Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fred Frith and ARTE Quartet - The Big Picture [Intakt]

ARTE Quartet:
Beat Hofstetter - soprano saxophone
Sascha Armbruster - alto saxophone
Andrea Formenti - tenor saxophone
Beat Kappeler - baritone and alto saxophones

special guests (tracks 1-6):
Katharina Weber - piano
Lucas Niggli - drums

Fred Frith - composer

Intakt 2010

I got this cd after Fred Frith's concert in Warsaw, still absolutely mesmerized by his performance and although I'm disappointed that Frith's guitar is nowhere to be heard on this one (nonetheless the booklet puts it on the list) it does fulfill all the high hopes I had for this album.
"The Big Picture" is a composition for a saxophone quartet and two improvising musicians, divided into six short movements, contrasting the carefully crafted and annotated melody (something of a medieval court music charm to it) with the immediacy of an abstract improvisation that expands the space and horizonts of the sonic palette. Frith's composition showcases his great touch for harmony and discipline of form (all the movements stay within the 2-3 minutes range) - a fine work within the crossgenre of modern composition and improvisation (with great contributions from the two improvising artists who are carefull to not destroy the compositional frame and structure but to enhance it).
The remaining part of the album presents a composition that is already known to the followers of Fred Frith - "Freedom in Fragments" that was originally commissioned and performed by the ROVA Quartet. Composed as a cycle of 23 pieces that can be selected and sequenced freely which allows for different readings of the work.
Through a series of miniatures, folk songs, child dances, messiaenian harmonies this work is a true classic now and ARTE's reading confirms its value. There's a solo segment for each member of a quartet that's focused on a use of the extended techniques, there's a raggedy "Red Rag" that goes haywire, there's a somewhat irish "Hopscotch (for John Zorn)", a charmingly joyfull "Rosali's Song" or folkish "Song and Dance". And the quartet's attention to dynamic details, for the harmonic and rhythmic integrity is absolutely impressive. 
If one needs to compare the ARTE's and ROVA's readings I'd say that the latter includes more passionate, emotional, more 'jazz' if you prefer,  soloing while on this disc the swiss quartet is more concern with the classical aspect of the work and the soloing is more carefully linked to composed melodic and rhythmic structure ("Song and Dance" could be an example).
But truth be told I don't feel like such a comparison is necessary as "Freedom in Fragments" is simply a composition full of beauty, rich, colourfull and captivating in idea and in execution.
For those who know the ROVA's recording  the seven new fragments and the new composition "Big Picture" should be reason enough to find this one too. For those who don't know neither - don't let this one pass you by as "Freedom in Fragments" is simply a stunning work

three tracks from the album are available in the radio playlist played on 02.20.2012

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