Epiphanies VII-XIII


More buried treasure from the 1982 Company Week at London's I.C.A., seven more epiphanies (previously unreleased!) to add to the six on Epiphanies I-VI (HJR 212LP) and the 48-minute ensemble Epiphany (HJR 211LP). Fred Frith's diverse activities as composer and educator in recent years shouldn't let us forget he's a stellar improviser -- 1974's Guitar Solos is still a seminal album of free improv -- and he has three opportunities here to showcase his considerable talents. "Eleventh" is an extended techniques tour de force, with George Lewis working slowly but surely through a variety of trombone mouthpieces while Frith's guitar, strummed, bowed or prepared, could be a Theremin, a koto, a mouse trapped inside a grandfather clock, or a lion cub inside a shoebox. Bookending the album, on "Seventh" he swaps Webernian shards with Lewis and harpist Anne LeBaron and on "Thirteenth", with pianist Keith Tippett, condenses a whole lifetime of musical exploration into a mere twelve minutes. Elsewhere, on "Eighth", violinist Philipp Wachsmann reveals his understated mastery of both his violin and the electronics he's devised to extend its range, and pianist Ursula Oppens proves she's as adept as conjuring forth magic from inside her instrument as she is caressing it out from the keyboard. Those that moan that improvised music is more about finding extraordinary new sounds and less concerned with exploring nuances of pitch, both horizontally (melody, yes) and vertically (harmony), should listen up. "Ninth" is a spikier affair, with Lewis giving a whole new meaning to the word embouchure, quacking, spitting and wheezing like a flock of geese let loose in a fairground, while Derek Bailey and Motoharu Yoshisawa patiently explore the outer limits of acoustic guitar and double bass. Bailey and Lewis team up again on "Twelfth" to take on Oppens -- and everybody wins. Voice is more to the fore on "Tenth", with Julie Tippetts's coloratura and flute and Akio Suzuki's analapos and spring gong flying high while LeBaron, Wachsmann, and Yoshizawa weave intricate webs of pizzicati, spiccati, and glissandi beneath. The word that comes to mind here most often is virtuosity, not just in terms of simple ability on one's chosen instrument(s) but also in knowing just how and just when to display it -- not surprisingly it was Fred Frith who coined the term "virtuoso listening". That's what these folks do, and ever so well: be a virtuoso listener yourself and check it out.