For the past quarter century the varied recordings of musical renegade Fred Frith have provided a far-flung tour of the worldwide avant-garde fringe. On Traffic Continues, he composes for and plays guitar with Ensemble Modern, the venerable 21-piece German new music assemblage. This handsomely packaged CD is one of the strongest statements of Frith's career, a finely balanced work that contains concert hall and street sensibilities in equal measure. There are two lengthy pieces, the 29-minute "Traffic Continues" and the 35-minute "Traffic Continues II: Gusto (for Tom Cora)," an homage to the phenomenal cellist who with Frith was a member of the avant rock band Skeleton Crew. Scored for 15 musicians, the first composition nearly summarizes all the diverse strains of Frith's music, with varied instrumental groupings vertically layered in polyrhythmic counterpoint; wild improvisations scattered between, over, and through the scored sections; and rubato passages punctuated by crisp pointillistic gestures. "Gusto" moves through a series of vignettes performed by Frith, harpist Zeena Parkins, Ikue Mori on drum machines, and Ensemble Modern members. The piece mixes the ragged energy of downtown New York improv with the Ensemble's massed instruments, while going straight for the heart with samples of Cora at his most lyrical and evocative. At the closing, the music hovers in stasis with Cora's cello a ghostly presence; the full Ensemble then gradually reenters in a stunningly beautiful passage. Tom Cora's untimely death was a tremendous loss, and anyone listening to "Gusto" will realize that Cora was not only a wonderful collaborator to Frith, but also a fellow life traveler and friend. The closing elegiac minutes of this CD prove that even the most cutting-edge new music is most meaningful when there is emotional resonance at its core.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Lynch