September 10, 2001

Tunes Without Measure or End
Matchless MR CD44

Very few musicians — or artists of any kind — have been able to create a sphere so self-contained that it’s not linked to any other timbre. And few have also made that one instantaneously recognizable. Yet AMM, the British improv group, did so when it first recorded in 1966, and has been refining this conception on record and in person ever since. This new CD is thus not only the band’s first disc to be released since 1996’s Before Driving to the Chapel … but it’s also another metaphoric chapter in what could be termed the book of AMM, adding more distinctive information to the group’s unique oeuvre.

Like jazzman Ornette Coleman, dramatist Samuel Beckett or visual artist René Magritte, AMM seems to have sprung to life — on disc at least — fully formed, and have merely refined its approach as the years pass. Strangely, with so many musicians now involved in free improvisation and ambient sound, AMM’s role as a progenitor of these sounds is less apparent. One listen to the plink of John Tilbury’s piano, the scratches and clicks of Eddie Prévost’s percussion or the buzz of guitarist Keith Rowe’s electronics, though, and you’re instantly transported into the band’s own world.

So what can you say about this continuous 57 minute performance? That it’s exceptional? That it’s hypnotic? That it puts nearly every attempt by groups that have come afterwards into the shade as apprentices to a master? Well, yes, but there must be more. There is. Although the pre-eminent judgement about the band is that every session is as like or unlike as trees that isn’t quite true either. Comparing this set recorded last year in Glasgow with others of the band’s discs and you’ll note that it’s actually more refined than some earlier sessions, especially its first. It’s also quieter — why was no applause included? — but paradoxically more to the point.

Recorded with pristine clarity, the soundscape flows along like a stream, with minute ripples in the form of a right handed piano tinkles, the rub of a stick on a percussion skin, or the strum of a guitar vaguely disturbing its surface. Occasionally, just below auditory comprehension, parts of radio broadcasts are introduced, a nanosecond of music here, the snatch of voice discussing cooking ingredients there. Often as well, you can’t link certain sounds to expected instruments — and that too is part of the AMM alchemy.
All this is ritualistic in part, especially as the underlying background electronic hum throughout sets up taut anticipation. Finally it’s bisected by a frequently repeated piano chord, which is then answered by what appears to be chains being shaken.

Definitely mirroring the CD title, this performance is yet another journey into AMM’s universe. The only way to repeat it is the start the disc again from the beginning.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Tune One 2. Tune Two 3. Tune Three 4. Tune Four 5. Tune Five 6. Tune Six

Personnel: Keith Rowe (guitar, electronics); John Tilbury (piano); Eddie Prévost (percussion