Completing the trio of Henry Cow related SHM-CD sets which Belle in Japan have released are these three early solo albums by guitarist Fred Frith. As per the Henry Cow and Art Bears titles, these papersleeve editions have lots of bonus tracks. These bonuses are similar to those which were included in the early 90's editions as released by RecRec Music in Europe and East Side Digital in the US, but these new issues carry a slightly different roster than those. Fred Frith himself remastered these albums for his own Fred Records a few years back, but they didn't include any bonus tracks and he also completely changed the artwork. That was a shame as Gravity comes with a wonderful sleeve painted by Robert Wyatt's wife Alfreda Benge. Also, the releases I have in the series, including the Massacre and Skeleton Crew albums sound a tad loud and harsh and therefore I prefer the RecRec editions, which also included usefully enlightening sleeve notes. So it was interesting to see how these SHM-CD versions would sound.
Firstly, the interesting aspect of those bonus tracks included in these new editions, is that according to the credit sheet they were remastered by Bob Drake in 2015. That was a surprise as I hadn't read of Bob remastering any Frith related material this year. I wonder if they were specifically for these releases or something else?
I have had Gravity in various incarnations over the years. Above is my original Ralph Records vinyl from back in the day along with the RecRec and SHM CD's. I have to say that the SHM does sound as good as the RecRec, probably more detailed and dynamic. The overall remastering was done by Kazuo Ogino who has been responsible for all the Belle releases. I assume he takes the existing digital files and tweaks them a bit. It can be frustrating not being able to find information on the sources of these releases.
The bonus tracks are a mix of those presented on the RecRec releases and from other sources like the Keep the Dog live release which Frith released on his own label. I am particularly pleased to see the guitar piece "Oh Wie Schon Ist Panama!" Included on Gravity as that is a personal favourite. It is a thoroughly beautiful piece and is why I love Frith's guitar playing so much. For me, he is one of the best guitarists ever. He covers so much sonic ground, from tightly arranged sophisticated soloing through to completely free form guitar abandon. Yet, even in his manipulation and abusing of his guitar, he never once loses sight of the musicality of what he is doing. Always out of the chaos comes beauty and form. I don't think he gets the recognition that his multifarious projects deserve. He is quite unique.
So my Fred Frith box sits quite comfortably alongside those Art Bears and Henry Cow sets. Well done Belle for releasing these beautifully presented classic recordings. They are a delight! Along with the Gong and Phil Manzanera boxes, the Japanese SHM papersleeve industry have had quite a fruitful year.