Fred Frith: Allies (2005)
The story of Allies begins in 1989, when guitarist/composer Fred Frith was commissioned by choreographer Bebe Miller to compose a suite for the Brooklyn Academy of Music's "Next Wave'" series. Unhappy with the computerized beats he used on the original recording, Frith asked Naked City drummer Joey Baron to re-record the drum tracks on Allies in 1995, giving them new life. Switzerland's RecRec first released the album in 1996; the latest version of Allies features a final mastering of the record and is the most recent offering from Fred Records, which has been workering in partnership with ReR Megacorp to reissue Frith's music.
Featuring frequent Frith collaborator cellist Tom Cora, Allies is a shining example of Frith's compositional skill. The album is laden with highly rhythmic and oddly timed melodies that are deconstructed and reconstructed, cut and spliced into new patterns; as Frith states, Allies is an example of the composer's attempt to "develop harmonic structures from mathematical series.'"
In addition to Frith and Cora, Allies features Naked City drummer Joey Baron and saxophonist and Curlew alum George Cartwright.
The music is divided into six movements, with Frith improvising on a several instrumentsbass, guitar, violin, keyboards, drum machine and tape manipulationthe talented improviser sounding equally adapt on all. Many of the tracks on Allies have a strong Steve Reich-like feel to them. Certain elements of the record also seem to recall the compositional styling of saxophonist Tim Berne.
If there is any downside to the unusual construction of Allies, it is the fact that Baron's drumming was simply recorded over Frith's original drum machine loops, meaning the human drummer was given no opportunity for live interaction with the band. Despite this, Frith and Baron's use of complex time signatures throughout Allies is superb; the opening "Rifka'" is no better example of this. The drummer's cross-stick rhythm bobs and weaves against Frith's dancing guitar lines and Cartwright's spastic outburst. These sorts of patterns make clear that Allies' six part suite was originally written as a dance soundtrack; the quartet's music is filled with moments of angular rhythms juxtaposed against fluid melodic movements.
"Small Mercy'" is classic "punk-jazz," the sort of stuff Frith is revered for pioneering, along with contemporaries like John Zorn, Cora, Bill Laswell, and other mid-'80s New York improvisers. The following track, "Nenad,'" is damn near funky, with Frith laying down a head-bobbing melody for Cora's syncopated cello to dance. "Davor and Dezeneta'" is more relaxedthe most subdued of Allies' generally energetic and emotive feel.
Track Listing: 1. Rifka 2. Small Mercy 1 3. Nenad 4. a rock and a hard place 5. Davor and Dzeneta 6. Small Mercy 2
Personnel: Fred Frith (guitar, bass, violin, keyboards, drum machine, tape manipulation), Tom Cora (cello), George Cartwright (saxophone), Joey Baron (drums)