow he also appeared as a guest on numerous other albums by the likes of Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt and Jade Warrior (among many others). He released his first solo album, guitar solos, in 1974, a collection of improvised or semi improvised pieces for electric guitar, usually modified or prepared in some way.

Following the demise of Henry Cow in 1978, Frith embarked upon a career that would take him into all kinds of weird and wonderful places; at the time of writing, he had appeared on over 400 albums. In 1979 he relocated to New York, where he came into contact with the city's thriving improvised music scene. He released 2 solo albums at around this time: Gravity was recorded with members of the Muffins and Zammla Mammaz Manna, while Speechless featured Etron Fou Leloublan and Massacre, the avant prog power trio he formed with Bill Laswell and Fred Maher. At the same time he was working with Art Bears, Massacre and in an improvising duo with former Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler, with whom he has released 3 CDs to date. Another solo album, Cheap at Half The Price, appeared in 1983, and he also worked in Skeleton Crew with Tom Cora in the early to mid 80s. Throughout all this he was a regular guest on other artists projects, including The Residents, and his reputation as a composer was growing. In the late 80s he assembled Keep The Dog, a touring band which played selections from throughout his career, usually radically rearranged. In 1990 he joined John Zorn's Naked City project as bassist - he and Zorn have also worked as a free jazz duo. Albums were released of his music for theatre, dance and film and his improvising career also continued unabated. In 1999 he became professor of composition at Mills College, California.

Newcomers should start with the excellent Gravity and Speechless, which contain Frith's vision of dance music and some of the most enjoyable RIO ever recorded. See also Massacre, Skeleton Crew, Art Bears and Henry Cow.

One of the seminal figures in RIO/Avant prog, and one of the most innovative guitarists of his gene...
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FRED FRITH discography


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FRED FRITH top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.12 | 19 ratings
Guitar Solos
1974
4.50 | 2 ratings
With Friends Like These (with Henry Kaiser )
1979
4.01 | 56 ratings
Gravity
1980
4.11 | 27 ratings
Speechless
1981
3.50 | 4 ratings
Voice Of America (with Bob Ostertag / Phil Minton)
1982
4.00 | 2 ratings
Who Needs Enemies ? (with Henry Kaiser)
1983
3.00 | 2 ratings
French Gigs (with Lol Coxhill)
1983
3.75 | 14 ratings
Cheap at Half the Price
1983
4.04 | 14 ratings
The Technology Of Tears - And Other Music For Dance And Theatre
1988
3.08 | 4 ratings
The Top of His Head
1989
4.00 | 2 ratings
Fred & Ferd - Dropera
1991
4.67 | 5 ratings
Helter Skelter (with François-Michel Pesenti )
1992
3.00 | 1 ratings
Subsonic 1 - Sounds Of A Distant Episode (with Marc Ribot)
1994
4.00 | 3 ratings
Quartets
1994
4.33 | 3 ratings
Middle Of The Moment
1995
3.72 | 11 ratings
Allies
1996
4.00 | 3 ratings
Eye to Ear
1997
0.00 | 0 ratings
En Public Aux Laboratoires D'Aubervilliers Improvisations (with Jean-Pierre Drouet )
1997
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Previous Evening
1997
0.00 | 0 ratings
Fred Frith Guitar Quartet: Ayaya Moses
1997
0.00 | 0 ratings
Fred Frith Guitar Quartet: Upbeat
1998
4.50 | 4 ratings
Pacifica
1998
3.97 | 10 ratings
Traffic Continues
2000
4.04 | 7 ratings
Clearing
2001
4.04 | 5 ratings
Digital Wildlife
2002
0.00 | 0 ratings
Accidental
2002
3.09 | 4 ratings
Freedom In Fragments
2002
4.50 | 2 ratings
Prints
2002
4.08 | 5 ratings
Rivers and Tides { working with time
2003
5.00 | 2 ratings
Eye to Ear II
2004
2.00 | 1 ratings
Eleventh Hour (with Arditti String Quartet / Uwe Dierksen / William Winant )
2005
5.00 | 3 ratings
The Happy End Problem
2006
4.00 | 1 ratings
The Compass, Log, And Lead (with Stevie Wishart, Carla Kihlstedt )
2006
0.00 | 0 ratings
Cutter Heads (with Chris Brown)
2007
3.00 | 1 ratings
The Sugar Factory (Evelyn Glennie)
2007
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Big Picture (with Arte Quartett)
2008
0.00 | 0 ratings
Still Urban (with Arte Quartett)
2008
0.00 | 0 ratings
Back To Life
2008
4.00 | 4 ratings
To Sail, To Sail
2008
0.00 | 0 ratings
Nowhere. Sideshow. Thin Air
2009
3.05 | 2 ratings
Eye To Ear 3
2010

