Meetings with Remarkable Saxophonists — CD Series Volume 1
John Edwards double bass, Evan Parker tenor saxophone, Eddie Prévost drums
Network Theatre, London Monday 30th May 2011
I have known Evan Parker for most of my musical life. Over this (nearly) fifty-year span we have played together — although not frequently. The context of our meetings, however, has been diverse. I recall Evan drafting me in to deputise for Jamie Muir on a Music Improvisation Company gig (together with Derek Bailey and Hugh Davies) in Coventry during the late 1960s. In a rare and memorable extended AMM performance he and Christian Wolff joined with Rohan de Saram, Keith Rowe, John Tilbury and myself at a concert at St Matthew's Meeting Place, Brixton in June 1984. There have, of course, been other occasions but these particularly stick in my mind. And, I rather suspect this recording will be another such distinctive moment.
For me, the sheer joy of touch and movement is a significant part of making music. It is physically stimulating. This is what I feel is at the heart of this CD. And, I hope a sense of this energy and tactility is translated to audiences who get to hear this (albeit disembodied) performance via the medium of recording. What you will hear is the complete performance — all told — but from the microphonic point of view. It has all the attributes of a spontaneous performance. There were no pre-conceived plans but there is an attendant tension. Within the music there may indeed have been tentative suggestions and protean moments of uncertainty. These, for me, give the occasion a creative authenticity. Anything too tidy suggests contrivance or the avoidance of risk. The too cleanly ready-worked-out takes us down the road towards commodity. The (near) perfect object perhaps attempts to requite the aural appetite. I want life and am happy with some of its accompanying messiness.
Discussions about the nature and practice of music improvisation have been rehearsed frequently and variously. I have done more than my fair share in this department. A commonly offered (if unhelpful) truism is that not everything musicians do — even self-avowed improvisers — is improvised. If a situation was wholly spontaneous musicians could not have instruments readily at hand and, of course, occasions for performance are mostly pre-meditated. What the improvisational practice does require in abundance is openness. The more often a musician encircles the musical moment with predictable responses the less creative — no matter how technically competent — they will be. A repeated jazz solo has incrementally less validity (as an improvisation) as time goes on. To remain aware of — and constant to — creative ideals a musician must discourage recurring patterns (within themselves as well as those of others). They have to be conscious of habitual responses and the curse of reiteration. The discipline requires a metamusical approach; one which revels in personal discovery and surprises as well as being sensitive and active towards incoming signals from others.
If true to the enquiring spirit of a music — which knows itself as improvisation — musicians should luxuriate in what Seymour Wright has coined the 'awkward wealth of investigation'. (fnt. 1) This might seem to follow from Derek Bailey's avowed preferred situation of working with musicians before a common language has time to evolve. However, conscious dialogue is just as challenging a medium (perhaps more so) and as exciting as making new instrumental discoveries. Dialogical wealth can be an even more awkward — if rewarding — specie.
When I conceived the series of concerts with saxophonists I had in mind to play the drums. This side of my musical life has, in effect, taken a back-seat to my explorations of percussion within AMM and its metamusical extensions. Many (purists) seem to think modern kit-drumming (owing much to jazz history) is too inflexible and its performance standards too formulaic to be a potential vehicle for exploration. In experimental music sounds, or textures derived from percussion sources, are preferred to percussive rhythms. I wanted to test this proposition and see how far I could embrace the history of jazz without being a slave to its blandishments: to get beyond being 'a jazz drummer' without (at the same time) undervaluing, or undermining, its most cherished attributes.
As a young man I was held in thrall by the work of two people: Max Roach (the jazz drummer) and George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (an Armenian mystic). If the Melody Maker quote used in the promotional literature of the series is to be believed I may have respectfully transcended a musical hero of my youth; Max Roach.(fnt 2) And, if this was done, it was through attention to my other and silent mentor, George Gurdijeff. His teachings were not wholly to my personal or social taste. Nevertheless, having got beyond the mystique which attracted some of our early to mid-20th century English upper-middle class aesthetes and intellectuals, I found a source of inspiration in the ideas he espoused and the practices he advocated — especially in relation to consciousness, self-awareness and 'being in the moment'. Attributes which, in my opinion, no improvising musician should fail to embrace and develop.
Thus, those with an eye for such things will have noticed, the title of the series draws a parallel with one of Gurdijeff's books: Meetings with Remarkable Men (fnt 3.) My conceit was to invite saxophonists who had different creative approaches to meet with my own less than conventional musical mien. These engagements — it was hoped — would bring forth lots of 'awkward wealth'. And, if the first CD in this series is anything to go by, we were not disappointed. Clearly, the instrumental line-up suggests the classic free-jazz setting, made most famous, perhaps, by Ornette Coleman. However, a lot of horse-hair has flowed over the bridge since. There is nothing artistically emulative in the playing on this CD. It is self-sufficient and confident. It neither embraces or avoids the age-old jazz imperative to swing. Even though there are echoes of such things this music is not primarily concerned with such matters. Questions and explorations of the nature of sound and instrumental technique abound and resound beyond anticipated 'jazz' responses. And, of course, this is not to devalue the heritage and the cognitive value of jazz: things which I am confident Evan Parker and John Edwards (another long-time, if not regular, musical colleague), as well as myself, are proud to be associated. But we remain respectfully outside of what has become its mainstream (and perhaps orthodox) considerations.
