REVIEW: Fred Frith with John Butcher and Theresa Wong at Cafe Oto

Fred Frith and John Butcher, Cafe Oto May 2015
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All rights reserved

Fred Frith with John Butcher and Theresa Wong
(Cafe Oto, 29 May 2015; day 1 of 3-day residency. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

While it was definitely not 'unplugged', it could have be 'Fred Frith barefoot'. With various pedals arranged in an arc at his unshod feet, the guitarist extraordinaire brought an intimate, workshop ambience to Cafe Oto for his sessions with acclaimed American cellist, Theresa Wong, and award-winning saxophonist, John Butcher.

Combining judicious electronic manipulation of his fretboard work with the tactile application of objects and devices to the instrument, Frith's two duets and the final trio brought out different aspects of his musical personality from pinched, rubbed and lightly brushed minimalism to trenchant rock-jazz blisters recalling his sorties with Material.

Wong complemented Frith's ingenious un-prepared guitar techniques in a dialogue that creaked, rattled and bowed. Their drifts into pained vocalese flourished in the quest for intense juxtapositions, and at one point Frith seemed to hover, as in suspended animation, while he let a metal slide gently glide down the fretboard of the guitar, making its own music.

Butcher, in his duet with Frith, added melodic turns with authoritative grace, dodging in and out of jazz phrasing then twisting to explore the percussive potential of the tenor sax body, amplifying key taps and inducing feedback. Vigorous synchronic chases, raw bellows and punches blended with breathy hyphenations.

The trio's whispered, micro-textured lead-in added a sense of weird movie soundtrack, to be undermined by Frith's driving background beat, in turn overtaken by a crushing melée of strident vocals cut up with Butchers's razored soprano sax. Frith and Wong then built up a grimy, drenched drone with glimmers of the sounds of throat singing over which Butcher skated with lyrical fluency.

And throughout the performances, Heike Liss, photographer partner of Frith, generated skeins of abstract textures which gradually obscured a series of filmed sequences projected behind the musicians, to add a visual aspect to the staging.

Frith's imaginative range had been fittingly matched by the invention and resourcefulness of his gifted collaborators.


  1. I bet Andy would have loved it! Maggie

  2. Yes, Maggie, you're absolutely right - he would have been following every note and turn - and would have had illuminating and personal angles to bring to the conversation in the intervals or after the gig!