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Fred Frith - Accidental

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Artist: Fred Frith

Album: Accidental

Label: ReR Megacorp

Review date: Aug. 8, 2002

Commissioned by British expat choreographer Paul Selwyn Norton, this was recorded in Israel for a dance performance by the Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Company. It would be interesting indeed to see a dance performance accompanied by this music, which although often rhythmic, is also occasionally determinedly arrhythmic or atmospheric. The titles of some of the songs here, combined with the fact that Accidental was recorded in Israel shortly after the assassination of Rabin, inevitably resonate with some political intensity: “the tangled bank” might well refer to the West Bank, while “incoming” has the rhythm and power of a street riot. Since these are instrumental pieces, with only the titles and the feel of the music offering clues, these interpretations are left up to the listener.

The title of this album refers to Frith’s use of random elements, in order to bring the dynamism associated with improvisation to a studio piece. Using field recordings and vocal improvisations, he was able to then play off unexpected combinations of sounds. The results are often unpredictable, and the album as a whole brings together a wide range of styles and feelings.

“The Tangled Bank” introduces intriguing rhythmic elements, while “Hit and Run” is an atmospheric piece with plucked and bowed strings alongside harsher guitar textures. Perhaps the strangest pieces here are “Old Geometry” and “Absinthe Memories (for Phil Minton),” which are based around strangulated, possessed vocal sounds. While they’re interesting, somehow the vocalizations didn’t make a strong impression beyond an initial puzzlement. I’m not really sure why, but ironically, the vocals felt as though they communicated less than the instruments.

Songs like “Their blood is black and yellow” bring in Frith’s well-known guitar skills, although that track in particular is a bit too monochromatic. The repetition likely serves well for the dance performance, but on its own, I found myself wanting something more. “Fooled Again” is the pastoral rest in the album’s middle – gentle guitar notes reverb like chamber music. The title track starts with a strange rhythm, which fades away as an old-school organ takes over.

Suiting its title, “Incoming” is an abrasive collection of mechanized rhythms with eerie clanks and siren-like guitar, though it ends with a calmer, organ-drone feel. The album concludes with its most dramatic note, the ominous organ and wailing guitars of “Almighty Home at Last.”

By Mason Jones

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