Last Night ... Fred Frith, Wu Fei, Janet Feder @ First Unitarian Church

Fred Frith, Wu Fei, Janet Feder Wednesday, January 30, 2008, First Unitarian Church Better than: Any Eric Clapton guitar solo.

Expectations, at least last night, were useless. The venue, a small, yet comfortable church stowed away off Colfax, was not a place where one would expect to see one of the most influential avant guitar players of the last 25 years. But there he was, Fred Frith, former guitarist for the influential art-rock group Henry Cow, joined tonight by localists Janet Feder and Wu Fei, all of them just as comfortable as us, safe from the snow.

Each performer was to do a solo set, with the three coming together at the end of the night for a trio set. Frith went on first. More well known for his solo work and collaborations with the likes of John Zorn, Mike Patton, and The Residents, Frith began his set tapping out random notes on his hollow body guitar, providing the percussive background for the rest of his set. From there everything that could be found was used to channel, random, yet coherent noises. Sounding like a cross between Neil Young and an industrial ceiling fan, Frith’s set provided both chaos, and at times, rough-hewn, organic beauty.

Armed with just two instruments, the guzheng, one of China's most ancient string instrument, and her voice, Wu Fei picked up the visceral sounds that Frith left behind from his set and reconfigured them into a dream-like state. It was nothing short of amazing to hear her voice interweave with the guzheng. At times it was like the two instruments were one in the same. If you haven’t yet, check her out.

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Ending the solo sets was Janet Feder. The shortest of the three sets, Feder’s began with short-spaced strokes on the classical guitar. Slowly her songs splayed out into a Gamelan style that, like Frith's, relied on random objects. Feder’s songs stayed in the air and seemed to haunt the holy room as the notes lingered from her guitar. Sadly she played only three songs, any of which could’ve easily gone on a bit longer.

Closing it out, the trio combined the earlier performers, The Three F’s, as it were. Each of the players launched into their instruments full bore, with Frith taking the lead during both pieces, while Wu Fei’s voice floated over the top of the miasma. The only problem was that Feder’s playing was lost in the mixed. When she was audible, Feder’s playing meshed perfectly with Frith’s, and the result was a solid, pulsing cohesion of sound that bound the three players. -- Jeremy Brashaw

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I would love to own a guzheng. I would suck at playing it, but it looks fun as hell. Random Detail: The show was put on by the local non-profit, Creative Music Works. Check out their site; www.creativemusicworks.org By the Way: The last show at the First Unitarian was four years ago, and it was Fred Frith. It’s a pretty cool place to see a show, they should do more with it.

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