Fred Frith Guitar Quartet / Fred Frith, René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky, Mark Stewart

… it’s a guitar-lover’s dream come true. Coda Magazine, Canada

À consommer sans modération mais en toute connaissance de cause. […] une exploration ludique de l’improvisation électrique sur quatre fois six cordes. Vibrations, Canada

Anyone who’s attended a concert of the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet (FFGQ) can attest to the qualities that make them such a unique institution, one that’s far beyond mere virtuosity. Individually and collectively, the FFGQ displays innumerable qualities of concentration, versatility, unpredictability, as well as a disarming sense of humour which may erupt at any moment. What better way to celebrate the group’s tenth year of existence than this collection of live recordings from their 1997 European tour, a breathless narrative that unfolds with relentless drive and charm while touching down at a typically wide range of destinations.

CD (AM 063)

  • Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
  • AM 063
  • 1998
  • UCC 771028106325
  • Total duration: 55:19
  • Jewel case
  • 125 mm × 142 mm × 10 mm
  • 90 g

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In the press

A Gift Idea: Expand Someone’s Horizons

François Couture,, November 25, 2003

The Holidays are closing in. Are you wondering what gifts to buy this year? You’re looking for the original gift, the one that will surprise and please? Why not expand the musical horizons of a loved one, a colleague at work, or a cousin you haven’t seen since last Christmas? Here’s my highly personal selection of gift ideas to introduce someone (or yourself, you’re allowed to indulge from time to time!) to the wonderful world of “musique actuelle.”

That good ol’ song

It may seem a bit easy, but everyone likes a good song. That said, we don’t all have the same definition of what a good song is. And the artists in DAME’s catalog take some liberties with this format — that’s what makes things exciting. But Geneviève Letarte’s Chansons d’un jour will please anyone looking for songs with intelligent, accessible melodies and poetic lyrics. The soft melancholy of Chants des adieux, chants de la solitude will profoundly move dreamers in search of a different voice (Lou Babin’s, irresistible).

You don’t understand French? The lyrics of Jerry Snell’s album Life in the Suicide Riots will make you think hard about the world we live in. And the chugging guitar riffs of André Duchesne ’s Locomotive will catch the attention of any rock fan, even one deaf to French. Speaking of rock, the deconstructed rock of the all-female group Justine can keep you busy for a while, lyrics or no lyrics. Their first album (Suite) is a powerful mixture of progressist rock, while their second Langages fantastiques leans more toward improvised songs. If you want a taste of what songwriting avant-garde artists can come up with, try the compilation album Chante! 1985-2000, a wide and wild selection of unusual songs.

Party time

A time for celebrating, letting off steam, and disobedience, the party when applied to music can give way to a distortion of admitted rules. L’Orkestre des pas perdusinjects a new form of circus life into fanfare music, an infectious R ’n’ B (rhythm ’n’ brass, of course) that will refresh any parade. Its cousin Les Projectionnistes (both bands are led by Claude St-Jean) trades circus for rock and the brass section transforms from funny fanfare to frenetic funk. Taking a different approach, the Fanfare Pourpour leaves the official parade attire behind to favor the spontaneity of a street fanfare. It’s music for “everyone” (Tout le monde, the title of their first album) without dropping to the lowest common denominator.

In a similar spirit, but adding an East-European flavor and an incredible dose of energy is the group Interférence Sardines, which features two members of the neo-trad group Les Batinses. Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms walks a jazzier road, but its frivolous side easily becomes delightfully exuberant. The group’s three albums are all highly recommended, but Carnets de voyage remains an excellent place to start. And I find the same spirit of excessiveness and raw emotion in La boulezaille (Pierre Langevin and Pierre Tanguay) and Plinc! Plonc! (Jean Derome and Pierre Tanguay), two albums where world music, jazz and free improvisation collide.

And to boldly go where few have gone before

Maybe you would like to go further and hook someone on a kind of “musique actuelle” that is more daring and abstract. Here are a few key albums from DAME’s catalogue in improvised and electronic music.

