Fred Frith

The Compass, Log and Lead

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In 2006, Intakt Records released The Compass, Log and Lead, an absorbing album of collectively improvised rituals by guitarist Fred Frith and two exceptionally brilliant female multi-instrumentalists. Violinist Carla Kihlstedt's lengthy working history includes collaborations with the ensembles Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Tin Hat. In addition to her violin, Kihlstedt is heard on a Swedish keyed fiddle known as the nyckelharpa. Australian Medievalist and ethnomusicologist Stevie Wishart specializes in the work of Hildegard von Bingen. Closely associated with the ensemble Synfonie, she has a background that includes studies with David Tudor and John Cage. As a participant in the making of The Compass, Log and Lead, Wishart used violin, hurdy-gurdy, and electronics; Frith played violin, guitar, and the venerable Lowrey organ. Given their commitment to shared creativity, this unit compares well with the highly evolved String Trio of New York -- the primary difference of course being the absence of a bass viol. "Dream as Means" almost sounds like the work of Harry Partch, as conventional notions of tonality are rendered irrelevant by three uncommonly skilled improvisers. While words like "Look at Sky Go" and "I Am Buffalo Bill Today" are worth a thousand pictures, maybe the most appropriate titles of all are "Dog Eared" and "Abstract Expressionism." Frith was in excellent company here, so much so that some will without hesitation place this recording among the most intriguing entries in his entire discography. Kihlstedt's artwork as reproduced on the album cover brings to mind the work of sculptor and collage artist Joseph Cornell. It also matches the mysterious and peculiarly fascinating textural qualities of the music itself. Since its appearance in 2006, The Compass, Log and Lead has received positive acclaim for its strikingly inspired subtlety, delicacy, and intimacy.

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