Poet Harry Gilonis turns up twice this month (see Evan Parker review below) with some unusual liner notes to AMM's latest CD. His character-by-character commentary on an 8th-century Chinese poem "reads" it through the music on the disc, an act of multilayered creative mistranslation that ultimately results in an abstracted constellation of words (i.e. another poem, which is in turn the source of the CD's rather precarious title). This 51-minute piece was recorded at last year's Freedom of the City festival, by a quintet edition of the group; the occasion was overshadowed by Tilbury's recent health issues – he played the concert one-handed, in fact, due to a stroke. As on AMM's recent CD Trinity, saxophonist John Butcher joins the John Tilbury/Eddie Prévost core; also present on this occasion are cellist Ute Kanngiesser, a young player from the drummer's improvisational workshop, and Christian Wolff, who begins alongside Tilbury at the piano, later shifting to melodica and tabletop bass guitar. Though more discreet, his sly taps, prods and wiggles recall Keith Rowe's scabrous contributions to past AMM recordings, and have a similar slightly disruptive impact. Prévost's playing here is pared down, even a bit restrictive – he first surfaces with some intriguingly tingly, raspy sounds, but for the rest of the disc he's mostly pulling out long shimmery sound-filaments from stroked and bowed percussion. Kanngiesser is quiet but busy, focusing on tiny scritches and short-breathed bow-work, and as with Wolff's more openly disruptive contributions I found myself changing my mind almost moment to moment as to how effective they were. The scratching/plinging that takes over about 17 minutes in, for instance, doesn't seem to me the most productive turn of events, but when six minutes later the fussiness recedes there's a shocking but perfect moment when Wolff's melodica intrudes, its folksy sentimentality tugging at the velvet drift of Tilbury's chording. In general there's more overlapping insectoid activity here than usual for an AMM disc, and a lot of the drama comes in how Tilbury functions in this sound-environment, his piano soft, necessarily sparing, but insistent in its changes of direction and idiom. Butcher's ability to gently insinuate himself into the cracks of the music is evident throughout – there are several terrific moments where he and Tilbury find themselves in near-duet – and it's genuinely exciting to hear how he mediates between the pianist's lucidity and the drifting cloud-shapes of strings and singing-metal percussion.
PARIS transatlantic July 2010