Martin Tétreault is one of the most fascinating experimental artists right now. His technique at the turntable spins 45 questions per minute. His recent album with Diane Labrosse, Parasites, puts disquieting quiet sounds under the microscope. And Studio — Analogique — Numérique, his fresh collaboration with the Japanese mastermind Yoshihide Otomo, proposes cutting-edge sonic research in very original packaging: a box set of three 3” CDs.

A pillar of the avant-garde music scene since the early ‘70s, Fred Frith remains the favorite of many connoisseurs. The two albums by the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet (with René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky and Mark Stewart) are essential listens. DAME also distributes the titles released by Frith’s own Fred Records.

One of the first groups from the DAME stables to have explored electroacoustic improvisation, the Klaxon Gueule trio revels in noisy textures and demanding pleasures. Their last two albums Muets and Grain met critical acclaim. And I also want to mention the Ohmix compilation album, a daring electronic project where select artists (including Martin Tétreault, David Kristian, John Oswald, Terre Thaemlitz, and Ralf Wehowsky) remix the albums of the label Avatar.

Finally, instead of sending out the usual Christmas cards, consider the sound post cards produced by the label Ouïe-Dire. These are regular post cards accompanied by 3” CDs from French experimental artists. And happy Holidays!


Ken Egbert, Tone Clusters, no. 74, December 1, 1999

Our excitable Executive Editor, or our executive Excitable Editor, Chuck Burns, views this foursome with a suspicious eye: “When they play live,” he says, with his teeth in his mouth and his bare face hanging out (please, you’re frightening our dear readers — Ed. ), >do they overdub the bass and drums after everybody leaves?“ Hmmm, one of those questions that will probably never be answered in our lifetimes. Just as well. Still and all, this mostly live recording (from 1997 gigs in Europe) proves that letting four melodic instruments hang in the air with no root functions can provide for scandalous fun, to say nothing of the fact that Chuck talks too loud. But don’t expect 75 minutes of ants-scrabbling-on-a-lap-guitar noise either; note the easy-rollin’ Red Rag, a Fred Frith composition with delightfully bluesy chording and odd petit mal seizures from René Lussier (to say nothing of Mark Stewart or Nick Didkovsky doubling on kazoo MIDI), or Mark Stewart’s Speedy Feety, which interpolates Commander Cody’s 1974 rockabilly hit, Hot Rod Lincoln. If you’d rather hear Fred and company tear the strings off their guitars and chew on them purposefully, they do that too, say, on Say Slinky. There Nick does his Hendrix-bottom-out slow-motion chainsaw bit (If you remember Jimi’s low Mars Delta guitar growls during the Big Finish of Purple Haze at the Monterey Pop Festival in ’67, you’ll know what I mean. Now that’s a historical command of the instrument) while René keeps blowing the stop-work whistle. To all their credit, no one pays attention. Other evidence of a highly-developed collective sense of humor can be found mid-way through Antaeus, where at one point we seem to have René and Mark imitating dueling grandfather clocks. A completely unrecognizable Out to Bomb Fresh Kings is also good clean fun (except for the central riff which in this version has all its paint blasted off). René’s Tout de suite is a bravura slice of everything the Quartet does well: transistorized flip-flop riffs, everybody else playing 1-2-3 Red Light while Fred chops onions, moments of quiet introspection before the tsunami next door comes calling and bows in the roof. I do wish Stewart had written more for this CD, but Frith is not hard pressed to come up with such gems as No Bones, a loose-limbed country swing (think Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys) deeply buried inside a Shanghai noodle factory (Traffic reference not intended). Most of the heavy equipment is malfunctioning and tossing cogs in all directions. And for those of you who always wondered where Nick D. gets his composition names from, I suspect it’s all those AM cartoons on the WB network: To Laugh Uncleanly at the Nurse (with its garlands of cheery semitonal nonsense and compositional dead ends) is what the Animaniacs do every chance they get on their TV show of the same name. “HEL000000, NURSE!!!“ Ha ha, and you thought he got them from Paul Eluard or Tristan Tzara. Guess it’s proof that watching cartoons does not rot your mind (Don’t your kids read this mag? — Ed. ). Not a chance, Chief. And for more proof that the Quartet all together is no dip at improvising; note Stinky Eye, with its Oriental veneer and decided debt to late period Moby Grape (“Chinese Song,” from their 1975 recording, 20 Granite Creek, on Warner Brothers. Now out of print, may the Warners’ names be blotted out). No, if you were expecting covers of middle-period Anthony Braxton or four stiff guys in stiff tuxedos, get ye hence to Lincoln Center; there may yet be tickets remaining to Wynton Marsalis’ AII Rise. This is improvisational. This is music of the moment, and essential for modern guitar fans. And no, nobody plays bass.

