Fred Frith’s Manifesto

They’re calling it the New Song Movement, or at least Fred Frith is, and it’s getting pronounced to the masses on Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Great American Music Hall. That’s right, artsy pop is playing at GAMH:

More info about the show is here.

Frith has no small part in this. Remember how I’d drawn parallels between Jack o’ the Clock (a local band with prog leanings and a strong sense of sophisticated pop) and Frith’s Cosa Brava (art songs in a rock context)?  I’m not the only one. Frith himself is helping nurture an entire uprising of these kinds of bands, using his teaching position at Mills College as a pulpit.

This is great news. I do love plain old pop music (Oranger, where are you?), but it’s the prog stuff that got me down the path that eventually led to free jazz. It’s been an immensely rewarding ride, and I always find it’s exciting to discover a pop band that puts classical and adventurous jazz talents to use.

Karl Evangelista, who’s half of Grex, filled me in on the specifics via email. The Mills music faculty in general — not just Frith — encourages students to transcend boundaries. Beyond that, the local scene (stacked with Mills graduates) keeps mixing jazz, chamber music, pop, and electronics. It’s a fertile environment for new ideas.

The thing to stress here is that the scene is extremely open to genre cross-pollination. Frith has compared it to downtown NY in the 80’s (or, IIRC, England in the 60’s), which is apt. Members of Jack O’ the Clock recently played a couple of evenings of Stravinsky under the leadership of local avant pop wunderkind Dominique Leone. The Clocks’ rhythm section played with me and Andrew Conklin in the Tim Berne-informed free jazz quartet Host Family — and Conklin, for one, has interacted with tons of local pop/jazz/avant hybridizers out of the axis of Oberlin grads (his straight pop music is sublime). Grex plays inside of a mbaqanga/afrobeat/soul jazz combo called Dino Piranha (with local sax veteran Phillip Greenlief). It’s all really active, incestuous stuff.

The Aug. 14 show is a chance to show off some of these elements on a bigger stage, literally.

“We of course want to find an audience for our music and music of our ilk, but I think it’s equally relevant to convey that the local music here does belong in concert halls, on the big stages, garnering press, etc. (as opposed to hustling away in some bar in Albany),” Evangelista wrote (emphasis mine).

The “find an audience” part is no small feat. Local press coverage of experimental music has thinned out, partly due to changes at the weekly papers. And, of course, there’s the ongoing issue of whether the Bay Area supports its jazz well enough, as Rachel Swan noted in the East Bay Express recently.

Fred used the banner “new song movement” a while back, and I haven’t really seen it anywhere since. Whatever the case, I like the concept. The music at the GAMH will be representative of the younger music scene out here in the same way that the No New York sampler was representative of No Wave — which is to say, not really comprehensive at all, but enough to give folks a taste for some of the really daring experimentalism that’s happening right under everyone’s noses.

Fred mentioned before that he’d never really heard a scene so involved as ours in integrating the experimental language that his generation innovated with the pure pop/songwriting discourse of the past few decades. There’s something legitimately new going on right now, and as a child of classic free jazz, I’m pretty happy to do some flag waving for the sort of fertile, crazily inventive environment I’d always admired and wanted to be a part of.

Here, then, is your chance to be in on the New Song Movement. I agree with Karl that there’s something going on here that’s different and exciting, propelled by a group of local musicians tugging the music in new, different ways. And for those who have their doubts about “experimental” music, the songs are even catchy.

This should be a heck of a show. And if you need more convincing: Most of Cosa Brava no longer lives in the Bay Area. Don’t wait for Grex and Jack o’ the Clock’s members to move eastward, too. Now’s your chance to claim some really special music as your own hometown discovery.

3 thoughts on “Fred Frith’s Manifesto

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Craig! Just a quick note: the show is happening on SUNDAY, August 14 (someone pointed this out to me just now). Whatever the case, we’re happy for the support–the “scene” for improv/experimental stuff is of course listeners + musicians, so I’m very glad to be a part of all this!

  2. The 14th is (was) a Sunday… of course! Dumb of me; thanks for pointing that out, Karl.

    Hope the show went well. I’m sad to admit I didn’t go due to being out of town, but it sounded like one heck of a bill.

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