Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fred Frith and Ensemble Modern: Traffic Continues

Although our man is credited as guitarist, this album plays more like a performance of Fred Frith compositions than it does like a "Fred Frith album," as we may have variously come to understand what they might sound like.  That said, the ensemble (which audibly sounds basically like classical instrumentation with a few subtle electronic elements) is fantastic, playing with virtuosity you'd expect from concert musicians, but also a zany freedom that firmly places them in a modern context.

To my ears the compositions start off very strongly with some brilliantly knotty orchestrations and a vaguely conventional harmonic aesthetic.  Evaluated through this type of lens, the disc loses some steam in the middle (around the beginning of "Traffic Continues II: Gusto", composed for and from audio samples of Frith's recently-deceased friend and Skeleton Crew bandmate, cellist Tom Cora) as it becomes more spare and quiet, then closes strongly with the final and longest track.  It may be true that the quieter bits require a different sort of criteria for evaluation and may succeed by those standards, but for me the act of readjusting what I'm listening for has so far proven frustrating to the extent that I'm usually left with a feeling that I just heard a recording with some great parts and some that merely passed me by.  I get the feeling that more effort could either yield more appreciation or a stronger sense that some of the writing is a bit too casual and reliant on free performances to carry the weight.  Either way, this is inarguably the kind of music you need to let act on you before imposing any kind of sweeping critical judgment.  Here's to more trying!

Get 'er.