FRED FRITH Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
Live In Japan:The Guitars On The Table Approach
1982
3.50 | 4 ratings
Nous Autres (with René Lussier)
1987
0.00 | 0 ratings
Ars Longa Dens Brevis (with John Zorn / Onnyk / Toyozumi Yoshisaburo)
1987
0.00 | 0 ratings
Live Improvisations (with Tim Hodgkinson)
1990
4.00 | 2 ratings
Stone, Brick, Glass, Wood, Wire (Graphic Scores 1986-96)
1999
0.00 | 0 ratings
I Dream Of You Jumping (with J.P. Drouet and Louis Sclavis)
2001
0.00 | 0 ratings
All Is Bright, But It Is Not Day (with Jean Derome, Pierre Tanguay, Myles Boisen)
2002
4.96 | 4 ratings
Keep the Dog - The House That We Lived In
2003
2.61 | 6 ratings
50th Birthday Celebration Volume 5: Fred Frith / John Zorn
2004
0.00 | 0 ratings
Impur
2006
0.00 | 0 ratings
Pas De Deux (as Frith + Roger)
2008
0.00 | 0 ratings
Impur II
2009
0.00 | 0 ratings
Storytelling (Live At Theater Gütersloh)
2017

FRED FRITH Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

FRED FRITH Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 1 ratings
With Enemies Like These, Who Needs Friends? (with Henry Kaiser)
1987
4.12 | 7 ratings
Step Across the Border
1990
5.00 | 1 ratings
Fred and Ralph
1991
4.00 | 1 ratings
Friends & Enemies (with Henry Kaiser)
1999

FRED FRITH Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

FRED FRITH Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Eye to Ear by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 1997
4.00 | 3 ratings

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Eye to Ear
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by TCat
Special Collaborator Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team

4 stars The album series "Eye to Ear" by Fred Frith is a 3 volume group of albums originally issued separately. They all feature music from films or theater productions and the music on each album is quite varied. It ranges from completely avant-garde to straightforward, but the music is all distinctively composed by Frith and features him on almost every instrument or piece of equipment, except for the use of some guests on occasion. Together, the album is not that cohesive, but then, this album is meant to be for film and theater music aficionados. However, Frith fans will also be quite interested in hearing it also.

The album begins and ends with "Le Recontre", which is from a film (from 1992) based on a short story by Emmanuel Bove. This composition is a bit starchy, not really leaving much of an impact on the listener, which is usually what movie music tries to achieve, mostly it just brings an uneasy atmosphere. However, it does flow along easily and features the sounds from a tenor saxophone performed by Boris Denker. Other than being a bit odd, there isn't much to capture your attention or imagination without any visuals. "Backroom" comes from a stage production from 1994 and appears in three parts throughout the album. These three tracks are noisy affairs, the first one feeling quite metallic (in sound, not style) and harsh, yet is cushioned by a softly droning background that almost makes it feel comforting.

"Thea Und Nat" is actually a five-part track featuring incidental music from a RV German melodrama from 1992. This one is a complete change of style and is more straightforward sounding, yet not what you would call easy listening all of the time. The music, which is a bit symphonic sounding, is accentuated by accordion and clarinet. This track goes by quickly even at over 12 minutes because of it being composed of 5 shorter pieces. After this, we return to "Backroom" with the 2nd part of this music, this time it is more rhythmic, but this percussive feel all comes from the guitar and instrumental manipulation, not from actual percussive instruments. It is again quite harsh, but with no real "cushion" this time to soften the industrial feel of it all.

