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Fred Frith - Helter Skelter (with François-Michel Pesenti ) CD (album) cover


Fred Frith



4.67 | 5 ratings

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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.

Lewian | 5/5 |


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