Everything you need to know about Fred Frith can be found on this album. It is in the music, every single improvised note of it, played live at the Theater Gütersloh on March 18, 2017, in a trio with the Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker and the percussionist Samuel Dühsler from Switzerland. A tricky concept, improvisation, and one which the 68-year-old guitarist and composer from Yorkshire, who lives and teaches in Oakland and Basel, embodies. „I had a crisis in 1981“, he said in the interview for his „European Jazz Legends“ article in the magazine Jazz thing. „I did a solo tour of Japan (...) and I was fixated on the idea that, if I was really an improviser, I would never repeat myself. How dumb can you be? But anyway. I got so fixated on this that it became a struggle to actually play at all. (...) One night I came off stage with my fingers bleeding. Both hands. And then I understood that something wasn’t right here. I mean, I was pathologically obsessed. And I think it was a good experience to have gone through to understand, that it’s actually totally irrelevant. I have an instrument, I have my resources, all I have to do is be empty. So if I’m empty, I don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s where you should start from.“
Being a man of his word, in more ways than one, Fred Frith ambled through the backstage area that night singing something slightly operatic while joining his musical partners on their way to the stage, and began to play.
Though the point of reference for many remains the iconic band Henry Cow, which he co-founded in 1968 and which broke up more than 30 years ago, Fred Frith has never really stood still for an instant. In bands such as Art Bears, Massacre, Skeleton Crew, Keep the Dog, Tense Serenity, the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, Eye to Ear, and most recently Cosa Brava, he has always held true to his roots in rock and folk music, while exploring influences that range from the literary works of Eduardo Galeano to the art installations of Cornelia Parker.
The release of the seminal Guitar Solos in 1974 enabled him to simultaneously carve out a place for himself in the international improvised music scene, not only as an acclaimed solo performer but in the company of artists as diverse as Han Bennink, Chris Cutler, Jean-Pierre Drouet, Evelyn Glennie, Ikue Mori, Louis Sclavis, Stevie Wishart, Wu Fei, Camel Zekri, John Zorn, and scores of others.
He has also developed a personal compositional language in works written for Arditti Quartet, Asko Ensemble, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Ensemble Modern, Concerto Köln, and ROVA Sax Quartet, for example. Fred has been active as a composer for dance since the early 1980s, working with choreographers Bebe Miller, François Verret, and especially long-time collaborator and friend Amanda Miller, with whom he has created a compelling body of work over the last twenty years.
His film soundtracks (for award-winning films like Thomas Riedelsheimer’s Rivers and Tides and Touch the Sound, Peter Mettler’s Gambling, Gods, and LSD, and Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow’s Thirst, to name a few) won him a lifetime achievement award from Prague’s “Music on Film, Film on Music” Festival (MOFFOM) in 2007. The following year he received Italy’s Demetrio Stratos Prize (previously given to Diamanda Galas and Meredith Monk) for his life’s work in experimental music, and in 2010 was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Huddersfield in his home county of Yorkshire.
Fred currently teaches in the Music Department at Mills College in Oakland, California (renowned for over fifty years as the epicenter of the American experimental tradition), and in the Musik Akademie in Basel, Switzerland.