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Frith, Fred: The Happy End Problem

You never know what to expect from someone as multi-talented as Fred Frith. This is the latest of his recent forays into contemporary ballet, working in collaboration with choreographer Amanda Miller. The result is a quite beautiful instrumental work which moves from sublime, through experimental and strange to stark and poignant. Occasional zaps of sound remind me of one of Jade Warrior's trademarks as well as Stravinsky's "Firebird" or "Rite of Spring" ballets, especially on "Imitations" which is created using extracts from the "Firebird Suite".

The music is written for and performed by 6 and 7 person string and woodwind ensembles with occasional guitar, bass and electronic embellishment by Fred. In "Imitations", oriental elements are utilised, typified by the minimalist use of instrumentation to capture images and emotions. In many places one can imagine a monochrome stage set such as in the stark beauty of the violin solo on "Kira". The composition makes a lot of use of circular scaling progressions and a crystal-clear steel harp like sound (possibly computer generated) prevails on several sections, notably on the third section where it is accompanied by a burbling stream and piano.

"Tan" is an intriguing part where the flute, whistles, treated piano and mysterious sound effects create a primordial feeling. "Beni" is perhaps the most obviously oriental part, at least by Western stereotypical perceptions, whilst in "Kasumi" the enigmatic minimalist ethic is most notable. The closing part features spacey effects as the violin glides over an atmospheric layer of keyboards.

The second half of the album is the 21 minute title track, "Happy End Problem". In this composition Fred dissects the "Firebird" suite and uses chords or cells of Stravinsky's work to re-compose or develop other themes suggested by the Suite. Starting out with a stretched out version of the final chord to Firebird, Fred brings in a cockerel and bird song and the steel harp effect is accompanied by a distressed violin and flutes.

There is a tranquillity and a poignancy to the slowly shifting and evolving themes, almost as if one was looking down from a mountain over dawn light spreading across a valley, awakening, touching and changing creatures and objects in its wake. In this, the Jade Warrior connection, circa Kites, is most apt.

The path Fred describes with his music takes us through landscapes from which, alternatively, piano, bells, percussion, clarinet, violin, cello and exotic experimental sounds appear and dissolve. The choreography can be felt without being seen.

Overall two highly accomplished and fascinating pieces of music, more perhaps for the classical enthusiast than the progger.

Track Listing
1) Imitations
2) The Happy End Problem

Added: March 12th 2007
Reviewer: Richard Barnes
Related Link: ReR Megacorp USA
Hits: 3416
Language: english

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