Dynamics Of The Impromptu

James Hale, Coda Magazine, no. 286, July 1, 1999

In addition to their ability to compose memorable lines of music (and song titles), the members of the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet—Frith, Nick Didkovsky, Mark Stewart and René Lussier—share a passion for exploring the sonic possibilities of the amplified guitar. Indeed, Up Beat is characterized in equal parts by catchy phrases and speaker-shredding sound. Recorded in Europe, live and in the studio during 1997, Up Beat gives each of the members a solo spot along with the close, if discordant, harmony of the quartet. Thereal power of the band is that none of the players seem to have forgotten the fun of plugging in an electric guitar for the first time. When they all pick up on an idea and begin extrapolating —as ln the middle of Stewart’s Manic Speedy Feety —it’s a guitar-lover’s dream come true.

… it’s a guitar-lover’s dream come true.


Jean-François Brosse, Vibrations, June 1, 1999

Depuis maintenant trente ans, Fred Frith règne en maître-guitariste sur cette scène motivante dite des musiques improvisées. Fort d’une production certes inégale mais marquée par quelques sommets comme Speechless ou Step Across The Border, l’Anglais aujourd’hui quinquagénaire n’a pas son pareil pour triturer sa guitare ou son violon avec la curiosité d’un apprenti sorcier. Alors que d’autres confrères sont parfois très très loin des préoccupations de leurs auditeurs, au premier rang desquelles le plaisir, le bonhomme lasse rarement. Car il ne se sépare jamais primo de son humour et secundo d’un canevas très personnel et vaguement folklorique, fil conducteur d’une vraie histoire qui évite les pièges et méandres de la recherche pure. La preuve est livrée avec ce deuxième album de son Guitar Quartet, avec René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky et Mark Stewart. Mélange d’enregistrements studio et de morceaux live, Upbeat est une exploration ludique de l’improvisation electrique sur quatre fois six cordes: ambiances distordues, ragtime foireux, énervement punky, et quelques grands moments comme Motormouth ou No Bones. A consommer sans modération, mais en toute connaissance de cause.

À consommer sans modération mais en toute connaissance de cause. […] une exploration ludique de l’improvisation électrique sur quatre fois six cordes.


Jazz Notes, no. 30, June 1, 1999

Le leader étant une espèce d’aventurier génial de l’instrument, qui a tout essayé, et continue toujours d’animer son monde musical imaginaire. A eux quatre, ils déboulent dans un univers impitoyable, où tout est bouleversé, saccagé, mis en pièces, mais en même temps drôlatique, surprenant, où le côté inventif, déroutant, possède un climat fascinant. Musique inclassable, mais d’une actualité brûlante.

Musique inclassable mais d’une actualité brûlante.


Thierry Lepin, Jazzman, May 1, 1999

Nick Didkovsky, Fred Frith, René Lussier, Mark Stewart, soit le Fred Frith Guitar Quartet. Un des combos les plus réjouissants du moment. La matière de leur nouvel opus est constituée d’extraits de concerts et de prises de studio enregistrées pendant leur tournée européenne de novembre 1997. Déclinaisons imitatives ou dissonances majestueuses, brisures soudaines ou cinglances nonchalantes, l’Upbeat se livre en crépitements intuitifs. Les compositions de chacun sont autant de terres d’espiègleries, portant des missives à quatre voix. Que ce soit pour les tentations bruitistes de Lussier, ou le pamphlet country de Mark Stewart, l’unisson n’a de valeur que s’il est libertin. Initiateur et récolteur, Fred Frith est un druide nécessaire.

