Fred Frith – Live In Japan

(ReR/Fred Records)

This reviewer remembers the day, in 1983 or so, when an exemplar of the 2-LP version of Live In Japan was unexpectedly found in a Roman record shop not even renowned as a reliable source for rarities. Already at that time, locating this article was not easy. A limited edition in the pre-internet era often meant fantasizing about titles exclusively seen in catalogs; and when you managed to place an order from Italy — rigorously via IMO — the process implied up to four months of waiting to receive an album that would be treasured as the luckiest discover just for the effort produced to get it. Now we’re literally inundated by all kinds of items but this is an unsolvable problem. The magic of a fortunate unearthing can never be recaptured with a download.

To add mystery to the intrigue, the original masters went missing and were never retrieved. This long-overdue reissue comes from what Frith rightly defines as a “labor of love” by Tom Dimuzio, who took a nearly perfect vinyl copy and subjected it to computerized de-noising over the course of a 96K transfer. We must be thankful, for this is both an historical release — the evidence of the guitarist’s first solitary tour — and a treasure trove of great sounds. Listening again after many years not only brought back splendid memories, but also made me realize that modernity in music depends on a state of mind more than other factors. Frith was looking very ahead in 1982, trying to expand the “guitars on the table approach” concept originated by Keith Rowe to bring something completely new to the world of solo improvisation.

Through an array of instruments comprising the celebrated Burns Black Bison, a custom Fletcher double neck, a WWII pilot’s throat microphone, violin and effects (plus piano on one track), one of today’s finest composers was then attempting to create innovative jargons following his previous — and equally fruitful — experimental phases. There’s a divergent kind humanity in these tracks — the processed vocal utterances in “Osaka I” express a sort of desperate urgency that mere words cannot convey — highlighted by impressionist resonances, twanging shards, infinite-delay patterns and irreligious distortion.

Reportedly, Frith was “close to breaking down” at the end of the Japanese mission, the hands bleeding at some stage in the final performances. This recalls Charlemagne Palestine’s similar injuries during entrancing keyboard hammerings. It could be safely assumed that the level of concentration, weight of the sonic outcome, and overall importance to modern music’s subsequent developments perceived in this still-gorgeous work are virtually the same.




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