Fred Frith

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Allies Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

For an artist known for incredible prolificacy and the seeming instantaneousness of his work, Fred Frith's ballet score Allies has managed to acquire a long and checkered history. Created in 1989 for the post-modernist Bebe Miller Dance Company, Allies appears near the start of a period where Frith began to separate his efforts in multi-movement works designed for dance, theater productions, and film from the short, improvised guitar pieces and work within rock styled ensembles that he had long been associated with. Although free jazz saxophonist George Cartwright contributes some key wails and Frith's longtime partner in the group Skeleton Crew, cellist Tom Cora, is also heard, Allies was recorded mostly by Frith himself, playing guitar, bass, keyboards, and twiddling tapes. In the original 1989 version, Frith also employed a synthetic rhythm track, and that is where the trouble with Allies began. Frith initially withheld release of the work, as he was unsatisfied with the sound of the beat box, and it wasn't until 1993 that Frith was able to employ drummer Joey Baron to re-track this music with real drums. Satisfied, Frith offered the project to Daniel Waldner at RecRec music in Switzerland, who accepted it, but died before its release.

This second edition of Allies was newly remastered in 2004, and Frith regards this incarnation, issued by his own Fred Records and distributed through ReR Megacorp, as "final." The six pieces here do not sound like tracks on an album, but contain a myriad of shared ideas that combine to create a sense of wholeness. The question remains as to what audience will find this to their liking. Hardcore fans of downtown New York music will find it a bit too controlled, easygoing, and not thorny enough, whereas more classically attuned listeners might find a bit too much pop in it. That is the price paid when one breaks new ground, as Frith has done here -- taking a pop sound, spicing it with quirk and stretching it over a formally classical canvas. For those who have ears to hear it, Allies will please repeatedly, and it remains one of Frith's most satisfying efforts in a long career typified by excellence.

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