Doubt is an undervalued state. Indeed it is often seen as a weakness. Certainly continued vacillation is not a desirable condition for a musician. For an improvising musician it would be the kiss of death.
This may seem to be a strange introduction to a CD, but having decided to write these notes myself - my preferred writer although willing and wanting to write a (perhaps) more orthodox note to this CD, could not fit it into my tight release timetable - I resolved to write a short essay reviewing one of the particular and individual characteristics required (in my opinion) of a good improvising musician. Doubt.
Of the improvisatory techniques required in the making of the accompanying CD, nothing is pre-planned. Nothing is prescribed or proscribed. There are, of course, anticipations and collected characteristics. An improvising musician brings a history of preferences and predilections. These are the accretions of performance experiences and playing strategies which mark, and in some cases may have actually scarred, the player on route. This is part of what the musician offers in the process of making music. It may be possible, for a while, for a player to shield behind the acquired mannerisms and technical practices of a preferred example. But ultimately, a new voice will have to emerge, projecting its own thoughts, its own musical priorities and making its own place in this musical world. Every sound, move, nuance is a-to-be- welcomed burden for the improvising musician. There is no composer to blame for the outcome.
So, what is it that preoccupies the improvising musician? In brief, I would characterize the practice as follows: initially a concern with the sonic properties of the instrument, which goes beyond a formal introduction which may be given, for example, at the conservatory; an interest in its inherent properties, a curiosity about its potential; an attempt to have a creative relationship and to humanize this inanimate mass so that it becomes, as it were, an extension of the self. Having established, at least in an elementary form, such a symbiosis, then this self must be tested. There is not much future for the improviser in the practice room. Self is best tested against other selves. And it is in the hurly burly of performance that improvisation begins to develop and form the musical personalities of its practitioners. The instruments may be resistant to control, but ultimately these objects of sound production are much more knowable than ever will be another improvising musician.
Given that the movement from one sound, one figure, one field of feeling to another has to be negotiated, then the idea of doubt looms very large. In this context the musician is at the heart of the musical decision process. At the end of a performance an audience may reach a conclusion about the relative success of the piece. And, in this most vulnerable of positions the musicians may look to the audience for some kind of confirmation that the enterprise was worthwhile. A musician may even seek comfort in approval. Dependence upon such responses however can only complicate musical development. Obviously, a musician who offers his work to the world does so (one supposes) in the hope that the outcome will produce a processive experience - in the listeners as well as in the musicians involved. The idea surely, is that something will have moved, will have expanded, will have satisfied, will have provoked. But for the musician to try and anticipate the audienceâ€™s responses risks (in an amusingly ironic way) confounding any expectations. It is not possible for the musician to know what will be satisfying to the audience except in the most mechanistic and behavioural sense. The individuals in an audience will probably not know what they will find satisfying in a performance until it is experienced. And, even if a musician had sufficient (and miraculous) insight to know what the audience wanted, it is doubtful whether could be delivered.
Performances of improvised musics are essentially voyages of discovery within a social context, musicians with materials, musician with musician, musician(s) with audience. In this sense a ritual is enacted; a processive experience arising out of these musical exchanges. Of course, going through â€˜the motionsâ€™ is no guarantee that anything meaningful will occur. This is perhaps why the population at large is more inclined (even if only intuitively) to engage with the social and emotional experiences derived from the tried and tested musical compositions. But even these have to be performed extremely well to succeed. However, the risk of failure is high with an improvisation. But perhaps the rewards are commensurate.
The search for meaning in music will confound us all. This is not to say, however, that there is no meaning in music. We should also beware of explaining our responses to music as individual and subjective. This suggests a solipsism which negates any common experience. Obviously, each human being is a unique configuration of genetic material and historical location. But we share as much, if not more, than how we are differentiated. And, as I have outlined above, in the experience of making improvised music we test our â€˜selvesâ€™ through an interface with other â€˜selves.â€™ In effect we can only know who we are through the prism of contrast. Our emotions, our intellect - life itself - are socially mediated.
Of course, there remains doubt. The foregoing formulation is â€˜myâ€™ construction. And although parts of it may be familiar it is of course my way of explaining (some might say) the mystery to myself. However, it is the result of thinking, testing - and hopefully contributing - to a body of knowledge that reflects a unique and a demanding creative activity. To my mind the continual process of questioning and reviewing our actions and responses is a necessary method in our continual â€˜constructionâ€™ of the world. The corollary to this activity is that if we do not construct this world, someone else will do it for us. A creative response is an active rather than a passive condition. It risks failure. This is perhaps better than submission or acquiescence.
Eddie Prévost - March 2001.
1. Contingent upon (11.16)
2. Maybe years (07.13)
3. Whatever worlds (21.50)
4. Mayhaps (14.08)
5. Perchance (11.28)
6. Within the realms of... (10.50)
Recorded on 28 August 2000 at Gateway Studios, Kingston, England. Front cover artwork by Carol Finer.
