Brian Olewnick, Squid's Ear

Among admirers of AMM, it has become almost axiomatic that one of the central sources of both tension and creativity in the ensemble was the kind of magnetic attraction and repulsion that existed between Eddie Prévost and Keith Rowe, the former having a deep and abiding sense of "communitarianism" based in jazz among other things, of listening to and reacting to his co-players, the latter often adopting a more removed stance, of reacting to the entirety of what was occurring in "the room" (and extensions thereof), of potentially being all but oblivious to the music being made by his companions. With most incarnations of AMM, this tension served to generate extraordinarily exciting music (since 1980 mediated by the rich playing of John Tilbury). During the brief period of AMM II in the late 70s, when the group consisted only of Prévost and saxophonist Lou Gare, this more jazz-based focus came to the fore in what was essentially a (very excellent) free jazz duo. Since then many of the projects with which Prévost has been involved tend more along those lines, less inclined toward the rigorous, pared down philosophy of AMM. On a couple of his solo recordings prior to this one (Entelechy from 2006 on Matchless and Matching Mix from 2019 on Earshots!, for example), Prévost leaned toward the experimental, not explicitly jazz-like side of things. But a notable semi-exception to this approach was his duo recording with Alexander von Schlippenbach, Blackheath (Matchless) from 2008. His solo track therein, the almost 20 minute "Blackheath Breakdown", is a tour de force of jazz drumming, one of the single finest jazz drums solos ever, in this listener's opinion. He takes the interesting, possibly AMM-influenced tack of concentrating on four or five given areas of his kit for several minutes each, plumbing the "limited" sonic aspects of each, extracting amazing degrees of depth and subtlety — hardly limited.

Which brings us to Collider, recorded in concert in 2012, when he was almost 70. In addition to his skills as a musician, Prévost is quite the writer and this release includes a 24-page booklet with lengthy essay largely documenting his association with and admiration of the art of jazz drumming. As is his wont, his focus is as much sociological as musical, bringing in George E. Lewis' writings to bear on his own recognition of his place as a white musician within a largely black-created art form, given the vagueness of definitional boundaries. Typical of Prévost, it's a provocative and thoughtful read, well worth the price of admission.

Three lengthy tracks here (about 25, 14 and 32 minutes), the first and third played with sticks, the middle one's attack indicated by its title, 'Hands, brush, hands'. 'Sticking it' begins with a roll and we're off. Like all the pieces here, the approach is more free-wheeling than that heard on "Blackheath Breakdown", less a concentration on this or that sonic/material element and more just, well, a drum solo. He focuses on the snare drum, lending this track a light, airy quality — very nimble and precise but floating at the same time. Had I listened "blindfolded", I might have thought of Rashied Ali. Here and elsewhere, Prévost is a magician at subtly varying tempi, dynamics and tonal qualities, easily maintaining interest (at the very least) over the duration of the piece. At the same time, there are no attempts at artificially induced dramatic tensions; the pieces are steady-state in an odd way, at a perpetual low to medium simmer. The second cut is as sensual and soft as its title implies, Prévost caressing skins and metal with patience and a perfectly attuned ear, combining rhythm and texture in a manner that makes them all but indistinguishable. On "Sticking it too", the melodic aspect of the tom-toms is in force, Prévost rolling atop the drumheads, again evincing mastery of rhythm, evoking Ed Blackwell and Max Roach, but copying neither. As before, as he moves around his kit, the music remains gripping throughout, varying widely but not randomly, some obscure hidden logic at play that causes the whole thing to sound like a fascinating conversation, or perhaps debate, but a subtle one, with no shouting.

An excellent release from one of the finest percussionists around, jazz or otherwise.

review by Brian Olewnick


The Squid's Ear