|It's all too rare that we hear Fred Frith play an acoustic guitar, which is all the more reason his latest trio outing The Compass, Log, and Lead is such a fortunate abnormality. Teaming up with violinist Carla Kihlstedt and hurdy-gurdy / electronics guru Stevie Wishart, Fred produces a strong, totally convincing record. In the liner notes, Fred Frith stipulates "For us, improvising is the sum of our personal musical histories intertwined, a place where we can meet on equal terms and discover things we never knew, or hear what we thought we knew in a new light. It's a conversation, an exchange. There are no rules, other than to listen well and act accordingly." True enough, this music is about the 'new' and undiscovered territories. The wild frontiers have opened up to these three musicians and the promise of a great record is in the air. Not especially wild or outright in-your-face, the music takes on a form of a soothing force.
Each of these individuals adds their piece of the pie to make up a scrumptious dessert. Carla's violin tends to be lulling and down-trodden, while Stevie is rather subtle with the use of her hurdy-gurdy. It all boils down to Frith, for it's his dangling guitar work that completes and fastens the trio. Whether he's playing with vigour [the samba feel of "Initially This"] or whether he's careful to extract every single note [as on "Aller Retour"], the sounds are exact and precise. Not a moment is wasted with any throw-away material or unneeded solos. Each member of the trio is accountable for every single minute of these pieces. They play with passion and determination rarely heard in ensembles that have played together for decades. Lean, mean and improvised in a fashion that is clear and logical, this turns out to be a true feast for the ears.
Tom Sekowski May 06