"Picture of Light" is my favorite off of the album. It is more atmospheric, but also quite unsettling and dissonant. The music comes from a documentary about the Northern Lights from 1992. The music swirls and unfolds around you and is actually very nice even with it's avant-style atmosphere. In reality, the music was written for the documentary, but was never actually used. What ever the reason for it not being used was, to me it definitely conveys that feeling of being out on a cold evening watching the aurora borealis flutter and flash across the sky. This beautiful piece of art continues on for over 9 minutes. If you expect to listen to this in the traditional way of listening to recorded music, then these 9 minutes will crawl by, but to completely lose yourself in this atmosphere makes it fly by way too quickly.

"Ostkreuz" contains music from a film from 1992 of the same name that was filmed following the re-unification of Germany. This 6 minute track is made up of four sections. It is not really what I would call straightforward, but it isn't really too far out there either, for the most part. It has a slightly industrial feel to it but combines some nice atmospheric textures also. Much of the preceding tracks on the albums are structured quite rhythmically, but this one is much less so, but it is also my favorite selection on the album because it is unpredictable, yet it is not necessarily harsh either. The music is accented with strings, accordion, trumpet and some nice, manipulated sounds that reflect natural sounds.

"In the Train" follows, it flows quite well with plucked and bowed strings. It's a short track and probably the most listener-friendly of the entire set. The music was to be used in the Richard Linklater film "Before Sunrise" for a train scene, and that is really what the plucked music seems to reflect. The music, as nice as it is, was never used in the finished film however. "Backroom III" is the lesser harsh of the 3 Backroom tracks, but it still has a harsh, metallic atmosphere with improvised dissonant, tonal scraping-quality textures backed up by an organ which works to try to smooth out the harshness, at least part of the time. The textures sound quite interesting as they conflict with each other, yet making it the most interesting of the 3 Backroom tracks. The last track is a reprise of "Le Rencontre" which works to tie the entire album together, or at least attempts to do so.

This is not an album for easy listening soundtrack enjoyment at all, though it does have its moments when it could be. But the variation in sound and style here lends to an album that is not very cohesive, but it really isn't supposed to be. It's a collection, and as such, takes various film tracks and collects them together in one spot. It's purpose is to present Frith's film music without regard to categorizing style, the focus is on the composer, not a particular style. As such, it does a great job of presenting Frith's compositional talent. It's not for everyone, and doesn't try to be for everyone. Personally, I find the variety quite appealing as it keeps the overall album from sounding too much the same or wearing out a particular style. This was Frith's first album to be released on John Zorn's label and it definitely works well with that avant-style of music that the label is famous for. In the end, it is an excellent album that offers a wide variety of the composer's style when composing for visual media.

 Speechless by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 1981
4.11 | 27 ratings

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Speechless
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Fred Frith's second post-Henry Cow solo album continued the project, begun on Gravity, of Fred collaborating with a range of different bands, so Fred's multi-instrumentalist performances provide the thematic connection strands but the different band approaches keep things fresh. On the first side of the album - that's the material from Kick the Can pt. 1 to Women Speak To Men; Men Speak to Women, Fred is backed up by Etron Fou Leloublan, an established RIO act whose jazz-punk stylings fit the "mutant pop meets world music" style of the compositions nicely.

On the second side, the backing group is Massacre, a No Wave supergroup consisting of Fred himself allied with Bill Laswell and Fred Maher. This was actually an extremely busy year for the Massacre members, because as well as this album they were putting out an official Massacre debut album and Laswell and Maher, having only just wrapped up the New York Gong project with Daevid Allen, were poised to unleash the debut Material album on the world (on which Fred guested). It's the sort of percussive avant-melodic "you can dance to this but you'd look weird doing it" stuff that listeners have come to expect from the Material musical microcosm.

 Helter Skelter (with François-Michel Pesenti ) by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 1992
4.67 | 5 ratings

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Helter Skelter (with François-Michel Pesenti )
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Lewian
Prog Reviewer

5 stars I saw Fred Frith live several times and was always amazed by his creativity and his very individual and unique approach to sounds and music. From his live performances, for me, he is just one of the very very best. His albums are more of a mixed bag; he has tried out many different things and some just don't click with me. Much of what he is doing live is apparently improvised or doesn't find its way on records, so he is certainly more of a live musician than a record artist.

