When music is improvised, philosophy matters. While contrasting conceptions can lead to some intriguing contests of sound and will, it can also lead to dialogues of the deaf. And while complete agreement can lead to music short on spark, a consensus about what’s important can ensure that the music makes some sort of sense. The quartet that made Sounds of Assembly works in the area of philosophical commonality, and makes from it a sound world well worth settling into.
Violinist Jennifer Allum and cellist Ute Kanngiesser first made each other’s acquaintance when they both were members of percussionist Eddie Prévost’s weekly improvisation workshop; each has recorded with him, and they also have made a duo album for his Matchless imprint. Prévost has written at length about the ethics, aesthetics and practice of improvised music, and it is fair to say that the two string players share with him a readiness to engage with what others play. Tenor and soprano saxophonist John Butcher brings an instantly recognizable instrumental voice, but also a commitment to apply that personal vocabulary in ways that keep the music developing. Butcher has played with Prévost both in and outside of AMM, which has been dealing with such concerns since the mid-1960s; they are partners in the search to find new things to do with what you know.
This session was originally recorded in 2013 in order to provide material for Stewart Morgan’s portrait, Eddie Prévost’s Blood, but you’ll hear a lot more material on this CD than made it into the film. The music expresses at length what Prévost says in the film’s first minutes. The musicians come together with a shared intention that creates a ritualistic atmosphere, one in which collective intention and focused attention conspire to invest each sound, however brief or quiet, with a sense of significance. Prévost teaches his workshop participants to work, not from a received vocabulary of training or instrumental history, but from a readiness to find something new, and a further willingness to share that with whoever is listening. Of course, it’s pretty much impossible for people who have decades of experience to forget everything they know, but they can seek to prioritize the collective creation over displays of personal accomplishment. In this setting, Prévost and Butcher could easily dominate by dint of volume, and there are moments where their textured, elongated tones are much louder that the unamplified, acoustic strings. But even in those moments, the pluck of string and the knock of wood invests the music with a charge of significance-investing energy. Whether they combine like layers of fabric or flint and steel, each player influences the music’s essence; to enter into such action, either as a player, an audience member, or a person spending time with the recording, is to become part of the shared listening experience.
— Bill Meyer, July 2021