Right said Fred...Avant guitar hero turns folkie (well, almost) in this re-release...
Peter Marsh 2002-11-20
Recorded in 1979, Fred Frith's first solo album proper after the demise of Henry Cow probably came as a bit of a shock to die hard fans. With the Cow, Frith's angular, sour melodics had mapped an alternative route for progrock guitar heroics, while his solo guitar recordings suggested our Fred as the missing link between John Cage and Jimi Hendrix.
Gravity however, was Fred's dance record; not the fashionable mutant disco of the early downtown New York scene (where Frith was in the process of setting up stall) but a celebration of rhythm that borrows from folk music, rock and God knows what else. Not that I could imagine dancing to it, but theres no denying the infectious beauty that Fred and his co-conspirators (drawn from Swedish avant folkies Zamla, Aqsak Maboul and U.S. progsters the Muffins) create.
Kicking off with a burst of manic laughter, a spot of tap dancing and random percussion overlaid with Frith's distinctive keening violin, Gravity manages to be wildly eclectic yet avoids incoherence. A few years before World Music became the accepted method for revitalising washed up rock stars careers, Frith had created an album that seems to be from everywhere at once yet from nowhere in particular. While the tricky metrics of "Hands of the Juggler" and the slurred fiddle gymnastics of "A Career in Real Estate" hint at some half remembered Slavic folk tradition (as did some of Frith's writing for Brechtian industrial doomfolk trio The Art Bears), the supple immediacy of tunes like "Spring Any Day Now" or "Norrgarden Nyvla" sound at once familiar yet like nothing youve heard before or since.
"Crack in the Concrete" prefigures Frith's avant power trio Massacre, with coruscating e-bowed guitar soaring over edgy, dissonant chords and a massed kazoo choir of horns in the distance, though its bumptious rhythms come with a lopsided grin as opposed to furrowed brow intensity. Likewise Fred's gleeful de/reconstruction of Martha and the Vandellas "Dancing in the Street"; a bizzarely harmonised guitar negotiates the melody over a boiling mass of feedback and tape manipulation (including a recording of Iranian demonstrators celebrating the capture of American hostages), eventually settling into a spare, gorgeous guitar solo over the closing chords.
Even at its most intense, Gravity is a joyful noise. If you can manage dancing in the time signatures Fred and his mates cook up, you'd better start moving the furniture in anticipation. A brief snatch of the 13st Puerto Rico Summertime Band closes Year of the Monkey; "ten seconds of the real thing" said Fred in the sleevenotes to the original issue; he shouldn't have been so modest. Absolutely essential.