Un des combos les plus réjouissants du moment.


BLG, Downtown Music Gallery, May 1, 1999

This is the third release from Fred’s outstanding el. guitar quartet, live from various dates on their previous European tour. This is an all - star unit, each member a leader & guitar great in their own right, each one gets a chance to compose a piece, as well as solo on one piece each. What is interesting is that it is often difficult to tell who is doing what, since each of these players employ so many unorthodox techniques to their guitars - e bows, numerous objects rubbed or struck against the strings, various distortion devices, too many ideas to mention here. Nick Didkovsky (from Dr. Nerve) recently played a marvelous solo set at the Knit, he had just gotten off tour with this quartet and he sounded like he had absorbed many ideas from Fred’s long history of influence and extended guitar weirdness. Listening to four e - bows drone together on Fred’s Antaeus is like a somber cello intro, parts soon expand, chatter jazzy grooves, lines intersect, the ghost of Les Paul appears as the pace quickens although there is no studio trickery here. It was Mark Stewart (of the Bang on a Can All Stars) that inspired that last bit. René Lussier’s Tout de Suite rums the gamut from subtle & quirky to short episodes of controlled chaos, always well balanced, textures slowly shifting thin to thick… Fred Frith will tentatively be organizing a three to five day 50th birthday celebration at the Knit in May or June, doing a retrospective of his entire career in music, here’s hoping that his outstanding Guitar Quartet will be a part of this special Frith festival, as they were the highlight of Victo ’96.


Nicolas Tittley, Voir, April 8, 1999

Captés lors d’une série de concerts européens, ces treize morceaux du Fred Frith Guitar Quartet couvrent une bonne partie des innombrables possibilités sonores qu’offrent les vingt-quatre cordes de guitares à leur disposition. Le groupe est capable de courtes salves punchées et d’explorations bruitistes, et flirte même avec des sonorités presque pop (Motormouth). Bien qu’excellents dans les échanges, c’est dans leurs solos que les quatre musiciens déploient tout leur talent: Frlth explore des territoires plutôt atmosphériques, allant jusqu’à imiter le son d’une comemuse; alors que sur Tout de suite, le Montréalais René Lussier fait preuve d’une dextérité qui brouille la frontière qui sépare composition et improvisation.


Dolf Mulder, Vital, no. 168, April 4, 1999

It has been a long time ago since I have heard a new CD from Fred Frith. In the 80s I used to follow his career. But since he started profiling himself as a “composer” my interest declined. With listening to Up beat it is as meeting an old friend, where the meeting has to prove if the relationship can be renewed or not. Frith started this quartet in the early 90s together with Nick Didkovsky, Mark Stewart and René Lussier. Their first release dates from 1997. I haven’t heard it. So I make a comparison with that other guitar quartet: Les Quatre Guitaristes de L’Apocalypso Bar (also with René Lussier). This guitar quartet delivered two albums in the 80s that are much more traditional then Frith’s quartet. Avant rock echoing Conventum and Henry Cow, where Frith’s quartet is much into the exploration of sounds and dynamics. Not rock music, but with rock energy. Only a few tracks remember of a music that they seem to have left behind: Old Bones is a tune from Massacre, Out to Bomb Fresh Kings recalls early Doctor Nerve and Red Rag is in the end just a rag. The other material shows that they are expanding the possibilities of guitar music. This quartet was Frith’s most important performing group in the 90s and they prove that there is more to be expected from them in the next century.

This quartet was Frith’s most important performing group in the 90s and they prove that there is more to be expected from them in the next century.

