Based upon the ancient Roman methodology for remembering architectural sites and the meanings built into their structures, guitarist Fred Frith and saxophonist John Zorn pull out all the stops in creating a body of improvisation that does not rely on symbolic invitations or responses, but is instead a collaboration that builds an imposing musical structure from forgotten trends, hidden sonic languages, and metaphorical tonal construction. From the opening moments of "The Combiner," where Frith twines his guitar from the table into a rope with Zorn's microphonics and multivalent scalar invention, you can hear a sort of communication being authored just beyond your reach. That the dynamics of the collaboration match so perfectly, offering glimpses of both restraint and tension before obliterating them with humor and pure aggression, should be no surprise -- the pair sought to do this from the outset. In "The Ladder," Frith moves himself into a corner with funky soul chords and splattered arpeggios that Zorn picks up and transforms into a mutant vanguard swing. The tempo is dizzying as Frith rips open his chords for their found sonic elements and Zorn goes in to shore up the idea, flipping it over and turning it inside out as only a master improviser can do. By the time you reach "The Fountain and the Mirror," the players have switched roles many times, each playing support and leader, turning what were merely notions for collaborating along a certain path into audible bodies with their own pulses, minds, and blood. This is a revelatory album, and a near matchless collaboration.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek