Soundcheck Review

Mike Barnes, The Wire, no. 167, 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.