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Paris/transatlantic

At The Roundhouse is the first installment of what will hopefully be a series of releases documenting Harvey Matusow's International Carnival of Experimental Sound festival at London's Roundhouse in 1972 (the story of which is told by Eric Lanzillotta in his liner notes), and a major release it is too. Two brief extracts from this concert, which took place on August 22nd that year, were released as a 7" single on Incus, but this is the first time the performance has been available in its entirety.

Mention AMM to most folk today and the names of Keith Rowe and John Tilbury will probably spring to mind, but it's worth recalling that in the mid 1970s the mythic English free improvisation group consisted of just two musicians: percussionist Eddie Prévost and tenor saxophonist Lou Gare. When Rowe rejoined AMM in 1976, Gare bowed out - "I could not go back after the freedom of the duo", he writes in a brief postscript to Prévost's notes to this disc. Gare continued to perform in and around Exeter (where he moved in 1976), and even rejoined AMM briefly later, but in recent years has tended to concentrate on other interests, notably teaching Aikido and making and repairing stringed instruments (if you're in Devon and your fiddle needs a twiddle, go to http://www.lgare.fsnet.co.uk ).

Prévost is right to describe the duo's work as "decidedly non jazz"; true, apart from the instrumentation itself (Interstellar Space inevitably comes to mind), one can find certain points of comparison - Prevost plays his snare drum like Sunny Murray uses his cymbals (think of "Real" on the BYG Actuel album Sunshine) to set up complex fields of vibration, extending the concept of rhythm far beyond the traditional confines of time-keeping - but as Wayne Spencer has pointed out, Gare and Prévost are at their most radical when not playing. Or, rather, when the level of volume and event-density drops to something more akin to today's lowercase improv. "In the silences and pregnant pauses that were a characteristic of our performances you can hear doors swinging open and closed, a child's voice echoes in the distance, and there are other indistinguishable human murmurings and nameless isolated clonks", writes Prevost. "At the end of our performance - nothing. No applause, no cat-calls. Merely the empty sound of indifference."

Small audiences for improvised music are nothing new, though it's hard to imagine music of this quality being greeted with stony silence today - not that one could expect a tenor saxophone / percussion duet to sound anything like this anymore. This particular incarnation of AMM (also documented on the Matchless album To Hear and Back Again) was neither ahead of nor behind its time, but quite simply not of its time. The high-speed clatter of Pauls Lovens and Lytton (not to mention Roger Turner and numerous others), which has become the accepted - I'm tempted to say "traditional" - way of playing percussion in a free improvised context, is notably absent from Prévost's vocabulary. Similarly, Gare's tenor playing bears absolutely no relation either to his immediate predecessors in free jazz (Coltrane, Ayler et al.) or to the then emergent extended techniques of Parker and Brötzmann. Nor is it a precursor of today's saxophone language: multiphonics, key clicks, breathy flutters and splutters are conspicuously absent, as are cathartic blasts of screaming noise. If Prévost had frisbeed his cymbals at the ceiling or destroyed a potted plant or two à la Han Bennink, or if Gare had blown his saxophone through his nose (to quote Zorn) and burst a few blood vessels à la Brötzmann, perhaps the handful of people present in the cavernous space of the Roundhouse would have reacted. But that's not what AMM music has ever been about. Prévost and Gare make no concessions to popular fads and fancies. "It is perhaps difficult for people now to appreciate how important the music was to us", Prévost writes. I seriously doubt that anyone listening attentively to these 47 minutes of extraordinary music could fail to appreciate the importance of this magnificent document.

Dan Warburton
Paris/Transatlantic May 2004