Fred Frith, electric guitar; Miya Masaoka, koto & electronics; Larry Ochs, sopranino & tenor saxophones; Joan Jeanereaud, cello.
Digital Wildlife is a convention-busting quartet session lead by Fred Frith, the guitarist and Mills College music professor. When listening to this CD, the advice of the prolific Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti seems relevant: "Allow yourself to be more human than critic, and your pleasure will increase". By accepting Frith's music on its own, highly imaginative terms, and suspending one's disbeliefs and preconceptions regarding conventional Jazz form and instrumentation, the benefits are immeasurable.
Among the challenges to conventions regarding form are Frith's ingenious, multi-layered thematic designs, whose episodic structure speaks more to a complex narrative tradition than a desire to merely entertain. His rigorous themes, synthesizing chromatic, pan-tonal, free time, and pulse-based elements, are indeed the antithesis of straight-ahead Jazz. However, these stylistic differences do not provide a reasonable basis for dismissing this artist's work.
"Digital Wildlife," "Image in an Atom," "The Prisoners Dilemma," "Touch I Risk," and "Close to More," freely borrow and interpolate contrasting sonic resources and percussive effects. The pulse-driven, open interval of the fourth that emerges in "Image" serves as a springboard for contrasting rhythmic invention; its spatial considerations speak to a level of technical achievement rarely heard in this region. Ochs' speech-like gestures and Masaoka's spare, pizzicato countermelodies in "Prisoners" exploit space for every expressive nuance.
Digital Wildlife offers convincing proof that 21st century creative music is alive and well in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bravo, Maestro Frith.
by James D. Armstrong, Jr.
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