Curiously, in retrospect, I see that when I first began to make music in the exploratory fashion — which I think is now accepted as the unique characteristic of AMM — I felt the need for extra-musical explanation, or help. This desire, to some extent, was inspired by the life and work of Max Roach and his like and requited by the ideas, teaching and disciplines advocated by G.J. Gurdjieff. Now, many decades later, I can confirm the practice of making music is a unique way to being. Music, although subsequently lost through the complications of cultural life and the entertainment economy, is I believe, an expression and maybe a reprise of humanity's early moments of self-awareness. As I have tried to explain and develop within my book The First Concert, this may now be most helpfully described by the application of the twin analytical propositions of heurism and dialogue.(fnt 4) This makes for a comprehensive creative act combining exploration of materials and sociality which, at its most productive and civilising, combines both qualities with equal and complementary strength. This amalgam is perhaps sufficient to achieve creativity but it might not be a necessary condition. We are required to be open and alert to what might be possible, useful, advantageous and, of course, enjoyable.
But, of course, dear reader you may safely ignore the fore-going theoretical justification. For, I believe, the sheer joy in playing (as we may observe in a young child) is evident in the music from this concert. I speak mostly for myself, of course, but I suspect that Evan and John would not contradict the notion. Our enthusiasm for making music retains a compulsive, if elusive, character. For me, more than in my percussion work (eg as with AMM) in which tactility is perhaps a defining physical attribute, drumming also gives me the bodily buzz of movement — sheer dancing for joy. My thanks to the remarkable musicians who (stimulating by their playing)came together in this concert and allowed me to experience this feeling to such a high level of intensity.
Eddie Prévost — November 2011
[Joint review of All But and Impossibility in its Purest Form]
Percussionist Eddie Prévost not only co-founded the British improvising collective AMM more than 45 years ago, he is its chief annotator and its sole consistent member. With these dual roles he has both explained the aesthetic, political and ethical dimensions of an enterprise dedicated to constant self-examination and on-stage negotiation, and ensured the music’s immediacy through the agency of his exactingly tuned-in playing. But before he did any of that, he was a fine jazz drummer with a thing for Max Roach. Since AMM plays only occasionally, Prévost does most of his work in other settings. These two trio recordings show him on the one hand working with associates who participate in the improv workshop he convenes every week in London, and on the other with a pair of high-powered players who put Prévost in touch with his jazz roots. The guiding principle of Prévost’s workshop is to be open to all sonic possibilities. Participants can have distinctive personal styles, and neither of his colleagues here could be mistaken for anyone else. Seymour Wright extracts long, grainy
textured ribbons of sound from his alto saxophone, while Sebastian Lexer plucks a myriad of barely perceptible utterances from his electronically enhanced piano. But they must be willing to let personal expression go in order for the music to emerge. It can seem almost independent of the musicians who play them, and much of the music on Impossibility In Its Purest Form feels more like the result of a patient search than something that is made to happen. Prévost is credited with percussion, but it sounds like he’s restricted himself to a bowed tam-tam. While each player’s
sounds can be harsh, their interactions contain a stillness that is quite affecting.
All Told, on the other hand, is all about movement. Evan Parker sticks to tenor saxophone, and Prévost plays a drum kit; the lineup is no different than that on Way Out West. I doubt that these players, who have worked with each other in various combinations for decades, consider themselves any less committed to freedom than Prévost’s workshop fellows, but the music behaves quite differently. The intricate bass figures, brushed drums and gruff-toned, spiraling horn lines are constantly on the move, twisting around each other in an ongoing exchange of challenge and support. The music doesn’t always swing, but its propulsion feels even more elemental, and every bit as involving as the starker playing on Impossibility In Its Purest Form.
Bill Meyer — Downbeat August 2012
All Told is a clever title. It’s a tidy summation of the nature of free improvisation: in performance, nothing’s hidden—all is there. Usually, recordings allow musicians an opportunity to edit, to tidy up some of life’s “accompanying messiness,” as Eddie Prévost muses. Still, many improvisers don’t drastically edit, do multiple takes, or otherwise attempt to neaten things. In a way, it would defeat the purpose of the undertaking. Freely improvising is about chasing down an ideal, that of the singular musical experience. It can be a painfully fleeting thing, and rough edges and uncertainty are simply part of the chase. So it’s in this spirit of full disclosure that All Told presents a complete performance by Prévost, Evan Parker, and John Edwards. You’d be hard pressed to find many unsure steps here, though.
