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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.

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