Fred Frith — The Previous Evening
(ReR Megacorp FF1, 1997, CD)
by Rob Walker, Published 1999-01-01
Fred Frith has always been a very highly respected innovator and collaborator in various new music endeavors, and lately his talents have been sought out more and more for an ever broadening array of artistic projects. The three compositions comprising The Previous Evening, written between 1993 and 1996, were commissioned for a dance theater performance. Each piece is constructed as a sort-of tribute to a specific composer (John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Earl Brown), wherein Frith seems to acknowledge and utilize each composer's characteristic creative style in his own writing. These pieces are thus intriguing in the way they are identifiably Frith's, yet bear the cosignature of another giant of modern music. On the first and third pieces, Frith complements his own multi-instrumental collage of piano, guitar, violin, samplers, and effects with the occasional clarinet and percussion. These reappearing instrumental timbres help to give the overall work a familiar sense of form that counterbalances the different structural approaches of each of the three parts. The “Homage to Morton Feldman,” fittingly the longest piece (though thankfully not of the imposing scale of Feldman's multi-hour works) is a minimalist exploration of time, pitch, and the idiosyncrasies of a piano's attack and decay sounds. This solo piece is bookended by the abstract electro-acoustic constructions of prepared and performed sounds of “Homage to John Cage” and “Homage to Earl Brown." All three of these composers were associates and collaborators during the middle part of this century, and the concept of innovative graphical notations (giving the performer some degree of improvisational freedom) as an alternative to standard musical notation is a common thread running through their works. Thus while some of the elements Frith borrows from these composers are transparent to the listener, the compositional technique meshes well with Frith's sophisticated improvisational inclinations, and the end result manages to faithfully capture the voice of both the active and passive composers. As this work was conceived to be both an aural and visual experience, one wishes they could see the choreography that accompanied this music, but these pieces nevertheless stand firmly on their own without the visual enhancement. A challenging and adventurous work that is certainly not for the faint of heart, The Previous Evening adds an intriguing new element to Frith's substantial oeuvre of innovative and experimental music.
Related artist(s): Fred Frith
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