I also saw Helter Skelter live when at the time he toured with Que d'la Gueule, a project in Marseille consisting of young unemployed musicians. This certainly helped my appreciation of this record, which is one that I think carries over the quality of a live performance quite well (it is, I think, partly recorded live). This is pretty much composed from beginning to the end, and therefore somewhat atypical for Frith, who worked as composer and conductor here and didn't play himself.

Helter Skelter was branded as a "rock opera", but there isn't that much singing and at least the non-French listener will have a hard time figuring out what the opera is actually about (not sure about the French either). I think that there was a booklet explaining it when it was brought on stage, but I don't have that anymore. It is, though, a well thought through and quite dynamic piece of music, and you're free to imagine your own story to it. There are many voices, but they are often rather used as sound effects, with some talking and shouting, although there are one or two parts that have something like opera singing. Apart from that, some bits are rhythmic and actually quite loud and occasionally chaotic, with the power of the band's many instrumentalists (drums and percussion, guitar, saxophones etc., all sections several members strong) piling up. But then there are also rather calm parts carried by electronics and samples. Stark contrasts are often used from one movement to another. There is often quite a bit going on, even in the quieter parts, but then some moments are also given to a single instrument or voice.

It'll probably not be an easy ride for many, without the help of simple song structures, with all the contrasts and occasional outbursts of chaos and atonality. Be also prepared for Frith's own mixture of Jazzy playing, experimental sounds and rocky but often odd rhythms.

Somehow, at least for me, the thing works as a whole and I can mostly make sense of what happens when. It's one of the few works in prog that in its variety, inventiveness and conceptual strength I'd think also lover and composers of contemporary "academic" music would accept as something to admire, while at the same time carrying some rough emotionality.

It's an exciting musical adventure that may challenge the listener but gives rich reward; maybe Frith's best.

 Speechless by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 1981
4.11 | 27 ratings

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Speechless
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars First a big thankyou to Holy Moly (Steve) for suggesting I check this album out. This was Fred's second solo album after leaving HENRY COW and like the first one ("Gravity") he has a different lineup of musicians for each side of the original vinyl album. On "Gravity" he had SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA helping out on side one and THE MUFFINS helping out on side two plus other guests. Here it's ETRON FOU LELOUBLAN helping out on side one while on side two we get the band MASSACRE (Frith, Laswell and Maher) along with guests like SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA's Hans Bruniusson, George Cartwright, Tina Curran and more. I should mention that Fred would return the favour to ETRON FOU LELOUBLAN by producing their masterpiece of the following year "Les Poumons Gonfles" and also playing on it. He'd also help them out on their final release from 1985.

On side one we can hear samples of sounds that Fred used from street fairs from New York City along with sounds from street demonstrations. This can be heard right away on the short opener "Kick The Can Part 1" along with other sparse sounds. "Carnival On Wall Street" does sound like circus music somewhat as those tapes of street sounds again are used. This is cool. It's all so intricate and punchy and then it turns darker before 1 1/2 minutes which lasts about a minute before the previous soundscape returns. "Ahead In The Sand" opens with what sounds like deranged mellotron before percussion, horns, guitar, clapping and more comes and goes. Catchy stuff. "Laughing Matter / Esperanza" opens with street noise that builds then the music takes over. It turns more serious after a minute. Heavier too then back to the catchy intricate sound from earlier. These contrasts continue. Intense is the word after 2 minutes. Bagpipes are prominant in the latter part of this song. Street noise ends it. "Woman Speak To men ; Men Speak To Woman" is fairly strange with intricate sounds coming and going along with those taped samples. Avant is the word here. Spoken words in this one too. An insane but very good tune.

Side two begins with "A Spit In The Ocean" which opens with some very unusual sounds(haha). The rhythm section then kicks in. This is good. Horns join in and yes they too are left of center. Great track ! "Navajo" and "Speechless" were both based on live tracks performed by MASSACRE. I really like this track and it picks up late with horns. "Balance" has these prominant drums with intricate guitar then violin. Guitar is back replacing the violin 2 1/2 minutes in but not for long. "Saving Grace" has this tribal-like drumming as strange processed vocal expressions are added. Weird stuff man. "Speechless" has some deep bass and avant sounds. It sounds like woter after 2 minutes. "Conversations With White Arc" opens with a catchy rhythm as the guitar joins in. I like this ! "Domaine De Planousset" is laid back and pleasant (gasp !). "Kick The Can (Part 2)" sounding much like the opening track but better.

