Evan Parker/John Tilbury/Eddie Prévost

November 15, 2004

discrete moments
Matchless CD 58

Evan Parker & Eddie Prévost
imponderable evidence
Matchless CD 57

Despite various personnel permutations in British microtonal progenitor AMM since its formation in 1966, members have always characterized the band as involving much more than the musicians on stage and on record. While this particular piece of mysticism seems out of character for the prodigiously educated and experienced players who make up the band, there’s no disputing that non-AMM projects expose unexpected musical persona of its members. Both these duo CDs are cases-in-point.

On the first, master percussionist Eddie Prévost, AMM’s only consistent member over the years, explores sound and textures with John Tilbury, a polymorphous keyboardist and New Music specialist, who is the band’s newest consistent recruit, having been on board only since 1984. Perhaps this is more than a duo however, since the AMM’s third member, guitarist Keith Rowe, often and ingenuously insists that collectively the band itself is another group member. Thus the CD is slightly different, but still has a lot in common with customary — if that’s the right word to use in this context — AMM discs.

Prévost, who performs with his own jazz-oriented combos, leads improvisational workshops in London and writes about Free Music, is matched with another longtime British thinker and improviser on the other CD. Playing only drums, he joins with tenor saxophonist Evan Parker, one of the few other British musicians whose unique contributions to improvisation began as long ago as AMM’s and are still ongoing. Parker is also the only person to have performed in duo formation with each contemporary AMM member. This is his second duo with Prévost.

The saxophonist, whose massive discography encompasses everything from solo sessions to big band dates — including a tongue-in-cheek titled 1984 SuperSession featuring Prévost, Rowe and bassist Barry Guy — has such a singular vision that he’s always himself no matter the context. He also has extensive experience working in a duo setting with percussionists, having recorded with John Stevens and Paul Lytton among many others. Imponderable evidence shows how the distinctive Parker saxophone sound can be both completely unlike any other, yet alter subtly to fit in with a drummer’s ideas.

Centre of this CD is the almost 15-minute “Exhibit C”, where the saxist’s polytonal growls turn to honks and partial smears to meet the rumble and clatter of upfront percussion. Harsh and grainy, with irregular vibrations and flutter tonguing, Parker’s textures fasten themselves on top of cymbal splatters and echoing rattles from what sound like a tambourine resting on top of the hi-hat. Curiously hollow-sounding drum side shots and drum stick nerve beats presage reed tongue stopping and irregular vibrato displays. As many single strokes and shuffles Prévost plays, and as often as Parker squeals and squeaks, there’s no mistaking them for other saxophonists or drummers. This is especially apparent when Parker serves up his by-now-expected displays of extended circular breathing.

On “Exhibit B’ for example, the timbres pile up one after another like so many two-by-fours at a building site. Echoing and rumbling, Parker’s output encompasses double tonguing, flutter tonguing, slurs and slide slipping. Prévost responds in kind with rolling pulses, rat-tat-tats, flams and ruffs that break up the rhythmic impetus and showcase different parts of his kit. At one point it seems as if he’s using felt-tipped mallets to cull kettle-drum-like reverberations. Jazz references are especially pronounced here as well. Just before he concludes his solo, for a split second Parker appears to be quoting the head of Monk’s “Played Twice”.

Facing the hurricane of reed textures throughout, the drummer uses all sorts of strategies from concussions on the ride cymbal and snare tops to constant tempo changes and ratcheting scratches from many vibrating surfaces. Even more extended techniques are added to Prévost’s repertoire for discrete moments, as are a tam-tam, a stringed barrel and other assorted percussion to his regular kit. Not to be outdone, Tilbury plays prepared piano and organ along with his usual piano. At 75½ minutes, the CD is divided into eight sections that superficially resemble a nocturne, with sounds that are not so much reductionist as a reorientation of the AMM style.

As in other minimalistic projects, what isn’t heard is as generic to the tracks’ development as what is. The keyboardist in particular is more involved with rumination than physical action. Evidentially he considers all possible combinations and ramification of what he’s going to do in the split second before he sounds any note.

You can hear this happening on the nearly 19-minute “R”, when wiggling undifferentiated drones turn to what in other contexts could be module output signals, but which finally constitute themselves into acoustic timbres. No record of stasis, discrete moments is more comparable to watching the chemicals in the tray during the development process gradually transforming treated paper into the shape and form of a photograph. As contrapuntal cross chording and extended cymbal hiss and patterning coagulate into this-side-of near-noiselessness, there are minute tempo changes, but no melody — just striated scrapes and scratches. Eventually as the timbres become shriller and more obtuse, you can almost see the resulting creation shimmering, mirror-like, as if it was a Van Gogh landscape.

Two of the tracks — especially “I” — include sections that are unexpectedly fortissimo, when Tilbury lets loose on the organ’s double keyboards. Although the initial organ crescendo nearly drowns out Prévost’s concentrated cymbal raps, the two soon reach a rapprochement. Scraped and ratcheted percussion tones amplify two lines from the organ — a continuous high-pitched reed-like tone from the top, and a secondary harmonic line as pedal point continuum.

On “T”, near silent, resonating tam tam buzzes and perceptible organ pedal movements first take on circular saw timbres, then the keyboard sounds intensify, into the textures of an approaching thunderstorm. While swelling organ pressure may polyphonically intersect with drum cross currents, you’d never confuse this for a duet between Soul Jazz organist Jimmy Smith and drummer Dave Bailey for example. Not that there are many — or should it be any — references to earlier epochs, since the disc’s textures, like those of AMM, are complete and of themselves, but here separate from the so-called AMM style as well.

Especially notable is Prévost’s use of the stringed barrel that allows him to produce both percussion and string sounds. Stretching and ricocheting the cord more like an archer then like a double bassist, the percussionist generates an echoing slur, which is given additional resonance by the cavernous container. One particular manipulation forces the hollow sphere to spawn two different jolts at the same time. Not to be outdone, Tilbury’s procedure range from high frequency arpeggios extended with glissandi, to prepared piano broken chording on top of an accompanying left-handed ostinato. When either side gets too intense, thematic groupings and uneven note patterns right the imbroglio into a cooperative creation.

Changing the musical landscape shows how Tilbury and Prévost can operate outside of AMM. Plus the disc with Parker as a playing partner gives the dark embroidery of the percussionist’s improvising new colors with which to work.

–Ken Waxman