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Fred Frith expands the boundaries of what guitar can be

Wednesday, Nov 14 2001
Though you won't find his name in the popular discographical guides to jazz and classical, Fred Frith has influenced countless creative players who long to push music beyond the status quo. From his groundbreaking work in the '70s British art-rock bands Henry Cow and Art Bears to subsequent experimental provocation with New York avant-gardists (John Zorn, Ikue Mori, Tom Cora), San Francisco explorers (Rova Saxophone Quartet, the Residents, Miya Masaoka), and a host of European and Japanese new-music innovators, Frith has built a rep as a freethinking but highly disciplined improviser/composer who plays guitar like no one else on Earth. On nearly 300 albums and in concerts around the world, he has demonstrated a far-reaching six-string technique -- playing the guitar table-top style, detuning it for a wobbly, woozy feel, subverting flashes of lovely melody with ferocious attacks, digging into the instrument's electric essence for a machinelike intensity, all the while creating deeply listenable music. Former Tom Waits axeman and renowned Los Cubanos Postizos leader Marc Ribot compares Frith's significance to that of rock 'n' roll pioneer Chuck Berry. "You have to see a Fred Frith improvised solo gig: That's what guitar is," suggests Ribot. "The limits of the instrument have been expanded, and people have to know what they are."

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Sam Prestianni


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