Posted by: kaleidophonic | May 3, 2012

Fred Frith @ Casa del Popolo

Hellooooooooo bloggers, once again I must apologize for having neglected all you beautiful followers! Sigh. Its been a strange month, what with being busy working in the archives, just starting a Teaching Assistant gig and also fighting a fairly bad case of writers block. Its been a real struggle to get words down lately, and as a result I’ve sadly been neglecting my blog. But hey, all writers go through these phases, right? Its all part of the process.

Happily, last night I escaped my writer’s den to take in a show: Fred Frith in trio with two Quebec artists, Jean Derome and pianist Charity Chan. Now, if you know me well, you know that my listening choices are varied, and that while garage/surf/proto-punk are my genres of choice, I also sometimes reach for the weirdness that is avant-garde music (hence my affinity for Sun Ra). What can I say, I’m always in search of fresh sounds, and a Fred Frith performance definitely satisfies that requirement.

Frith’s approach to guitar is decidedly avant-garde: a performance by him is based on improvisation in the moment, and achieved through unconventional uses of his instrument. Although I couldn’t see him for the first half of the show (being short, its hard to see through crowds sometimes!), the second half witnessed him using all kinds of objects on his guitar: a boot-brush, a long pink sash (from a housecoat??), a cloth rag, a violin bow, and a small tin box. Through the combination of these objects and his various effects/loop pedals, his guitar becomes at times the percussion section (although Derome also had a box-full of shakers and percussive noise makers), at times emitting subtle moods, or playful licks. Frith also demonstrated his mastery of feedback early on, with an almost unbelievable sensitivity to the threshold between noise and music. The gentleness and easy control he has over the sounds emitted from his guitar/amps speaks volumes about Frith’s talent and skill.

Jean Derome’s percussive and breathy style of playing his instruments (saxophone, flute, and various quacking, squealing, squeaking noise-makers) was quite impressive, although at least one of my companions was unimpressed by what they called his “bag-of-tricks approach”. I liked it, however. Every small sound was controlled and thought through, including even the movement or positioning of the items on his table. At least once he played the table as an instrument too, shaking it so that all the items rattled and clanked together.

Charity Chan’s approach to piano was, in the beginning, a bit heavy-handed – too many notes packed into what seemed an almost constant crescendo of sound. In the second half she was more restrained, and I thought the approach was much stronger. Although the piano was open and she occasionally plucked the piano strings inside, I thought she could have made better use of the body of the instrument, through striking or rubbing or whatever. But still, Charity Chan is obviously a talented and accomplished performer, and seeing her together with Derome and Frith was a treat.

I wanted to leave you with a video clip of Frith so those of you unfamiliar with his work would get a chance to see & hear what I’m talking about. While I saw someone filming last night’s performance at Popolo, I’m sure it hasn’t made its way to youtube yet, so here’s a different clip, from last year: Frith in performance with Mike Patton. Enjoy!

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