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4 October 2011

Chris Cutler and Fred Frith - 'Live in Prague and Washington' (Ré)

The cover art to this suggests all of the ghosts of the eastern bloc - or at least, semi-Gothic Polish cinema posters, Kafka, and all that goes with it.  The 4500 Czechs are credited for 'Ambieance and opinions" alongside Chris and Fred here, as this is an unedited improv concert from 1979.  Cutler is a freak on this, clattering all about the stereo field in a manner that's unusually haphazard for him.  You can feel that he and Frith are really letting go.  There's a part in the middle when it locks into a proper 'groove', as Frith's guitar emanates a creeping, uncanny pulse.  But the flailing drumsticks are the core of everything - the guitar sounds like it's buzzing out of a cheap amp, and when Frith does the fingertip-dancing he's most known for, it feels like a manic counterpoint to the earlier groove.  Though he's credited with electronic drums in addition to regular ones, it doesn't feel motorik or tech-heavy.  Overall, it's a dark, dissonant and I daresay messy foray for these guys, who were enmeshed in their Art Bears project at the time.  I guess the pace and intensity rivals a tune like 'Rats and Monkeys' but without Dagmar's voice to anchor it, things are definitely caked in a freeform crust.  Side B is an excerpt from a concert in Washington but it continues the 45rpm squeal, albeit more slow and open.  Long arcs of feedback bend and shimmer, and there's a breath that is missing from side 1 entirely.  The ending turns into a traditional folk jig, with Frith on the violin and Cutler pitter-pattering the momentum up.  The crowd noise is there throughout both sides - in fact, I'm surprised at how lo-fi this recording is  overall, given that I associate Cutler with being somewhat uptight about fidelity.  I'm happy for it though - this rawness is something that really drives the record and shows a side not otherwise heard.

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