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22 March 2015

Fred Frith - 'Guitar Solos' (Caroline)

I have a near-reverential admiration for Mr. Frith as you probably saw way, way back when I "did" the Art Bears on here. The recent podcast interview he did on the 5049 podcast made me feel even more positive about him just from a personality point of view, and I daresay that listening to this record, his first solo release, I feel that personality come through. This is what its title purports it to be, and the liner notes explain how these are made without overdubs apart from the last track, and without editing apart form two notes removed on the beautiful 'Not forgotten'. Otherwise, this is pure guitar or prepared guitar, and while that purity doesn't matter so much to me these day, there's a certain 'what the fuck' sense on the first side. 'Glass c/w Steel' has an eerie echo throughout that maybe is from the glass or steel, but it sets an atmosphere that is still groundbreaking today in the realm of solo guitar, even today. The amplifier plays a pretty large role in 'Heat c/w Moment', where there's an almost gate effect caused by the overtones and whatever preparation is causing the strings to mute just after the attack stars. Frith's fingerwork isn't the centrepiece of Guitar Solos, though it's nothing to scoff at. But instead of going for dazzling, fast runs, he cuts the heavy motion with a strong sense of atmosphere. 'No Birds', the track with overdubs, reminds me of Pelt. It's actually two guitars played at once, at least on the middle part, and this part is smooth and nervous at the same time, two sliding lines trying to follow each other while skirting the overall orbit. It concludes with a harmonic finish, the sound of "pure" electric guitar ringing out, in a playful pattern with its own overdubbed partner; at moments Reichian, and throughout a work of utter beauty. It's easy to self-categorise records like this under the 'improv' genre, as if this was like an innumerable Derek Bailey release, but this listen (my first in years) reveals a stunningly careful construction that makes this feel closer to a modern classical composition (at least on certain tracks). It's crazy to me that this is Frith's first solo release because it sounds as complete and thought-out as something that a master would spend decades crafting, which is not to say that he didn't evolve further after this. That never-ceasing reinvention and evolution is something that inspires me as much as the music does. May he keep on going forever and may future generations have the same thrill of discovering his work that I did.

20 March 2015

Friendship Next Of Kin featuring Selwyn Lissack - 'Facets of the Univers' (Goody)

I used to know a guy who used 'Selwyn Lissack' as his Internet handle, which is a wonderfully obscure choice. This is the only LP by this group, a free bashabout led by two South Africans, Lissack on drums and Mongezi Feza's inimitable pocket trumpet. There's a bunch of British stars of the time present, most notable Harry Miller and Mike Osborne, who are no strangers to playing with these South Africans. And unlike Miller's own band, or the Chris McGregor Brotherhood of Breath, this is much more akin to the continental sounds of the time (1971), sounding like it could be an Italian band with Steve Lacy or something like that. Side one gets revving with the title track, with 'universe' spelled correctly on the label and song title, just incorrectly in the album title. There's some piano that is uncredited, though the Internet tells me it's second bassist Earl Freeman, and it's sparse enough to really set the tone when it's audible. This has that sorta shitty recording quality that affects so many jazz records from the time; Lissack's clattering is all sticks and cymbals with some ramshackle thuds; the highs of Osborne's alto and Feza's toy cut through everything and there feels like no middle. But despite all of this, it's great. It rumbles and growls, and when the brass erupts it's pretty intriguing, though I'm not sure if my verbal description here differs from any of the other free jazz records I've written about in these annals over the past six years. The b-side is one long track bearing the name of the group, which starts as a quieter exploration under a long spoken poem. I'm not sure who is speaking - the voice is male, and sounds African-American - I don't think it's Lissack cause there's no South African accent, but possibly the American Freeman. The recording is still as lackluster as the first side, especially on the spacious parts, which sound like they were recorded from down a long hallway. The spoken word is one of the more colourful passages of its type, with spirited absurdities and an earnest timbre to the delivery. When the two basses take over (one bowing, one walking) it moves the proceedings into a somber area that feels incongruous with the first half. But then it explodes, and this is where Lissack shines, pounding away with determination and style. The piano makes long glissando runs and Feza is once again the star. At times, there is a 'swing' vibe to this, but it never goes out of control or becomes too formulaic. Despite the flaws of the recording this is a favourite of mine, particularly due to the quite impressive scope of sounds explored on 'Friendship Next of Kin' (side B). Lissack apparently turned to painting in the late 70s but also appeared on the über-rare Ric Colbeck The Sun is Up LP, which for some reason still hasn't been reissued.