A solid 4 stars and certainly HENRY COW fans or for that matter ETRON FOU LELOUBLAN fans need to check this out. This is no doubt for the adventerous music listener.

 Gravity by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 1980
4.01 | 56 ratings

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Gravity
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This was Fred's first solo album after leaving HENRY COW. It really is a celebration of dance from different cultures throughout the World. The original cover art was painted by Robert Wyatt's wife Alfreda Benge which incorporates the album's title "Gravity" with the subject of dance. As others have mentioned SAMMLA MAMMAS MANNA played on side one of the original vinyl (1-6) while THE MUFFINS played on side two (7-13). Fred also gets additional help from Chris Cutler, Tina Curran, Michel Berkmans (UNIVERS ZERO) and others.

"The Boy Beats The Rams" opens with some brief laughter then intricate sounds take over including this spacey atmosphere. There is a lot humour on this album and the mood is good which shouldn't be a surprise when the subject matter is dancing I suppose. Accordion comes in and then it all builds before 2 minutes. A catchy beat follows. "Spring Any Day Now" is upbeat, catchy and fun. "Don't Cry For Me" features clapping and percussion throughout then the bass, mandolin, organ and more join in. Clapping only ends it. "The Hands Of The Juggler" is one of my favourites. We get violin and a repetitive rhythm for almost 1 1/2 minutes then they change it up and the tempo picks up. Killer stuff. Drums, violin, accordion and more before 3 1/2 minutes. "Norrgarden Nyola" is such a feel good song and I really like the guitar around a minute. "Year Of The Monkey" opens with some craziness then a rhythm with guitar takes over. More craziness later.

"What A Dilemma" is another favourite of mine. An abrasive rhythm with violin leads the way and it sounds even better when the drums join in around 1 1/2 minutes. How good is this ! "Crack In The Concrete" brings to mind the word random. "Come Across" is uptempo with a good rhythm and horns. "Dancing In The Street / My Enemy Is A Bad Man" is next and the first part is an instrumental cover of that Motown song with samples of Iranians in the background who were celebrating the capture of Americans back in the day. Weird. Man it would suck to live in Iran. The second part of this two part track is mostly guitar and percussion. Cool tune. "Slap Dance" is short but I really like it. It's the brief angular guitar section before a minute that reminds me of ANEKDOTEN that does it for me. "A Career In Real Estate" contrasts the beat with violin to the more dramatic and powerful sections. "Dancing In Rockville Maryland" has these intricate and punchy sounds before it settles right down with piano 1 1/2 minutes in.

An interesting and entertaining listen that is worth 4 stars.

 Gravity by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 1980
4.01 | 56 ratings

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Gravity
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by frippism
Collaborator RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team

4 stars It's hard to actually review Fred Frith for the very first time. Probably one of the biggest geniuses of the avant-garde field, Frith manages to successfully both be a composer, a songwriter, and an improviser. Most who do enjoy his music will enjoy the more composer/ songwriter side. Frith his the uncanny ability to write very complex tunes. But the great thing about him is that he manages to mesh great pop sensibilities to his music without making them at times absolutely irresistible. This album is the epitome of Frith's pop sensibilities- one of his most accessible and fun albums, though very complex, at times dissonant, at times unnerving, and many times beautiful.

