March 19, 2001
MUSIC NOW ENSEMBLE 1969
Matchless MRCD 40
A great, lost document, SILVER PYRAMID fills an important gap in the history of British improvised music.
Percussionist Eddie Prévost, most consistent member of improv group AMM since its founding in the early 1960s, usually heads towards completely improvised free jazz when he records on his own. Yet, it appears that participation as part of the Music Now Ensemble performance of a series of so-called contemporary classical creations in 1969, encouraged Prévost to "create" his own "composition" in that idiom. That's what this fine disc reproduces.
The quotation marks are deliberate. That's because "Silver Pyramid" is based not on a score, but a text written by Prévost and interpreted by a group that could be termed AMM plus. The almost 74 minutes that result have a similar relationship to AMM as the 1959 large group versions of Thelonious Monk's music related to the pianist's work with his quartet. Not only do the other players amplify the shape of the composition itself, but they also add their particular talents to influence the final product.
It's instructive to recall that 1969 was the height of psychedelia-influenced art rock and anyone hearing "Silver Pyramid" — or AMM for that matter — for the first time may feel as if they're embarking on what was termed a musical trip. Certainly one credo that this sort of pure improv represents — that the music is there before the band begins and continues after the group finishes — dovetails nicely into the free-floating psychedelic experience. But the difficulty of identifying each sound source on the disc and the lack of identifiable rhythmic climaxes would probably frustrate spiritual camp followers searching for an ecstatic trance shortcut.
Instead, the album is a multi-leveled offering. Prévost can likely be heard slowly manipulating his cymbals with a violin bow, repeatedly striking a small bell and bouncing small rubber balls on the heads of his snares. Cellist Cornelius Cardew and violinist Lou Gare are conceivably responsible for the string scratching that can be heard, while tabletop guitarist Keith Rowe probably provides the steady electronic humming in the background as well the sound crescendo of consistent feedback mixed with plucked strings.
But the identity of other sounds that range from what appears to be a door being ripped off its hinges and fire engine sirens suddenly erupting are less clear. Who are the unidentified man and woman carrying on a gibberish conversation in one section, for instance? Who supplies the wordless drone in another? Who plays the piping penny whistle which floats in and out of audio range several times and where does the happy calliope sounds appear from — the instrument itself or a prerecorded tape?
These performance sounds as old as any pioneering examination of electro-acoustics and as contemporary as any 21st century harnessing of electronics. In short, this CD is both a historical document and a fine listening experience.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Silver Pyramid
Personnel: A nine piece group including Eddie Prévost (composer, percussion) Keith Rowe (prepared guitar, electronics, director); Cornelius Cardew (cello, piano); Lou Gare (tenor saxophone, violin); plus unknown others