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Sunday, February 19, 2023

Fred Frith & Susana Silva Santos - Laying Demons to Rest (RogueArt, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni

After listening to this album over and over you may be assured that its enigmatic, rare beauty, magical spells and suggestive, emotional power can lay all kinds of demons to rest. This duo was recorded live during Festival Météo at Motoku in Mulhouse, France in august 2021 but Fred Frith and Susana Silva Santos collaborated before when the Portuguese trumpeter joined Frith trio tours in Brazil in 2018 and in the United States East Coast and Europe in 2019 (documented in Road, Intakt, 2021). 

Another collaborator of Frith, British composer Tim Hodgkinson, who co-founded with Frith the legendary British prog-rock band Henry cow and continued to collaborate with him throughout the years, suggests in his poetic liner notes that the process of laying demons to rest is inherent to free improvisation, and especially in Frith and Santos performance: 

“sometimes, improvisation 

at other times, something else, but what?  

perhaps not something else but someone else, a third person, another kind of responsibility

not just the play of audible presences, but the facing towards an absent presence

that was summoned by the way of playing.

is it this, a demon first summoned and then laid to rest

returned to the beyond

as god at the end of ritual?

or are these the demons of improvisation, of insatiable relationship

of the unending thirst for detail and consequence…”

Frith and Santos are idiosyncratic sonic explorers, or sonic painters and poets equipped with rich palettes of sounds, sketching possible, intimate and introspective rituals for exorcizing all our demons and healing with imaginative sounds. As Hodgkinson writes, their evocative sounds and vulnerable, textures moods and feelings “fields further armies of ambiguity, Blake wrestling with Freud…” The music flows naturally on its own accord, alternating between delicate, tense and sensual dramas, allowing both Frith and Santos to feel lost in the intensity of their interaction, and then find and embrace each other again, feeding and inspiring each other with playful ideas and resume their spirited dance together. The improvisation becomes a mean to reach a higher and deeper consciousness of oneself and of Fred and Santos as an exquisite, almost telepathic entity.  

“we enter a sphere of evocation where sounds are

messages of movement whose agency is loose,

the ear enacts the scrubbing of a hand or realises the pursing of a lip

as if they were ours (not quite)

a trumpet may stand for a guitar that stands for a previous trumpet that lived and died in the previous second that was an age ago but had stood for a feeling we had had, each moment casting a spell on the next inside Fred and Susana messages reach fingers or lips: inside us they form webs and accumulate into secret paragraphs the gold we carry away”, concludes Hodgkinson. 

This magical ritual lasts only 42 minutes but offers healthy doses of sublime beauty and cathartic promise about the healing power of music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.