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Album Review

This project is a unique and strangely lovely set of improvisations by bassist Kato Hideki, drummer Ikue Mori (formerly of the legendary downtown trio DNA) and the patriarch of avant-garde guitar, Fred Frith. You might think that a guitar-bass-drums lineup would at least result in a familiar sort of noise, but in this case you'd be mistaken. For one thing, Mori is playing drum machines rather than actual percussion instruments here, and "machine" seems to be the operative term — those water sounds and alien chirps were probably triggered by her rather than by Hideki's bass or Frith's guitar. The guitar is actually the most consistently recognizable sound, but only if you're familiar with Frith's work; he squeezes, scrapes, coaxes and pokes the guitar into realms that no one else has ever begun to explore. Hideki's bass is often difficult to pick out, but there are many noises that clearly come from his neck of the sonic spectrum. If all of this sounds less than immediately attractive to you, try to reserve judgment: though the music is rarely pretty in the conventional sense, there are moments of genuine beauty. "Imperial Thorn" is spare, lovely and smart; at one point the guitar imitates a shakuhachi (using feedback!) and the drums play in a style reminiscent of the music that accompanies Japanese noh drama. "Alchemy" sounds like it was recorded underwater. There's never a dull moment here, even though there's rarely a moment that feels like it was planned ahead of time. That's the difference between virtuoso improvisation and noodling self-indulgence.


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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Death Ambient, Fred Frith
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