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Guitar Solos (1974 Classic Re-mastered)

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Album Review

If one had to pick a single truly essential album of Fred Frith's solo guitar work, it would probably have to be the Live in Japan box set. That box being long out of print, however, the runner-up for that honor — and a very close runner-up it is — would be this of studio work from the 1970s and '80s. It consists of the entirety of Frith's Guitar Solos album from 1974, along with his contributions to the various-artist collections Guitar Solos 2 and Guitar Solos 3, and five newer tracks taken from his performance at the Noise New York festival in 1988. There's no question that this is noise music of the most downtown sort; while snippets of melody occasionally emerge from Frith's guitars, the sounds you hear are, for the most part, completely atonal and generally arrhythmic. But they are never ugly. The otherworldly moans, clatters, shrieks, howls, and seemingly physically impossible echoes and effects that Frith teases out of his guitars are always impressive and are frequently truly beautiful. On "Hollow Music," Frith states a three-note theme using harmonics, then gradually expands and twists it before veering off into alien chordal landscapes; on "No Birds," he layers ethereal sustained chords and distorted feedback to haunting effect; "Should Old Arthur" combines metallic scrapes and almost human wails. While useful as a catalog of extended guitar techniques, Guitar Solos has its greatest value as a genuinely beautiful document of one guitar virtuoso's explorations of that instrument's apparently limitless tonal capabilities.


Born: 17 February 1949 in Heathfield, England

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

In the '60s and '70s, much (if not most) contemporary improvisation was jazz-based. That began to change in the '80s, when a significant number of rock musicians began exploring the possibilities of free improvisation and new classical forms. Fred Frith is one of the more prominent. Co-founder of the underground British band Henry Cow in 1968, composer/improviser/guitarist Frith moved to the U.S. in the late '70s, where he began associations with such New York-based experimental musicians as cellist...
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