Fred Frith - "Eleventh Hour"
[Winter & Winter,]

Fred Frith is a man that wears many masks. He is equally comfortable composing as he is wearing the shoes of an improviser. In an interview that I conducted with him almost two years ago, he said referring to improvisation "It's clearer than ever that responsibility is the key....." Perhaps this responsibility could also be transferred to Frith's skills as a composer. "Eleventh Hour" is really a perfect opportunity for Fred to bask in all the glory of being a serious composer, and a chance for us to hear some of what he has been up to over the last fifteen years. By no means is this 2 CD set a greatest-compositions package. Rather, it's a selection of works that Frith has done - some newer, some older - that are most definitely worthy of a listen. Though I do have my favourites, all pieces here are stand-outs in and by themselves. I love the way Frith creates tense moments, full of silence and friction. On "Stick Figures" from 1990 [for 6 guitars and 2 players], along with William Winant, the tension is so thick, you can literally slice it with a large knife. For 17 minutes, the piece magnetizes our attention in one place, which is one of the signs of a good composition. 2001's "Fell" [for string quartet and electric guitar] features some nicely positioned swooning moments, which are broken up by Frith's direct and brief guitar bursts. Once again, tension is high and ambience may be serene while the mood is fragile. The oldest composition dating back to 1990, "Lelekovice" [String Quartet # 1 for Iva Bittova] is a sea of wonderfully swirling strings courtesy of Arditti String Quartet. Fred imposes a dash of folk resonance into this piece. The pace is brisk, the changes are numerous and the piece is stunning in its beauty and poise. The addition of trombone [played by Uwe Dierksen] on "Tense Serenity" makes the piece sound warmer and richer, while creating a tension that doesn't die down throughout its' half an hour length. The interaction between trombone and string quartet is stunning in its stark simplicity. I'm sure the piece was not an easy one to assemble, though it does come off sounding very stark and natural. Appropriately titled, the serenity is broken by tense and sudden shifts of mood and bursting trombone blows. Another year goes by and we have one more fine record from Fred Frith. Where do you go once you've reached the peak?

Tom Sekowski

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