I always see an album cover as an extension of the album itself; the
artists intentionally chose a visual component that they wanted to
represent their music. When I look at this cover I think of the moon, cave
paintings, and plants cells all packed together. All of these images are
ancient, organic and an important part of our humanity. The Lebanese "A"
Trio and now AMM duo team up in a release that channels that long-lasting
energy. The "A" Trio is a group that is composed of Mazen Kerbaj on
trumpet, Sharif Sehnaoui on acoustic guitar, and Raed Yassin on double
bass. The AMM, now being sustained by veterans Eddie Prévost and John
Tilbury, serve as partial mentors to the young improvisers. But thankfully
this live recording is not just an example of a master-apprentice
relationship, rather it's the joining of two different worlds through the
power of improvised music. Tilbury and Prévost serve as a sort of enhanced
rhythm section that provides a lot of interesting moments, yet the "A" Trio
actually supplies the most flavor and substance throughout the whole piece.
This isn't to discredit AMM; they perform fantastically, and I think they
really bolster the performance of the other players. There's a real sense
of cohesion and fluidity that is brought by these two clashing worlds, the
East and West. Just recently released, this performance was over three
years ago, completed without any cuts, overdubs, or use of electronics.
This just provides further emphasis on the improvisational method of these
musicians and helps us understand the development of their music in the
The beginning minutes of "Unholy Elisabeth" are evocative of a quiet night,
with the full moon shining down and rain drops falling from leaves above.
Tilbury's piano playing is soft and melodic, almost like nature's own
improvised nursery rhyme. The general calmness of the music during this
introduction can be viewed as either the calm before the storm, or the
silent aftermath. Either way, one's anxiety can build up as only the
sterile scraping of guitar strings is present. As more musicians join in
the tension can truly be felt, while each instrument adds a vital layer to
the music that are like gusts of wind felt on the ground and through the
branches. During the first quarter of this fifty-one minute piece my
attention was almost solely focused Tilbury's serene notes cutting through.
The AMM members provide the most obvious instrumentation and sounds, but it
may be hard at times to distinguish what instrument is being played. More
accurately which instrument is being tested and operated on. The bowed bass
is the framework on which all other sounds are being added onto, and there
sure are a lot of sounds. I prefer the duos or trio sections within the
piece that pop up; a few elements that serve as a playful back-and-forth
between musicians. This facet, along with the organic nature of the
instruments, makes for a very wild and raw exposition of sound.
Mazen Kerbaj's trumpet is one of the most versatile instruments in the
group; acting as a bubbling bog or a pleading prayer voice. The trumpet
represents the human relationship with nature. We are always at its mercy
but our connection to it is stronger than we think. The pauses in music and
return to silence helps clear the mind and allows starting points that
flesh out new ideas. Prévost's percussion style is scattered and muted to a
degree, it's a hint at something sinister and underlying. About thirty-five
minutes in, this playing is joined with steely strings and a beat which
seems to be either finger tapping or airy breathing out of the trumpet. The
trumpet exposes itself anyways and suddenly goes silent, only starting
again with Tilbury's habitual peaceful playing. Kerbaj's playing turns into
a true cry for help, an exasperated groan that is a last-ditch effort for
an answer. Sharif Sehnaoui's guitar picking is pretty absent until near the
end where he enters a mostly duo setting with Tilbury, as the vibrating
trumpet serves as the background. Sehnaoui's playing is dusty and in an
Eastern style, drawn out notes that sound like they've traveled across
miles of sand dunes just to reach your ears. The trumpet moves forward and
then everyone else joins in for one last burst of energy, just before
dissipating into blowing sand.
This uninterrupted live story is surely an adventurous treat, not only for
the ears but for the mind. A prehistorical narrative is formed, concerning
all humans and pointed towards the world around us. Including all the
turmoil and peace that finds its way into our lives. It's puzzling as to
why this was just released; either way it's an important release in the AMM
catalog and a kindling agent to check out the rest of "A" Trio's releases.
There's no doubt that a certain amount of clout is given to this release
due to the inclusion of the AMM but besides the memorable playing of its
members there is still a lot to absorb. Even in its improvisational style
the "A" Trio brings it's Middle Eastern and Arabic music influences into
the mix. There are hints of these melodies and playing styles that are
projected onto their western instruments. It adheres quite well with the
playing of Prévost and Tilbury, to assist in creating a unique and
interesting addition to the AMM discography. It's not as harsh as some
might expect, and I might even recommend this as a starting point for
someone looking to peep into the AMM catalog. I wish more collaborations
like this would occur; people of completely different backgrounds coming
together through similar medium in order to create compassionate, natural
Thanks Kian: great review for an excellent album.
DELICIOUS Writing. :<}
FYI If anyone is looking for this on iTunes, they have it with the album name
Just as a note, I don't think this is actually a live recording, although it was recorded in the same space as the live performance. It was actually recorded the day before the Mikromusik festival performance. On the latter date, the performance was one set by AMM, one by the A-Trio, and then one set by AAMM. The last of those three sets was broadcast by Deutschlandfuk Kultur, and might still be available on their website as an MP3. It's definitely a different set than the CD release.
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