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Frigg, the German group led by composer/guitarist Bert Wrede, is named after a Norse goddess who was worshipped by both northern and southern Germanic barbarian traditions. Wrede is an experimentalist devoted to the avant-garde and European music traditions. There is little free improvisation on Brecht, which, contrary to what one might think after reading the title, is not an album of Bertolt Brecht's songs. Therefore, it is not a tribute album. Instead, Wrede claims that Frigg's inspiration on the album is equal parts Tom Waits' Black Rider, Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins, and the Willem Breuker Kollektief playing film music. Using avant-vocal wizard Phil Minton adds not only pathos but also an essential dash of wry humor to the proceedings in honor of its namesake. Other guests include guitarist and co-producer Elliott Sharp and stunning vocalist Meira Asher, who sounds like Marianne Faithfull before the cigarettes and decadence turned her voice into a glorious ghost of one. Meira adds the "devil- may-care" attitude so essential to Brecht's spirit, particularly in the political cabaret songs. But it's Frigg itself who is the shining light here. The band's willingness to stretch itself to the breaking point is felt over and over again in these proceedings; breaching the worlds of German folk and cabaret music and '60s vanguard jazz, these musicians play with an exactitude that would be suffocating were it not for their abandon, recklessness, and passion. Nowhere is this more evident than in the hilarious and scathing "Anne Smith Relates the Conquest of America," with its stridently American-English narration, swing charts, distortion guitars, flimflam rhythms, and a melodic framework that literally falls apart in every measure but moves shambolically forward. Frigg's Brecht is a masterpiece of sorts, one that offers a view of love among the ruins of 20th century popular music from Berlin to Los Angeles.

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