Didkovsky, Frith, Lussier, Stewart

Ayaya Moses

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Ayaya Moses
Ayaya Moses (1994), 10m42s [excerpt]
Track 1 from Ayaya Moses
CD: Ambiances Magnétiques (1997) AM 051
1 June 2007
By BLG in Downtown Music Gallery (USA), June 1, 2007


“Ten journeys through contrasting topographies, whether rigorously scored or spontaneously dreamed up”

What more can be said of Fred Frith? As with all musicians and composers of his caliber, he is a relentless inventor. His quartet, formed in 1990, highlights one of the quintessential instruments of ‘musique actuelle’, the electric guitar. Its first CD on Ambiances Magnétiques, Ayaya Moses features works by Claude Vivier and Olivia Bignardi, as well as original compositions by each member, scored for the quartet. Ten journeys through contrasting topographies, whether rigorously scored or spontaneously dreamed up, exploiting the resources of the electric guitar to the fullest imaginable degree, and featuring the kind of ensemble precision and dynamics usually associated with string quartets and chamber ensembles - but with unrelenting rock energy!

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22 March 1999
By George Zahora in Splendid E-Zine (USA), March 22, 1999


Just about anyone with some degree of musical awareness has heard of Fred Frith, right? Mention his name to someone who’s bought something less accessible than the Titanic soundtrack, and he or she will probably offer a glimmer of recognition, however slight. Anyway, on Ayaya Moses, Frith and the other three quarters of his quartet (René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky and Mark Stewart) once again remind the listening public that the guitar is an instrument with six discrete strings (sometimes twelve) that can be tapped, plucked and scraped as well as strummed. The results can be beautiful (the first half of the title cut), harrowing (the second half of the title cut), fascinating ( Trummings, Geco Rettile Mialgico), orchestral (Pulau Dewata) and downright confrontational (The Stinky Boy Suite). Since a lot of neophyte listeners expect nothing but dischord from “avant-guitar” compositions, Ayaya Moses is an effective tool for displaying the sheer range of both the instrument and the genre; yes, there are tracks that sound like the guitar is being thrown down a flight of stairs, but there are far more instances where Frith et al coax astonishingly varied and innovative tones from their instruments. Everyone should own at least one FFGQ album — it’s useful deprogramming after too much 3-chord punk rock, and it’s fun to taunt Teen Punk Rockers with it by confronting them with the fact that Frith is an “old guy” whose music is too challenging for them.

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1 May 1998
By Ken Egbert in Tone Clusters #68 (USA), May 1, 1998


Our final CD here is from The Fred Frith guitar quartet. The idea of a guitar quartet makes perfect sense, really, if you consider how back in the early ’80s the World Saxophone Quartet, taking a page out of the book describing the string quartet’s structure, decided to write a repertoire for itself (consisting as it did on its inception of jazz giants David Murray, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett, they had no trouble doing so) as well as to commission works to perform from modern composers. Fred Frith needs no intro, of course, and neither do his fellow axemen Nick Didkovsky, René Lussier and Mark Stewart. The most striking piece on Ayaya Moses is Pulau Dewata, a Claude Vivier piece of bewildering but lovely complexity, combining pure bell-like cadences with busy structure and slipknot-like turnabouts. There are odd bits here that recall the complexity of gamelan music and others that build expertly on the highly structured efforts of 1972-74 King Crimson (Fracture, We’ll Let You Know). No shrinking violet, however, is the opening Ayaya, written by Lussier and combining a sly pop-like opening and some feedback experiments that will make your eyebrows disappear once the shock of the initial wittily shifting structure is swept aside. Olivia Bignardi, an Italian clarinet player and modernist, contributes two tart bits full of interlocking riffs and careful melody, and Frith of course, writes one of his more concise tunes (Freedom is your Friends II). It’s almost a chamber piece for highly controlled feedback, and might at some point show up in a later composition for string orchestra, it’s that plastic. Nobody woodsheds here, nobody shows off, in fact it’s hard to figure who’s playing what from time to time. You’re forced to listen to the totality, to throw your attention wide, and I think that’s a credit to the players: any one of them could have showboated the other three offthe stage, but of course then this CD wouldn’t exist. And that would be a shame. So I hate to disappoint anyone, but the guitar is not going anywhere. These fellows will see to it, and thanks to all of them.

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6 March 1998
By Chris Corner in Everybody’s News (Cincinnati) #494 (USA), March 6, 1998


“This is simply amazing.”

This is simply amazing. A bit of novelty, perhaps, with a quartet of electric guitars playing some serious-type chamber music of a rock-style ensemble. I’ll bet the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet is great live—these guys are four of the most outside electric guitar players this side of Sonic Youth, all playing at the same time, sometimes scraping the strings with rocks, whatever, just goin’ to town on 24 strings. Sometimes cacophonous, sometimes brilliantly melodic, this is serious “art” music designed for listening. Sometimes you can party to this record, cuz they jam, too. I don’t know where the compositional process ends and the improvisational parts begin, and that makes the FFGQ listening experience all the more fun. The compositions are credited to all the members of the ensemble, not just to Mr. Frith. René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky, Mark Stewart round out the quartet that dables in rock, jazz and avant garde noise. Some call this kind of music “deconstruction”, but I don’t. The compositions are complex and the melodic material can be difficult.

Some of the most compelling music comes out of quartet settings. Bartok. The Beatles. Four Hand Grenades. If you like your music jittery, academically respectable and action-packed with a cartoon-esque appeal, you’ll dig the FFGQ. Sometimes they take you to the rings of Saturn as well. You’ll have to special order the CD from your local record store, though. Its an import from Canada, eh? So here’s the dope hoser.

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1 January 1998
By Mike Barnes in The Wire (UK), January 1, 1998


Formed seven years ago the Fred Frith quartet finally releases its first CD. The music within is a dazzling display of… well,virtually everything that electric guitars can produce in the right hands. The pieces run the gamut from clean strumming and delicate melody through to blocks of atonal noise and all points in between. The electric guitar was originally, and will always essentially be a rock instrument -at least to these ears- and there’s something of the spirit of rock’n’ roll in this chamber ensemble playing certainly in its energy and hands on and amped up visceral power.

Although ostensibly his group, Frith’s quartet isn’t merely a platform for his ego. The other members René Lussier (who also played in Les 4 Guitaristes de l’Apocalypso Bar), Nick Didkovsky and Mark Stewart each chip in a piece.

The tracks range trom strict composition to spontaneous exclamations. The delicate oriental style unison passages in Vivier’s Pulau Dewata are intermittently broken up by stabs of feral power. The group composition The Stinky Boy Suite throws up huge blocks of noise which sandwich insect scratches and single bent notes. Here, Frith’s trademark strummed brittle chord h sixteenths is laid over what sounds like the three other guitars being dismantled. The hour or so of music is staggering.

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1 December 1997
By Chris Blackford in Rubberneck #26 (UK), December 1, 1997


“The title-track by Lussier is a treat — delicate and aggressive by turns.”

Debut CD for this current line-up of Frith, René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky and Mark Stewart; compositions by members, plus adaptations of works by Claude Vivier and Olivia Bignardi. A repertoire showcasing the quartet’s adroit execution of sharply contrasting moods and dynamics. Strong soloistic flourishes with intricate four-part writing. The title-track by Lussier is a treat—delicate and aggressive by turns. Tops, though, is Freedom Is Your Friends II meditative enough to be called ’sacred music’.

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