Reviewed by Harvey Pekar, Fri., May 10, 2002
Fred FrithDigital Wildlife (Winter & Winter) Guitarist Fred Frith, a veteran of New York's downtown jazz scene, is generally considered a rock musician, but the music on Digital Wildlife is unclassifiable. His group, Miya Masaoka on koto and electronics, Larry Ochs, soprano and tenor saxophones, and Joan Jeanrenaud on cello, is quite an unusual instrumental combination, which results in timbral uniqueness. The quartet features original collective improvisation, loaded with dynamic and textural variety. At times, it has a pointillistic quality. Obviously, these are highly accomplished musicians, but they submerge their egos here for the greater good of the group performance. Everyone listens hard to everyone else; the interplay is telepathic. As a group, they pace themselves quite intelligently, often alternating between loud and soft passages rather than staying at one intensity level. What's left out is as important as what's played. Ochs lays out quite a bit, but makes a strong impact when he appears. His playing has a raw, gutty quality. At times, repetition builds intensity, as on the title track, but often the music has a floating, ethereal quality. There are precedents for what's being done here in the fusion experiments of the Seventies, and 20th-century classical music going back to Webern and Varese, but Frith & Co. have their own take on them, as this captivating album demonstrates.