Killing Time

(Fred Records/ReR)

Ornette Coleman boarding a plane to New York in 1959 is the symbolic image of an event that in a short while was destined to change jazz music forever (maybe for the last time?). Fred Frith boarding a plane to New York about twenty years later was not an event destined to change rock music just as deeply (and in those times the field covered by the word "rock" was already too wide and too fragmented for it to be changed by just one event); but the purchase of that plane ticket was destined to be an event of the greatest importance for Frith himself, since in New York he found musicians and environmental conditions that made his future quite different from that of his (equally gifted) UK colleagues who decided to stay at home.

It's obvious that Fred Frith didn't get to New York as a brilliant hopeful, but as a former member of legendary UK groups Henry Cow and Art Bears. But it was in New York that he met a lot of musicians - just think about (future) members of Material, Curlew, people like John Zorn and Wayne Horvitz and so on - who at the time could count on a certain number of places where one could play, plus (some) sympathetic press, and a fringe section of the audience who could sustain the musicians' will to experiment (and so, their survival): a series of conditions that were absolutely missing in London, where the belief on the part of the punks and the new wavers in things like "sterile virtuosity" had taken away the air to breath.

The trio called Massacre - Frith, bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Fred Maher - had already been briefly featured on side two of Speechless, but it was Killing Time (originally released on vinyl by Recommended Records Japan in 1981) that fully showed their modus operandi and their results. For many reasons, it's quite unlikely that the name Massacre will be known to most young listeners, but I'm confident that listening to this album will remind them of quite a few rock groups - including some of the (so-called!) "math" type - from Japan and USA.

Improvisations and compositions, studio and live recordings, all showed the wide palette the musicians had at their disposal: Frith could use a melodic or a "noise" approach with the same brilliance, Laswell showed nice echoes of funk and Miles, Maher was just as good both in the rhythm and in the almost-solo mode. The original album's first track was Legs, where the melody was played by Laswell's highly compressed electric bass; the record offered other very good tracks, such as Killing Time (where it's quite easy to hear echoes of groups that came later), Corridor (The Velvet Underground playing a jig?), Lost Causes (Laswell on Fender VI), Tourism (where the guitar reminds me quite a bit of Hans Reichel), After (with its funky angles) and Gate (with nice Afro-Cuban accents from the percussions).

Compared to the original album, the present edition offers a few tracks that had already appeared at the time of the first re-release on CD: in my opinion, they are all tracks that won't add a whole lot, but they don't make for uneasy listening, either. Two unreleased tracks: Third Street and a cover of F.B.I. by The Shadows which will make apparent some similarities in approach that are implicit elsewhere. The CD sounds good. In the liner notes, we are told that compared to the previous editions (both vinyl and digital) the tracks from the original LP are at the right speed and pitch (!), with no reverb added.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2006 | Feb. 3, 2006