Material consequences
Matchless MRCD48

Most rational listeners — excepting out-and-out percussion fanatics — approach a solo percussion disc with the same ear wrenching dread most of us reserve for the dentist's drill. In fact many might prefer some very noisy oral surgery session to spending an hour with the over-inflated bombast that resonates from the kit of most rock, all fusion and many jazz drummers.

An Eddie Prévost session is different. One of the founders of British group AMM, he has spent more than 35 years perfecting an approach to non-associative music that is as musically mysterious as it is subtle. You don’t listen to a Prévost — or in fact AMM discs — to say, “listen to that guy bang that bass drum and sets of cymbals”, but to puzzle out what percussive impulse produces which sound. If anything the words which best describe the four instrumentals that make up the almost 65 minutes of this session are focused composure.

As he states it, Prévost is interested in a configuration of sounds, and over the years, he has added bowed cymbals, so-called found objects, gongs, chimes, bells, resonating boxes and an oversized, stringed contra-bass drum to transform his kit beyond the standard one. This percussive array isn’t used for self-aggrandizement, but to creatively respond to a singular musical context.

This CD is especially noteworthy and consistently challenging, for Prévost, who has written extensively about musical aesthetics and conducts many improvisational workshops, is, above all, a group creator. Cogitating and perpetuating a solo session is somewhat similar to imaging how a union organizer would find a role for himself on an uninhabited island.

Still, what strikes the careful listener right off is how much of what has always seemed to be an AMM group sound is ingenuously produced by Prévost alone. Take “Mostly Bowing” for instance. Not only can you hear the organ chord-like striations produced as a bow lacerates a cymbal, but also a rumbling overtone that most would have associated with the attachments from AMM member Keith Rowe's laptop guitar. A concerto of long, continuous notes bisected by repeated clicks and pulls plus animalistic growls, it shows that the percussionist is able to forge tones that others need G3 PowerBooks to create.

Here and on “Dance music of an Imaginary People”, the drummer is adamant that no amplification is being used, even though he's able to conjure up what could be guitar and bowed bass sounds with his percussion. “Dance...” appears to feature Prévost simultaneously producing string-like overtones with one hand, while using his palms and sticks to create the percussive with the other.

Among the other musical allusions offered here are that of a tabla being struck, sleigh bells being shaken, the buzz of stroked cymbals and the sound of a gong being repeatedly and ritualistically pounded. More clearly you can hear tiny unselected cymbals rotating on top of the snare and toms, plus the inflection echoing from the rims and sides of individual drums.

Traditionalists can also be assured of Prévost's mastery of the standard kit on the appropriately — if sardonically — named “Statutory Drum Solo”. Here, the man who in an early review was described as “the Art Blakey of Brixton” (sic) shows that the advances of pure jazz masters like Blakey and Max Roach haven’t been lost on him. Someone who has never lost an affinity for jazz — especially out of the AMM orbit — he knows his way around a standard kit. Hear him taping the bass drum and hi hat, worrying the sizzle cymbals and building up repeated patterns on snare and floor toms. His press rolls come fast and furious, as do his lightening quick cymbal sizzles. Also without increasing his volume, he's able to approximate chugging freight train patterns. Bebop drums aren’t being played here, but this is certainly not academic New music either.

Sensitive souls who cover their ears when faced with the prospect of an extended drum solo would be well advised to listen to this disc. So should dyed in wool (metal?) drum fanatics. They both may learn how one can exhibit percussion proficiency without tumult.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Stridorings 2. Dance music of an Imaginary People 3. Mostly Bowing 4. Statutory Drum Solo

Personnel: Eddie Prévost (percussion)