The first side here was actually recorded with "famous" RIO band Samla Mammas Manna, while the other side was recorded with US Canterbury-influenced band The Muffins, along with other dudes such as former Henry Cow bandmate and octopus drumming epic man Chris Cutler! Both sides are filled with what would become for me, Frith's easily recognizable melodies. Mad fun, always crazy, jumpy, angular, and complex. The album starts off with "The Boy Beats The Ram" which I feel is a bit of a bizarro ride of tribal drums with violins and weird guitars. Fred Frith is the master of guitar sound and his treble-y sound and distortion sounds are a big part of what makes this album great. Frith's distortion is abrasive, thick, while his clean sound is sharp, deadly precise, no funny business. The tune could turn some people off, which is funny, considering the absolutely delightful dance-pop number that comes right after "Spring Any Day Now"- which is easily one of Frith's most memorable tracks. Jazzy, kinda bluesy, with a horn section that will get you to shake you glut. Never mind that much of it is in 5/4 and never mind the weird time signature bits. It is Frith at his most charming, his most fun. It is nice to see the contrast in the first two songs as I feel it is what makes the album so entertaining- it's fun, it's humorous, lighthearted, though always a bit off, always keeping you on your toes, always taking pop music and meshing it a bit to make you slightly uncomfortable, slightly nervous.

I know these tracks so well that I can speak about each for hours, dismantling the little bits. "Don't Cry For Me" is delightfully annoying. I'd never been so happy to get a headache. Frith simplifies the melody so much, that it's almost a fly in your ear, pretty much only three notes. And along with the groovy fun bass line, it's so addicting yet so delightfully annoying that you find yourself unsure whether to dance or turn the music off! That melody can drive anyone insane, but once you get accustomed to the melody and the song, it becomes plain fun. Skipping now to "Norrgarden Nyvla" which is probably Frith's most well known tune. That is because the melody is so uplifting and unforgettable it's only natural. Frith's guitar with the piano in the background make it so uplifting. The 15/8 time signature is used so well here- the bar always ends in a sort of cliff hanger, it makes the song it much more nervous, like it is always about to fall but never does. "Year of the Monkey" picks up exactly where "Norrgarden Nyvla" left off, and again uses many layers of recording to attack the listener from many angels. The looping piano line is so cool, that with everything around it you feel like your in a smoky saloon filled with surrealists and philosophers. The recorders and the tribal drums are a good time too. The feeling as this album goes along, is that it retains the former dissonance seen in the first track. The weird guitars come back, the bizarre funky bass and the constant weird, kind of jazzy, kind of tribal drums. In "What a Dilemma" you get absolutely stormed with Frith's layers of dissonant guitars.

And then towards the end, it all becomes good fun! The tracks retain their poppy nature, their groove, while of course still being a bit of a parody on dance music. Towards the end, Frith even covers "Dancing In the Street". It ain't perfect, but the great rhythm behind it and the fun keyboard sound make it worthwhile. Suddenly it almost feels like the Residents. A slightly off melodic delivery makes the song the song feel as if Frith is actually consciously making the decision that he's interpreting the world of popular music through his eyes, he's translating it into his own musical world.

And that's what makes this album great- it is an Expressionist take on popular music and popular culture. Frith's take on avant-garde music is always challenging, but it is many times fun, and more interestingly, socially conscious, which make the music make sense, and give the album it's own great sense humor.

You want Frith, you start here.

 Gravity by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 1980
4.01 | 56 ratings

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Gravity
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer

4 stars After hearing Fred Frith's first solo album Guitar Solos, I wasn't sure what to think. Despite being a big fan of Frith's work in various other groups, that first album, while certainly innovative and experimental, didn't strike me as particularly interesting to listen to. Despite this rather lukewarm first impression, I decided to give this album a chance after reading that Frith had described it as a "dance" album, with influences from folk and world music.

Indeed, I would say that this is a marked improvement over Guitar Solos. Infinitely more fun to listen to, there's nonetheless a wild spirit of adventure and experimentation that makes this the perfect blend of avant and accessible. There's a lot of variety on Gravity, from eastern European folk dances to chaotic and experimental soundscapes. A great album from a great musician.

"The Boy Beats the Rams" begins with a bit of a noisy blend of percussion and other sound effects before a faint, somewhat eastern sounding string part strikes up. This is joined by some rather atonal guitar and the track takes on a decidedly dissonant tone. Despite this, it's not hard to listen to at all, though it does feel more like an introduction to the rest of the album than it does a standalone track. It's still a very interesting listen, however; it's a nice avant opening to the album and a cool piece of experimental music.

"Spring Any Day Now" is a much more accessible track, with a very cheery, even catchy melody starting off immediately. A variety of wind instruments, guitars, and percussion create a very musically dense track, making the main melodies sound deceptively simple. To me this track really sounds like a sort of combination between the surf rock of the 60s and folk- dance music; it's an incredibly bizarre combination that nonetheless works.