All Told is a spontaneous performance, but in many ways it’s among the jazziest things these guys have done in a number of years. After a sustained focus on bowed cymbals and small gestures of percussion, it’s nice to hear Prévost behind a full kit again. Where his percussion work is spare, often pregnant with silence, his drumming is busy and (refreshingly) not afraid to swing if need be. In their review of the Parker/Prévost duo Most Materialls, Brian Morton and Richard Cook note how strongly Coltrane is evoked. The same is true here. Parker sticks solely to tenor, working with well-spaced sonic parcels, skittering packets of notes that seem to ricochet unpredictably off everything they meet. Like Coltrane, Parker deals in density of sound rather than individual notes, a harmonic atmosphere that’s difficult to parse but endlessly fascinating.
Edwards, as usual, is brain-numbingly good. There’s a primal physicality to his bass playing that clearly enlivens his playing mates. A working bassist extraordinaire, hopefully someday he’ll receive the accolades he deserves for the legacy he’s been humbly crafting. Occasionally the venue seems to swallow some of the finer details of his playing, but there’s a direct line in his energy that refuses to be obscured.
As the subtitle reveals, All Told is to be the first in a series of albums, all captured from an on-going concert series started by Prévost last year. Parker is the benchmark for remarkable saxophonists in this day and age, and the natural starting point. We’ve been fortunate to share in countless “meetings” with these musicians over the years (though the infrequency with which these three have played together is baffling), and any excuse to bring great talents together is obviously welcome. Keep calling your meetings, Eddie. All Told sets the bar high. But somehow, I don’t think that will be a problem.
Dan Sorrells freejazz July 2012
Le trio Parker/Edwards/Prévost est le premier d'une série de concerts intitulée Meetings with Remarkable Saxophonists, publiés ou à paraître sur Matchless, le label du percussionniste Eddie Prévost. Les trois prochains saxophonistes invités seront John Butcher (inévitablement), Jason Yarde, et Bertrand Denzler. Une série qui commence bien et qui promet en somme.
Pour ce premier volume, une formation classique saxophone (ténor)/basse/batterie nous propose une longue pièce de 70 minutes divisée en deux parties. All Told, cette gigantesque improvisation interminable se place dans le sillon du fameux trio anglais de Parker aux côtés de Barry Guy et Paul Lytton. Car si quelqu'un devait diriger ce trio, ce serait certainement Evan. Ce dernier paraît se reposer sur ses acquis et adopte un jeu qu'on lui connaît depuis longtemps, tandis que Prévost adopte un jeu plus rythmique que sonique, une réponse classique à laquelle se maintient également Edwards. De très longues improvisations collectives, qui ne cessent de progresser vers une intensité toujours plus forte, vers des phrasés toujours plus puissants, vers une rapidité et une écoute toujours plus fortes. Je ne sais pas si c'est le temps de se mettre en place, de se chauffer, de réapprendre à se connaître et à s'entendre, mais la deuxième moitié est selon moi vraiment plus réussie, plus variée et plus intense en même temps. La pure joie de se réunir à nouveau transparaît réellement. Ce n'est pas franchement une musique surprenante, elle se place dans la longue tradition du free jazz d'un côté et de l'improvisation libre européenne, tradition qui est en grande partie le fruit de ces musiciens anglais. Mais pourtant, c'est toujours enthousiasmant. La section rythmique parvient à produire de nombreux reliefs, à constamment faire progresser Evan, à l'amener vers des territoires soniques de plus en plus puissants et vers des techniques de jeux intenses. De leur côté, Prévost et Edwards changent assez souvent de timbres, de textures et surtout de dynamiques, ils rivalisent sans cesse d'inventivité, de réactivité et de spontanéité.
Une musique puissante, où les dynamiques évoluent sans cesse vers une intensité plus forte, où les textures sont le fruit d'une écoute très attentive et d'une réactivité surprenante. Une improvisation axée sur les dynamiques de jeux et une écoute approfondie, pour une musique forte, virtuose, collective et égalitaire (où chacun trouve sa place dans une absence totale de hiérarchie).
impro sphere 18th Juin 2012
Last year at Waterloo's Network Theatre free-jazz and improv percussionist Eddie Prevost began the series of encounters that gives this set its name – Jason Yarde and John Butcher are among the guests on upcoming volumes. But this May 2011 recording with Evan Parker and the latter's regular bass partner John Edwards marks a spectacular start. Parker plays tenor sax throughout, on just two long tracks – the first varied in sonic landscape and pacing, the second more focused on high-energy jamming. Prevost's unusual resources (including an orchestral bass drum and a variety of Eastern instruments as well as a jazz kit) coupled with Edwards' power and energy add richness to the the saxophonist's brusque motifs growling intonations, and articulate high-end sounds. The first piece builds from breathy insinuations to a driving intensity. The second starts on a bass/drums gallop, briefly turns to a folksy improvised melody, then swells up over Prevost's cymbal-tingling groove almost into an orthodox jazz walk and a softly multiphonic close. Free-jazz doubters might well find a eureka moment here.
John Fordham The Guardian 7th June 2012