Soundcheck Review

The Wire, no. 182, April 1, 1999

It’s been remarked that Fred Frith’s life mission is to extend and mutate the role of the electric guitar in music. His work has meant the broadest expansion of avant rock, and since the 70s he’s been moving further away from a rock sensibility. But if his Guitar Quartet is at a remove from rock tradition. there’s no sign of weakness. It fits with an increasing interest in relatively formal composition.

His quartet is successor to a late 70s venture for Guitar Quintet It took seven years for the first CD to appear, on a Québec-based label that more usually specialises in electroacoustic music and Industrial slanted sound poetry Coming two years affer Ayaya Moses. Up Beat could well represent a quickening in Frith’s step But there is an admirable restraint here Frith is waiting till he has something to say, and Up Beat certainly says a great deal. As on Ayaya Moses, his colleagues are René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky and Mark Stewart and this is a collection of live improvisations from their 1997 European tour.

Sources are hard to pin down, as you’d expect with this brilliantly unpredictable musician, but a lot of the subversion is directed at Country & Western Mark Stewart’s solo Speedy Feety has a Country feel, which becomes really hokey on Red Rag a corny melody set against a gauzy, blurred backdrop. Faced with increasingly.


Pierre Boulet, Le Soleil, March 27, 1999

Ce n’est pas évident, mais c’est plus fort que moi. Il faut au moins que je vous le signale. Je vous parle de la parution de Up Beat, le petit dernier du Fred Frith Guitar Quartet. Un bilan de la tournée européenne (1997) des quatre guitaristes électriques: Fred Frith, René Lussier, Mark Stewart et Nick Didkovsky. Deux ans après Ayaya Moses, les quatre complices s’en donnent à cœur joie sur leurs cordes amplifiées. Difficile? C’est selon l’oreille qu’on veut bien y mettre. De la musique actuelle composée et improvisée par des artistes à l’imagination débridée, à la virtuosité consommée, dotés d’une culture musicale large comme ça. Et qui, de toute évidence, s’amusent comme des fous à échanger. Du bruit, diront certains? Oui, du bruit… mais modelé par un sens peu commun de l’organisation, marqué par le souci de la surprise. Ça nous en apprend davantage sur la musique et sur… soi. Pour oreilles averties. Il n’en tient qu’à vous d’en être. Bonne écoute!


George Zahora, Splendid E-Zine, 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 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.


Andrew Magilow, Splendid E-Zine, March 8, 1999

If you’re a fan of avant-garde music from the last 25 years, progressive cross-genre performer and composer Fred Frith has most assuredly wowed you in one form or another. Combining guitar forces, this quartet engages in a variety of styles, from intricately delicate, lush compositions, to noisy, experimental beasts that seem barely tamed by the axes of Stewart, Lussier, Didkovsky and Frith. You practically have to wipe Spitty Boy off of your face, as its quick-tempered excitement sprays forth in a mere 52 seconds. No Bones is a noisy concoction that presents several layers of riffs and leads that smartly intertwine, manifesting in a composition that’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and comparable to, dare I say, Naked City’s most sparkling, definitive moments. However, the FFGQ also harnesses space, as it guides several tunes through periods of tranquility and fragility that are sure signs of musical maturity. Frith’s considerable creativity and tenure are apt guides, as the variety and complexity of these 13 tracks show that you’re not dealing with some flippant “nuvo-guitar-artiste” but rather the exalted Fred Frith, with guitar surgically attached to hand and creative juices that are always simmering with fresh ideas.

… you’re not dealing with some flippant “nuvo-guitar-artiste” but rather the exalted Fred Frith, with guitar surgically attached to hand and creative juices that are always simmering with fresh ideas.


Cummins Johnson, Montreal Mirror, March 4, 1999

Experimental legend Fred Frith once again combines the talents of guitarists Nick Didkovsky, René Lussier and Mark Stewart and comes up with 13 pieces that manage to breath new life into the six string. Repetitive lines play underneath free guitar noise as experimentation and discipline are comfortably intertwined. 8,5/10


Ireneusz Socha, Studium, no. 17-18, March 1, 1999

The live recordings from the 1997 European tour include compositions by all FFGQ members. Nearly thirty-year musical career of Fred Frith has always distinctly confirmed his consequent attitude of breaking the fossilized conventions of rock music. One cannot help noticing that this attitude serves as the example for other rockmen, especially guitarists who since The Beatles’ times have been considered the most attractive figures on the rock scene.