Curiously, and even paradoxically, the pure form of free improvisation practiced by Eddie Prévost has a sort of predictability, one connected to his unique way of performing. This is not to diminish his vision, which is a function of his unique capabilities and aesthetic. Nor is this comment intended to deprecate in any way his creative talent, which remains in peak condition. But like so many of the giants of the genre, one can guess with reasonable certainty at least the contextual outlines of what to expect. This recording continues the sort of tabula rasa approach to which Prévost aspires, and like so many of his recordings, the results are scrumptiously satisfying. Tom Chant is a wondrous soprano saxophonist, beholden beyond doubt to Evan Parker, and in fact one of the few accomplished enough to stand in his shoes Chant spits, crackles, and blats, but (oxymoronically it would seem) tastefully so, and while he may not appear quite as aggressive as Parker, the influences show. John Edwards hardly needs any introduction, and although he appears satisfied in a mostly supporting role (with several exceptions, such as on the lengthy 'Whatever Worlds'), his alternatively frenzied lines and contemplative moods are a perfect backdrop. Prévost is more than a drummer, of course. He drives the band, and his stamp is marked on every piece. Under his tutelage, sounds unfold, layers peel, and collectivity trumps (or at equals) moments of individual inspiration. The group effort is characterized by, if nothing else, deep listening: not so much a conversation as a celebration; but one that exudes warmth and stature rather than raw emotion. The Virtue in If is a more extroverted album than some others led by Prévost, and probably less cerebral. Some will be surprised by its power. Most of all, though, it works as a vehicle for joyous expression, perhaps as a creature of the moment, a single spark in the shadows.
Cadence (US) March 2002
Whenever pianist John Lewis left the confines of the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) to head up his own ensembles, he brought a certain pointillist formalism to those projects. It was the same with pianist Horace Silver. When he exited the Jazz Messengers to go out on his own, the band's ingrained funkiness went along with him to enliven many other sessions. Something similar happens when drummer Eddie Prévost puts together his own groups. Point man for Britain's AMM for more than 35 years, the concept of democratic group improvisation migrates with him as well.
However, precisely because it's Prévost's project, his background asserts itself as well, and his bands are usually more "jazzy" in quotes than what is produced by improv purist AMM. At the same time the "jazz" created by the drummer's bands certainly has almost nothing in common with the music produced by the likes of the MJQ or The Jazz Messengers.
It's the tension between these different impulses that makes this CD so interesting. Improvisation of any sort is affected by the individuals involved. And it's easy to contrast bassist John Edwards and soprano saxophonist Tom Chant with the grand old men of Brit Improv who fill out AMM.For a start they're younger. It's only been in the past few years that Edwards has become the Ron Carter of London's improv scene, working with everyone from saxophonist Evan Parker to pianist Veryan Weston. Chant is even more callow -- in his twenties in fact -- and he's been known to consort with DJ-electronica types such as those in The Cinematic Orchestra. But don't expect any samples on this disc.
Instead it's classic improv -- if that isn't an oxymoron -- concerned more with tone and texture than tunes and technique. There are no solos per se, merely different emphasis of an organic whole. "Whatever Words," for instance, at nearly 22 minutes the longest track, begins with a drum solo. But the percussion is used for scene setting not pyrotechnics. Later, the arco bass turns to long string examinations and then what resembles bass guitar strums. Farther along through split tones, Chant is able to suggest one note in a solo, then answer himself with an undertone, as the tempo shifts and Prévost introduces his version of more straight ahead drumming. Here, as elsewhere, the saxophonist is more likely to depend on flutter tonguing, reed growls and slap tonguing than legato lines to make his points. When he's not using multi phonics, though, the saxophonist seems to be expelling pure grit from his reeds.
"Perchance" begins with an unaccompanied hunting horn tone matched with percussion played with almost military exactness. Edwards' contribution, which morphs from what could be the buzzing of angry bees to short wave signals, gets the saxophonist into the aviary, where he soon emerges with little parakeet cries as a variegated drum pattern reveals itself.
Throughout Prévost showcases everything from the delicate triangle strokes, J. Arthur Rank like gong blows, cymbal scrapes and the suggestion of tiny, rubber tipped balls rolling on his snare. At times he reminds one of Native Indian ritual percussion ceremonies, at others the steady rhythm of jazz's most versatile percussionist, Max Roach. Not every point made is instrumental though. Sometimes silences and fades assume prominence in the mix.
Always theoretical, Prévost contributes an essay on his concept of improvisation to the booklet. Every improvisation courts failure he notes. But he needn't have worried in this case.
posted on Jazz Weekly (Canada) www.jazzweekly.com. July 2001