"Don't Cry For Me" begins with the same kind of minimal percussion that began "The Boy Beats the Rams," but this track takes a more structured direction, combining a strong bass line with multiple guitar and keyboard parts to create a kind of avant-folk aesthetic. Strong melodies abound, but at the same time there's a lot of very weird arrangement that gives the music a fascinating experimental edge. The track concludes with a recording of some noisy clapping and other sound effects that transitions into the next track.

"Hands of the Juggler" is another great track that combines a lot of the sound and instrumentation of folk music with Frith's off kilter, experimental tendencies. This experimental side is perhaps more explicit than on the previous two tracks, with a middle section that features increasingly crazed percussion, and dreamy and dissonant chords. This section transitions beautifully into another eastern folk dance section, with what sounds like a violin backed by bass and, of all things, accordion. It's this instrumentation that plays the track out, finally giving way to a bizarre but strangely fitting outtro that consists of some chanting vocals and what sounds like a timpani.

This outtro makes another seamless transition into "Norrgarden Nyvla," one of my favorite tracks on the album. With one of the outright catchiest melodies I've ever heard from Frith, this track is just so cheerful and charming, in addition to being perfectly arranged that even the bizarre electric guitar solos don't detract from its accessibility. This is the poster child in my mind for great, accessible, experimental music: far less difficult than anything on Guitar Solos or any of Henry Cow's albums, "Norrgarden Nyvla" is still a great, experimental track that blends genres and mixes styles to create incredibly appealing music.

"Year of The Monkey" comes next, going back to a more explicitly experimental style. Chaotic and atonal music makes up about the first 30 seconds of the track before a keyboard part comes in that almost has a carnival vibe to it. Various string sounds and of course guitars add additional music behind the repeating keyboard motif, and eventually a noisy chorus of wind instruments takes over in a way that reminds me of some of the music on The United States of America's self titled album.

"What A Dilemma" begins with distorted, dissonant guitars pounding out a rhythmic chord pattern while other instruments solo over this background. This is probably the closest to the wild experimentation of Guitar Solos that Gravity comes, but even so it begins to take on a more standard form midway through the song, as the distorted riffs are traded in for a bass line and a more melodic guitar part. As these parts are being developed and a bit of the distortion and dissonance begin to return, the track ends, very suddenly kicking off the next piece.

"Crack In The Concrete" is another strange track, with a very avant-jazz sort of feeling compared to the folkier sound of many of the earlier tracks. It's also very short, with only about a minute and a half of bass-backed, experimental guitar music before the track comes to an end.

"Come Across" kicks off with a great, driving piano and bass part that are quickly joined by some winds and guitar. This is another of my favorite tracks on the album, by turns jazzy, cinematic, and decidedly avant-garde. Several great solos help the track set itself apart, with multiple instruments taking the front of the stage throughout the track before finally ending in a dreamy fadeout.

"Dancing in the Street/My Enemy Is a Bad Man" comes next, starting off with percussion and what is either a keyboard or a very distorted guitar playing over a somewhat noisy blend of sound effects. It's a fairly melodic piece despite its very avant, bizarre instrumentation; while at times the background noise comes close to taking over the track the melody is always at the front of the mix. When the motif switches midway through it takes on a much happier disposition, with guitar and piano cheerfully dueting in a way that recalls the carefree music of the early days of rock and roll. The track fades out as these instruments continue to play before finally ending in silence.

"Slap Dance" sounds like its name would suggest: the folk dance theme is back, though shades of atonality keep the listener ever so slightly off-balance. This motif is occasionally interrupted by a more melodic saxophone melody that gives the track a nice sense of balance between order and chaos. The bass makes another great appearance here as well, keeping the track firmly grounded rhythmically even when it's at its craziest.

"A Career In Real Estate" returns to a very folky feel, though it eschews the eastern European vibe for one far more rooted in Americana. A very loose, pitch-sliding violin part recalls to my ears Appalachian folk music, whether that is an intentional influence or not. This folky motif is alternated with a much darker, ominous, distorted guitar-led theme that very much gives the track a "dark/light" sort of melodic conflict that's very interesting to listen to. It is on this latter theme that the track ends before the last track begins.

