A new AMM album then, always a welcome arrival, capturing two relatively recent London performances from the duo of Eddie Prévost and John Tilbury. one of which I attended, and the other I could not. Both capture really rather wonderful sets of music, the first, from the As Alike as Trees festival in March 2011 being the finest AMM set I have caught live in many a year, though I am fortunate enough to have heard quite a few, though the second recording here, from the Purcell Room in November of the same year is also a lovely set. The last AMM album before this one, Uncovered Correspondence was also a very fine album, the best since the group’s reduction to a duo, and these new recordings I think show how Prévost and Tilbury have developed a style to their playing that no longer seems to seek ways to fill the spaces left in the music, as their first performances as a duo seemed to do. These new recordings, while as intensely emotionally charged as ever, if not more than ever, allow a lot more white space and air into proceedings. There is a sense of clarity and precision here that when coupled by the virtually telepathic understanding these two have leads to quite stunningly beautiful music.
The first piece, titled here E1 AMM, a reference to the London postal code of the recording venue, opens with Tilbury crashing his forearm slowly, and repeatedly onto the keys of his piano for a good few minutes as Prévost adds subtle, softly bowed metal percussion, matching the violence with serenity and immediately casting the performance into a state of continually precarious balance. This opening salvo, when seen live left me breathless, and while the removal of the visual elements tones down the intensity of the occasion quite a bit, the passion in the performance, and the uncertainty that such an opening presented both the audience and the musicians with is still audible here. The second recording, SE1 AMM is an undulating, perhaps more familiar affair with quiet, often very quiet passages allowed to build into a series of crescendoes. The passages that close the recording, which was made at a concert put on as part of a Cornelius Cardew celebration, consisting of Tilbury mostly alone, playing slowly, with immense solemnity and beauty are really extraordinarily beautiful, with Prévost joining him right at the very end with some of the gentlest, most poignantly restrained sounds I have ever heard from him. The understanding, the ability to form such perfectly formed, expressive music in the moment together is, in my opinion, unrivalled between two musicians today.
Of course, the instrumentation is as you expect from AMM. Tilbury plays the piano, inside and outside, and Prévost bows and strikes metal objects of various sizes, some of them pressed into the head of a snare drum. With the exception of some unusual, agitated sounds from Prévost here and there on the first piece, there is nothing in the instrumentation or the sounds the duo pull from them that breaks new ground on a particularly cosmetic, obvious level. This sounds exactly like an AMM album, but there is a sense of continual development here, the ongoing conversation, stark discussions in places but held with a fluidity that AMM have not had for a while. Its as if a new language has been learnt, and so now the frank conversations can be more easily held, albeit it with less phrasing, but with precisely the right words chosen and nothing more.
It is easy to throw the usual rapturous applause at anything AMM do, but there isn’t a more fully refined and explored musical relationship than Prévost and Tilbury’s, and while I seek and desire newly broken ground in how music sounds or is made as much as anyone there is still room to admire and celebrate the way two masters at their particular art go about creating something this thoughtful and beautiful. While familiarity breeds recognisable patterns and musical traits AMM continue to make music that oozes tension, beauty, anger, aggression and a vitality that is perpetuates itself in a thoroughly, nakedly human manner, and that’s enough for me.
Richard Pinnell October 2012