CHRIS CUTLER & FRED FRITH – 2 Gentlemen in Verona (2000)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Cutler & Frith are a pair of avant-garde rock musicians and multi-instrumentalists, who gathered in the city of Verona to do some live improvisations. This album was a result of that concert, and was then named after one of the lesser-known Shakespeare plays. The track listing pays further homage to that play, as all tracks are titled “Act X, Scene Y” and have subtitles that reference characters and actions as well. Having never seen the play, I cannot say how tight those references are, though.

The “acts” by themselves don’t seem particularly consistent. Act 1 is composed of three “scenes” featuring the duo on the instruments that made them notable, drums for Chris and guitar for Fred. It was a good session of noise-making, overall. The first two scenes in Act 2 feature non-verbal vocals, screeching guitars and a tighter percussion, for a very dark and intense effect. The act mellows out and turns electronic on the third “scene”, unfortunately, and while it later gains on intensity and features some cool guitar wailing, it never follows up on the earlier vibes. I guess that is the flaw of improv music in general, while they touch many good ideas, they don’t carry them till the end.

Acts 3 and 4 are very similar to each other, with the jazziest percussion. Given that they consist of a single track each, they really should have been a single act. Act 5 starts as a sort of sound collage, but then turns into a military march. The encore is bluesy, and perhaps the best thing here after the early Act 2. Frith is a good guitarist, but he plays very little guitar in this album. The main “attraction”, to me, was Cutler’s beats, great throughout the record, and notable particularly as the saving point in the weaker tracks.

Listening to this live, watching the two gents perform all that crazy stuff, would be a great experience. Listening to this in my house hampers the immersion, and I can’t really enjoy this more than an interesting oddity.