While it is obvious that each decision on abandoning deep ruts of any behavioral pattern is always painful, any effort aimed at changing rock music habits is nearly destructive for the apostate. I can tell out of my own experience that to break the conservatism of rock fans is almost impossible: in majority they will surely go on listening exclusively to new mutations of Velvet Underground, MC5 or Sex Pistols. Frith keeps on changing himself all the time. He changes himself, but continues to develop his creative method, and that is why both old and new listeners still find him attractive.

When ten years ago Fred presented his electric guitar quartet for the first time (the idea itself being not new, cf. Glenn Branca, Robert Fripp or Fred’s experiments of the Seventies) his fans bore a grudge against it and complained that he did not choose to simply continue the old Henry Cow or Skeleton Crew line instead. But Frith insisted on systematic developing new skills of interaction in music on electric instruments. The original expression, so characteristic of rock music, was now to excite listeners’ emotions through giving them an opportunity to follow the clear four-person teamwork relations and preferably to implement the organization samples in their private lives. Any solos, duos, trios and quartets that might have resulted from the given composition depicted some emotional relations borrowed from real social and political life. It is clearly visible in a live situation when we can see how the musicians communicate with each other by way of some special gestures or face expressions, how they share instruction and leadership waiting until the right time.

With this CD Frith’s quartet evokes a slightly different atmosphere. Since its members willingly participate in various projects, which stylistic range can make any purist dizzy, their individual experiences naturally influence the quality of the music they create together. The leader stays as the most influential among them taking advantage of his arsenal of unorthodox playing techniques still improved since the mid-Seventies. Stewart and Didkovsky are characterized by the rare ability to keep balance while zapping between desperately discordant genres, which not devoid of distance and humor enables the group to tell its stories with impressive sprite and eloquence. Lussier, somewhat “hidden” or “blended” into the quartet sound, seems happy to go on as the masterly precise reader of the group’s scores. His full capabilities are better demonstrated only in his solo of Tout de suite.


Catherine Perrey, Ici Montréal, February 25, 1999
La «Dream Team» de la guitare électrique.

Le Noir compact

Annie Landreville, Mouton Noir, February 1, 1999

C’est un deuxième album pour cette formation, le Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, qui, à l’instar des 4 guitaristes de l’Apocalyspo bar, rassemble quatre éminents membres de la chose guitaristique: René Lussier, Mark Stewart et Nick Didkowsky entourent ici le leader. Les pieces q’on y entend ont été enregistrées en spectacle lors d’une tournée, mais curieusement, on n’y sent pas du tout le direct. On y passe de solliloques cérébraux à des clins d’œil plein d’humour, d’explorations sonores méditatives à des sonorités agressives; la guitare se donne ici une personnalité multiple imitant le gong, les cloches, la cornemuse même. Les cordes crissent, cIaques, dialoguent, se heurent et se complètent tour à tour. Les quatre musiciens et compositeurs (contrairement au de précédent, Ayaya Moses, toujours sur Ambiances magnétiques, aucune pièce n’émane d’un compositeur externe ici) semblent s’amuser ferme (!) en passant du country au ragtime, pour ensuite sauter dans une veine métal et se retrouver par suite au benu milieu d’un soIo hyperactif de René Lussier. Ce disque a résolument une gueule d’atmosphéres. Et j’insiste sur le pluriel. Maniaco-dépressifs s’abstenir. 3,5/5

More texts

  • Alan Freeman, Audion, no. 41, November 1, 1999
  • Alexandre Pierrepont, Jazz Magazine, April 1, 1999
  • JB, emoRAGEi, no. 6, March 1, 1999
  • Gert-Ove Fridlund, , February 1, 1999