17 March 2015

Fresh Maggots - 'Hatched' (Sunbeam)

A few years back, amid the resurgence of interest in British folk-rock, came a bunch of reissues  of obscurities and 'lost gems'. Some, such as this, got such a gorgeous and deluxe treatment that it's almost ridiculous, far exceeding any interest in the band when they were actualy around. This Sunbeam reissues takes the lone self-titled Fresh Maggots LP and adds a bunch of additional material, becoming a pretty definitive record of a band that no one remembers anyway. These guys were a duo who were touted a lot in the press as the next big thing (at least in what the liner notes include), if the next big thing was going to be a folk duo that tends more towards fast strummy pop than the type of saccharine Simon & Garfunkel shit that is forever popular. There's definitely that folk duo vibe, as 'Rosemary Hill' apes the 'Sound of Silence' but adds glockenspiel-  a novel touch! The sound is soft folk-pop throughout, though with sometimes-searing electric guitar leads and occasional other instruments. The electric lead over acoustic strum template works well, though I'd struggle to maintain interest all the way through if the proper LP didn't close with 'Frustration', probably their best track. The lyrics are unremarkable la-la-la of their milieu, and there's a genteel Britishness, yet cigarette-stained, as if hinting at something nastier underneath. The third side is only two songs, though thankfully still mastered at 33rpm so I don't have to flip the belt for such middling fare (both songs are mostly just 'la la la's, suggesting that this might be unfinished tracks instead of a single, but the liner notes don't help). The fourth side comes from a radio programme and consists of live-in-studio versions of songs from the album. And with that, it's over; a retreat back into the forgotten corners of music history, cause now this reissue is surely unavailable again until the next cycle. Fresh Maggots isn't a great choice for a band name but I don't think their failure to hit it big is due to this; more likely it's because their sound, while certainly pleasant, lacked any sort of memorable edge or character. At the best moments, the electric guitar lines and the acoustic strum become trance-like, but then they usually start singing again.  They can't even lay claim to being the biggest band ever from Nuneaton (a place I only ever knew from always having to change trains there) because of Eyeless in Gaza, or Elastica's drummer.

5 March 2015

Chico Freeman - 'Chico' (India Navigation)

The very lengthy side one of this starts out with an extended Cecil McBee bass intro, and it's a pleasure, as is his playing throughout the 16-minute medley of 'Generation' and 'Regeneration'. This slow, open piece has Freeman playing soft and cautious, setting down a tone that's intense without being gusty. I heard this years back and was intrigued by Freeman's playing, but to be honest, it's McBee that owns this side of the record. 'And All the World Moved' finds Freeman fluting over some deep bowed McBee hustle; sometimes it's all-encompassing and echoing, and at other parts it's rumbling like it's about to rupture. Their start-stop interplay is pushed to two ends of the audible spectrum yet it doesn't feel empty in the middle. It's neither excessively solemn not overly tradition-based - it feels personal, open, and inviting yet hardly light. On the flip we find a quintet, the two being joined by some AACM alums including Steve McCall and Muhal Richard Abrams. This swings, and Abrams is a bit subdued; second percussionist Tito Sampa adds so much to this, making it a Larks Tongues in Aspic feel. About 3/4 of the way through the side's sole piece ('Merger', recorded live in concert in NYC), Freeman explodes with what's one of my favourite sax solos in the whole of my vinyl accumulation - a twisting, explosive and yet extremely harmonic flurry of notes that ends just before making it's pattern obvious. The proceedings are brought back down to a sweet, smooth denouement and then the audience claps.