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The term “free improvisation” conjures up some scary images – screaming noise, uncontrollable rhythms, burly saxophone players attacking the audience with sound like a multi-armed Viking wielding battleaxes. But not every spontaneously composed music exists only to revel in what-the-fuckery. Case in point: Laying Demons to Rest by guitarist Fred Frith and trumpeter Susana Santos Silva. Over the course of forty-odd minutes, the duo make all kinds of noises, from pick scrapes and mouthpiece burps to rumbling fret taps and haunting legato – but rarely do they descend into straightahead noisemaking. Indeed, if anything, the pair deliberately holds back, less interested in chaos than in creating and sustaining a mood, keeping the atmosphere low key but urgent. That way, when Frith does let loose, the impact feels less unfettered than precise. The piece moves ever forward according to its own pulse, allowing the two musicians to add whatever touches they deem necessary, as each reacts to the other’s contributions. Recorded live, Laying Demons to Rest is quite an accomplishment, one that holds attention without ever demanding it.
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