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Best of 2024

Fred Frith

Guitar Solos / Fifty (2LP)

Label: Week-End Records

Format: 2LP

Genre: Experimental

In stock

€34.00
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Big tip! Lunching into 2024 after after a stellar 2023, Week-End Records delivers one of their most important offerings to date, the first vinyl reissue of Fred Frith’s seminal 1974 solo debut, “Guitar Solos”, in more than 40 years, marking the album’s 50th anniversary. A groundbreaking work in the field of avant-garde recordings that changed everything in its wake, incorporating a startling range of sonorities and approaches within constrained means, to celebrate its half-century mark, Frith has returned to its groundwork and recorded a brand new solo effort, “Fifty”, which now makes up an entire second LP of material for this very special release. Truly incredible and as historically important as records and reissues come.

Over the course of this year, the Cologne, Germany, based imprint, Week-End Records - an offshoot of the highly regarded, annual Week-End Fest, has rapidly emerged as a striking presence in the landscape of ambitious recordings. In 2023 alone, they’ve issued Eiko Ishibashi and Jim O'Rourke’s incredible LP, “Lifetime of a Flower”, Julius Eastman’s “Stay On It”, the 50th Anniversary reissue of Slapp Happy’s remarkable debut, “Sort of”, and Suzanne Ciani’s “Improvisation On Four Sequences”. Collectively viewed, these albums represent a clearly considered bridge between experimental music’s past and present, a principle focus embodied by their first LP of 2024, a deluxe, 50th anniversary reissue of Fred Frith’s seminal 1974 LP, “Guitar Solos”. A groundbreaking work in the field of avant-garde recordings that changed everything in its wake and forevermore centered Frith as a towering creative force in the popular imagination, not only is this edition the first new vinyl pressing to appear in more than 40 years, but it comes radically expanded with a full second LP comprising "Fifty”, a brand new full length that encounters Frith revisiting the solo guitar themes that rest at the root of his seminal effort. Truly remarkable every count, this beautifully produced 2LP sets the standard and is unquestionably the new definitive edition of this towering masterstroke.

In the history of radical 20th Century guitar music, Fred Frith sits alongside names like John Fahey, Loren Connors, Derek Bailey, Sonny Sharrock, Hans Reichel, and Keith Rowe. Over the course of his long career, he has entirely reinvented the instrument and made it sound like no one else could. Born and raised in East Sussex, England, following early training on the violin, he began playing the guitar at the age of 13, first performing in folk clubs, before encountering avantgarde and experimental music while in university, which led to the founding, while still a student, of the seminal group Henry Cow, with Tim Hodgkinson, in 1968.

Roughly sitting among a loose constellation of British bands from the era that infused rock with elements of jazz, free improvisation, and experimental tactics - Soft Machine, Gong, Third Ear Band, Centipede, etc. - Henry Cow was certainly among the most forward thinking groups of the late 1960s and '70s, and while Frith remained a central force in the band through history and eventual evolution into the equally noteworthy Art Bears - a trio with Chris Cutler and Dagmar Krause - in 1978, it soon became clear, upon the release of Frith’s solo debut, 1974’s “Guitar Solos”, that his ambitions in experimentalism far outstepped even the wildest regions in rock.

Following the release of Henry Cow's second album, “Unrest”, Virgin Records decided to commission Frith to record a solo LP for their sub-imprint, Caroline, imagining the possibility of him becoming something of a “guitar hero”. What they received upon its recording rapidly proved that he wanted to be anything but that. Recorded over four days in July of 1974 on an acoustic 1936 Gibson K-11 with no overdubs, Frith’s “Guitar Solos” represented a bridge between the realms of outsider rock from which he had come and more explicit elements of experimental music that he had been subtly incorporating into it. Entirely unaccompanied and improvised, without overdubs on prepared guitar, Frith states that the album was “an interesting opportunity to see if I could actually redefine what the instrument was.”, embarking to conceive “minimally planned improvisation[s]” / “a set of études”. Without question, he achieved everything he set out to.

If seeking rough, contemporaneous proximity, Frith’s “Guitar Solos” falls somewhere between the non-idiomatic work of Derek Bailey and the extended and adaptive approach to instrumentation pioneered by Hans Reichel (alongside both of whom he would appear on Caroline’s 1974 release “Guitar Solos 2”). Particularly in the case of the later, this is partially due to how Frith “prepared” and subsequently played his instrument, splitting the neck in two with a capo - amplifying the second part of the neck by adding a pickup over the strings at the guitar’s nut - effectively giving him two instruments to play simultaneously - and then subdividing further with alligator clips attached at various positions on the strings. Other than minimal processing and effects - a fuzzbox on “Out of Their Heads (On Locoweed)”, “Heat c/w Moment” and “No Birds”, delay on “No Birds”, and ambient noise from Frith's breath and feet on “Heat c/w Moment” - the wild universe of sound he unleashed across the album’s length was entirely and naturally generated by the guitar.

While certain, circumstantial comparisons to the work of Bailey and Reichel help farm a proximity for “Guitar Solos”, that is effectively as far as they go. The album is entirely its own thing and couldn’t be confused for the work of anyone but Frith. There is a far greater range of playing and a considerably greater openness to, and incorporation of, diverse sonorities than anyone else of this moment took on, making it a pioneering work of its own ilk. Across the album’s length, Frith displays a remarkable amount of range, allowing each improvisation to sculpt a singular freestanding world, from the sprawling, proto-ambient piece, “No Birds”, aspects of which lightly foreshadow the efforts of artists like Oren Ambarchi, Christian Fennesz, and Rafael Toral who would emerge roughly two decades later, the pulsing minimalism meets all out noise of “Out of Their Heads (On Locoweed)”, and the deconstructed blues of “Not Forgotten”, which doesn’t even begin to account for the near endless range approaches to tonal and textural territories that fall in between and beyond.

Easily one of the most influential and important guitar albums of all time, upon its release “Guitar Solos” was voted one of the best albums of 1974 by New Musical Express, and describe in NME that same year as “a totally revolutionary album” and “an undeniable landmark in the history of rock guitar”. In the January 1983 edition of Downbeat, looking back upon the album’s over the proceeding years, Bill Milkowski stated that “Frith unveiled a haunting collection of improvised music on prepared guitar which must have stunned listeners of the day. Even today [1983] that album stands up as uniquely innovative and undeniably daring.

For Week-End’s very special deluxe edition, marking the 50th anniversary of the album’s release, Frith embarked upon the recording a brand new LP, “Fifty”, revisiting the album’s approaches with the benefits of countless hours of playing and learning over the decades since. The result are two sides of vinyl comprising a thrilling 13 compositions which distill everything of both, encountering the guitarist locked in sublime focus and allowing each tonality to be maximised to its greatest breadth. Beautifully minimal and focused, it’s nothing short of a staggering proof of Frith’s continued importance and virtuality that expands his original solo gesture to a remarkable sense of scope.

Seminal and of towering importance, few records have weathered a half century and remained as relevant, vibrant, and continuously influential as Fred Frith’s 1974 solo debut “Guitar Solos”, making it even more confounding that it has taken this long to bear witness its vinyl reissue. Week-End has done a great service by bringing ti back and making it available to an entirely new generation of listeners. Issued as a beautifully expanded double LP, complete with Frith’s brand new full length, “Fifty”, this is clearly the new definitive edition and not to be missed by any fan of guitar music, experimentalism, free improvisation, Frith, and his many musical guises. Ten out of ten and beyond.

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