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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.

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