Sep 242013

On two nights last week (September 19 and 20), luminary musician/composer Fred Frith and his right-on-target Gravity Band treated audiences at Brooklyn’s Roulette to a rousing reworking of Gravity, his brilliant 1980 rock/jazz/prog/folk-music-of-indeterminate-origin LP.

I will soon be posting additional video excerpts from the latter evening’s performance. With this initial post, however, I want to share with you a video of a timely, and very touching, moment from that show.

At the conclusion of the album’s rollicking performance, an obviously choked-up Frith confirmed the news that had started circulating online, that his “dear friend and bandmate Lindsay Cooper passed away, a couple of days ago.”


Ms. Cooper brought a unique instrumental voice (primarily oboe and bassoon, but also saxophone and flute) to the recordings of a number of daring and innovative artists, including Comus, Henry Cow, Art Bears, National Health, Egg, Mike Oldfield, Steve Hillage, Hatfield and the North, News from Babel, Marx Brothers (with vocalist Sally Potter and ‘cellist Georgie Born), Rova Saxophone Quartet, and David Thomas and the Pedestrians, not to mention a number of recordings released under her own name.

She was also a political activist, who commingled her musical and political ideals, inter alia, by co-founding the Feminist Improvising Group (later the European Women’s Improvising Group).

Per The Wikipedias: “Cooper was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 1970s, but did not disclose it to the musical community until the late 1990s when her illness prevented her from performing live. In September 2013, Cooper died from the illness at the age of 62, 15 years after her retirement.”


Mr. Frith announced that they were going to perform a song that Ms. Cooper had originally played on—the Art Bears’ Terrain—adding that “we are actually celebrating her being free of her multiple sclerosis cage . . . and her setting such an incredible example.”

Terrain was the perfect song with which to pay homage to Ms. Cooper that evening. Ms. Cooper played on the original Art Bears version, which was included as a bonus track on the (now out-of-print?) East Side Digital CD reissue of Gravity.

The song’s subtle, graceful dissonance, the gentle disquiet provided by the staccato bass clarinet, and the simultaneously-silky-and-cerebral cross-rhythms together convey a mood that is gripping, but neither joyous nor mournful. This song—particularly in this retelling—reflects the emotional complexities of a life replete with both profound achievements and insurmountable restrictions… and of the “celebration” of the occasionally-beneficent power of death. It was a beautiful recitation of a fascinating piece of music.

And a wonderful tribute to Mr. Frith’s lost friend and musical compatriot:

[Youtube appears to default to 360p, so be sure to click on the little ‘gear’ icon in the lower right-hand corner of the video and select the highest resolution that your computer will accommodate happily]

 Posted by at 5:08 pm