The album ends on "Dancing in Rockville, Maryland," a very experimental sounding track without a lot that you could point to and call "melody." Bass, guitars and percussion create a noisy amalgamation of sound for the first section of the track. Eventually, however, a rather serene piano part takes center stage, and the rest of the instruments fall away, leaving only the keyboard to carry the track to its conclusion and the conclusion of the album.

This, I think, is the place to start if you want to get a feel for Frith's solo music. I would argue that this is even more approachable than a lot of Henry Cow stuff, and in my opinion it's far more interesting than Guitar Solos. A great album for fans of avant-garde music and perhaps even a good entry point for those who have found the genre daunting in the past.

4/5

 The Technology Of Tears - And Other Music For Dance And Theatre by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 1988
4.04 | 14 ratings

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The Technology Of Tears - And Other Music For Dance And Theatre
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Evolver
Special Collaborator Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams

4 stars I find this album, which consists of pieces commissioned for a few different dance companies, to be one of Fred Frith's most intriguing solo albums. The pieces were performed mostly in 1987 (one was in Boston, I wish I had known about it then), and all but one was written by Frith.

The title piece, taking up the entire first LP, consistes of three angular songs, featuring Frith along with John Zorn on sax, Tenko on voice, and Christan Marclay on turntables. These are quirky tracks, with blips and sounds coming together for some surprisingly coherent compositions.

The third album side is the best work. It has Frith playing most of the instruments on some splendid RIO tracks. He gets an assist from trombonist Jim Staley, but Frith's sharp guitar is the star of this side.

The last side is a series of fourteen tracks, written by Matthew Maguire, called Propaganda. These are some eerie sounding short pieces, made even weirder by noises and found recordings blended into the music. The problem with these is that they are so short that once you get the feel of what the music is doing, the song fades out.

On the whole, this is a fine Frith album (someone else must think so too, as my CD of this has disappeared from my collection).

 Cheap at Half the Price by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 1983
3.75 | 14 ratings

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Cheap at Half the Price
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Slartibartfast
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

4 stars I think I paid full price for this.

The first CD release of this didn't come out until 1991. The original LP came out in the 1980's.

Recorded at home on a four track using his own instruments with pre recorded 15 second drum patterns from actual artists. A Casio 101? It's cheesy, but it works. Frith sings and more than a few of the songs are of a left political bent lyrically, which I happen to like.

There's a couple of bonus tracks put in amongst the original album tracks. Frith decided on his latest re-releases not to include the bonus tracks. Damn shame. I really love the first one, True Love, "You broke the glasses, you broke the plates, you said I don't want your money I don't want your money" The second one Person To Person fit in well as well as the first one.

Just keep in mind that some clouds may not have a silver lining, but this one does or does it?

 Eye To Ear 3 by FRITH, FRED album cover Studio Album, 2010
3.05 | 2 ratings

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Eye To Ear 3
Fred Frith RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by snobb
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars Eye To Ear III is third in 13 years Frith's collection of his written and recorded soundtrack music.The first 11 titles on this CD make up The Troja Suite,dark and in moments heavy and dynamic collection of quirky compositions for Hussi Kutulcan's "Drei Gegen Troja" movie soundtrack. Frith plays guitar,bass and keyboards, and has violinist,percussionist and trumpeter on support. If by any chance you didn't know this music is originally soundtrack when listened, possibly you could be a bit surprised:besides of some well crafted compositions (few of them even have funny a-la metal guitar attacks), many are too amorphous,unfocused and openly too long. As soundtrack, this music is great illustrative sound though.

Second part of the album is soundtrack to 2004 documentary Thirst (five compositions under common title "Water Music"). In this case the title is really representative - compositions all are liquid,almost amorphous, with strong influence of ambient and world music. Happily often balancing on the new age border,music never crosses it. Frith's guitar,bass,keyboards and violin are supported there by small orchestra of Eastern winds and strings instruments.

I never saw above mentioned films,but I expect both soundtracks could really work successfully with visual line.As separate musical release,these compositions are not essential to be listened with big interest though.

Thanks to syzygy for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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